Saturday, May 29, 2010

Upper-Level College Credit-by-Exam

For students who are learning independently, credit-by-exam programs like CLEP and DSST are a popular way to earn college credit for their studies. As they're offered in a wide variety of subjects, it's possible to get the entire core curriculum of a bachelor's degree done through these exams, or to earn an associate's degree this way. These exams can save thousands in college tuition. However, one disadvantage to the CLEP exams is that they're only offered for lower-level courses, as are most of the DSSTs, although 11 of the DSSTs are for upper-level credit.

Anybody who wants to test entirely out of a bachelor's degree is not out of luck. There are a number of ways of gaining upper-level college credit by testing.

There are numerous Excelsior College Exams (ECEs) for gaining upper-level credit through testing. At $240 for a 3-credit exam, they're more expensive than the CLEPs. However, they are offered in a number of specialized subjects. Excelsior's website lists exams ranging from Anatomy and Physiology to World Conflicts Since 1900. An abundance of nursing exams are offered.

Another option for gaining upper-level credit-by-exam are the GRE tests. The General Test is mainly for business students, and the subject tests include Biochemistry, Biology, Chemistry, and Computer Science. A number of colleges offer undergraduate credit for these exams, including Excelsior, which offers 30 undergraduate credits if you finish in the 80th percentile, and Charter Oak State College, which offers 24 credits if you finish in the 40th percentile. The exams are offered in October, November, and April. If you live outside of the US, they seem to be offered more locations than the CLEPs. This option is also economical at $140 in the US and $160 in other countries. How much money would 30 credit hours cost at a brick-and-mortar university?

Another option which is offered by some colleges and universities is "challenging" a course, in which the student can take the final exam without taking the whole course. Even though this option is sometimes expensive, it still offers the advantages of doing the course through independent study. One distance college which offers this option is Athabasca University in Canada. A major advantage to this option is the number of courses which are available for challenge. It would be easier to list the number of courses at Athabasca that aren't avaiable for challenge.

Although testing out of upper-level courses is more expensive than testing out of lower-level ones, it's still possible and can save a fortune in tuition fees. Especially if somebody has been studying independently for years, ie home schoolers, this is probably a better option than attending classes, as one can study when they want to and at their own pace.

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Why a Traditional College Can Be a Bad Idea

As the current school year comes to an end, many high school students are considering which college they'll attend next year, and many have already applied. However, many people decide to attend a brick-and-mortar college without considering alternative ways to get their degree. When one looks at the case against attending a traditional college, other options are worth considering.

For starters, college is expensive. $2,500 per semester is at the lower end of the scale, and that comes out to $20,000 over the course of four years. These costs only cover tuition, and don't include books, housing, food, and other living expenses. Some people would include lost wages as part of the costs of attending college, and that leads to the second argument.

College can mean a lifetime of debt. As there's no guarantee that the degree will lead to a job, taking out student loans isn't always advisable. Many college graduates can't pay the loans back, which can lead to credit problems. Some employers won't hire employees with less-than-the-best credit, and this makes it even harder to find a job. Even if one can make the minimum payments, the amount due means that even with the higher income gained through the college degree, one's living standards are the same as they would have been without it. At the same time, many college graduates earn less than one might expect, or are working in jobs which don't require a college degree. Students also have to be careful who they borrow from. With some less-than-honest loan providers, the balance of the loan continues to rise even when the minimum payments are being made.

The social environment of the colleges is another argument against going, as the colleges are getting just as dangerous as the high schools. Single rooms are a rarity in the dormitories, and one often has no say over who their roommate will be. There are a lot of tough kids on campus. Anybody who was sharing a room with one would have to keep a sharp eye on their wallet and other belogings at all times. You can't just leave your wallet on the side table like you can at home. The situation in the dormitory bathrooms isn't much better. Not only do the shower stalls not have locks, but some people don't believe in flushing. Also, the kitchens must often be shared by a large number of students.

This may sound odd, but there's often no quiet place to study on campus. The dormitory I lived in at the University of Memphis usually had loud rap music pounding from somewhere, along with the tough sorts communicating at top volume, punctuated by loud screams. These people would often turn aggressive if asked to be quieter, and I often feared for my personal safety. Even the library was periodically populated by the loud and tough sorts.

There's also the issue of on-campus violence. Although massacres like the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech are rare, violence on a smaller scale is commonplace.

Housing is often a problem for college students. Students who live more than commuting distance away from relatives not only have the costs of dorm rent. The airfare or other transportation costs to get to the university don't only have to be paid in August and May, but also during Christmas and Thanksgiving break when the dorms are usually closed and people often want to be at home. There's also spring break when the dorms are often closed.

Academic standards are going down, and this makes it easier for the tough sorts to get in. The ironic thing about college is that the coursework is best suited for somebody who enjoys studying, but the worsening environment at many colleges makes it more advisable for an academically-oriented student to study at home.

Some people would argue that the "college experience" is worthwhile in itself. If this is true, why do excessive drinking, drugs, promiscuity, and a generally bad attitude play such a major role in it? These are hardly the attitudes of people who are having fun.

Another argument is that college can give you valuable career contacts that you wouldn't get through independent study. If one is attending college for this reason, it might be an idea to do as many of the courses through credit-by-exam as possible, and only do the courses which are directly linked to the major on campus. If the school has a limit to how many CLEP and DANTES credits they'll accept, one could take the courses for the major on campus, and then transfer the credits to a school which is more generous in this area, such as Excelsior or Thomas Edison State College. Another idea might be to do the bachelor's degree through independent study, and then go to a brick-and-mortar university for graduate school.

The purpose of this blog is to discuss cheaper alternative ways of earning college credit and college degrees without going into debt. It has just been moved from I'm currently studying for the CLEP exams in chemistry and biology.

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