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Give Yourself a "CLEP Scholarship"

By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #33, 2000.

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Mary Pride

One way to cut back the expense of a college education, while cutting back the time away from home and work to a minimum, is to take advantage of the growing number of credit-by-examination options available today.

In issue #30 of Practical Homeschooling, we told you about the benefits of taking Advanced Placement courses while in high school. Advanced Placement, or AP, is a well-known way to get college credit for work completed in high school. Currently, 29 AP exams are available, typically in areas covered in courses designed for the more advanced high-school student.

The most accessible other credit-by-examination options are CLEP, Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES), Regents College Examinations, and Graduate Record Examination (GRE). We will be looking at them one by one in this and future issues of Practical Homeschooling, so watch this space!

Let's Pass Out!

The College Level Examination Program (CLEP) has not to date received as much attention in high-school circles as the AP. Originally designed for adults who wanted to "pass out of" courses that covered material they had learned through independent study or work experience, the 34 CLEP exams are less rigorous than the AP's. Subjects covered are typical of what you'll find first- and second-year courses at most "general" colleges, including a suite of business subject exams not found in the AP's.

Recently, AP and CLEP have partnered to promote their complete test lineup to high schools. This means that it will become increasingly common (and ever more widely accepted) for high schoolers to earn CLEP credit. Typically, colleges have served as CLEP test centers, but The College Board (who own both the AP and CLEP exams) is working hard to encourage high schools to also sign up as CLEP test centers. This is all good news for homeschoolers, as it means the tests are becoming more accessible.

Show Me the Credit

Over 2,800 colleges and universities grant credit and/or advanced standing for Advanced Placement (AP) and College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams. What you want is actual college credit, because "advanced standing" only allows you to substitute another course of your choice for the required course you "tested out of," thus saving you no time or money. Another good reason to check with your intended future college about their CLEP policy is that some colleges follow the evil practice of charging you full tuition or half tuition for each course you "test out of," whether through CLEP, through some other credit-by-examination test, or through a final exam given by the college itself for a course you completed entirely on your own through independent study. The College Board does not encourage this practice - in fact, they strongly suggest that colleges taking CLEP credit only charge minimal fees for the cost of entering the results in student transcripts - but they have no control over what fees colleges choose to charge.

Let's assume you have been canny enough to reject any colleges that charge exorbitant fees for registering your CLEP credits, as well as any colleges that only provide advanced standing rather than credits for a good test score. If you earn 12 college credits through CLEP, for a typical college this translates to savings of over $6,000 for tuition, room, board, and fees - and almost half a year shaved off your college education. It's like giving yourself a $6,000 scholarship!

If you have an ACT score of 24.6 or higher (out of a possible 40), history shows that you stand a 58 percent chance of earning at least 3 credits on CLEP general exams that you take "cold." Since most homeschoolers do a lot better than this, I'd say 12 credits is reasonable to shoot for - and some hotshots out there could earn 30 or more, the equivalent of a full year of college.

Trap to Avoid: If you complete all of freshman year through CLEP or AP, you won't be eligible for the juicy freshman scholarships. While some scholarships are available for those entering as sophomores (typically, transfer students), they are usually much smaller.

Solution: Go ahead and take all the CLEP's you want, only take some of them after you are already enrolled in college. You may also just want to go ahead and take all the CLEP's you want while still in high school if the school you plan to attend is a community college, state university, or distance learning institution, where the price of a year's tuition is relatively inexpensive, or if the college of your choice gives out all or most of its scholarships based on "need" and your family income and asset level mean any scholarship you get will be small. As The College Board CLEP Official Study Guide 2000 says, "Unless told to do so, do not send your CLEP scores until you have been officially admitted."


  • The advantages of AP:

    • Additional prestige. AP tests are much more difficult than regular high school or college courses. Good scores on several AP tests can convince an admissions officer at a top-notch school that your homeschool program is excellent.
    • If you take a whole boatload of AP's, you can qualify for an International Baccalaureate, meaning that European universities and others around the world which normally shun undereducated Americans will be inclined to accept you
    • For those looking forward to a career in science or engineering, AP offers more suitable tests
    • Only AP offers Art History, Music Theory, and two Studio Art exams (both with portfolio evaluation)

  • Disadvantages of AP:

    • Only offered once a year. You miss the one test date, and there goes a year of work down the drain.
    • You have to find a school willing to order the AP tests for you, and to monitor you along with their students. It is possible no school in your local area will do this for you.
    • Even schools that offer some AP tests don't usually order all of them. Our local high school required special persuasion before they would order tests for my children in subjects for which the school didn't offer AP courses.
    • These tests are tough. Getting a score that will earn you college credit requires academic effort above and beyond the call of normal high school.
    • Test fees are relatively expensive ($75 per test), plus most students need to take an online AP course in order to do well (cost: $300-$600 per course)

  • The advantages of CLEP:

    • No need for an expensive course. CLEP was designed with self-study in mind.
    • Individual exams also cost less than AP exams.
    • No need to search for a local high school willing to order the exams for you.
    • Available year-round
    • If an AP course isn't available in a desired area, a CLEP exam prepared for through self-study is a way to gain credit nonetheless.

  • Disadvantages of CLEP:

    • Not as highly regarded as AP. You stand a good chance of getting college credit, but admissions officers are more deeply impressed with AP than with CLEP.

Each CLEP test is multiple-choice and lasts 90 minutes, with the following exceptions:

  • The General Examination in English Composition comes in two flavors. One is the 90-minute multiple-choice test, while the other has 45 minutes of multiple-choice and 45 minutes in which you write an essay.
  • An optional 90-minute free-response section is available to accompany these four subject exams: Composition and Literature, American Literature, Analysis and Interpretation of Literature, and English Literature. Some colleges require the free-response section. Educational Testing Service (ETS) does not grade the free-response sections. You tell them what college to send that section to, and the college faculty will grade it. This makes it important to know which college you plan to attend before taking any of those four exams.

CLEP exams are offered in 34 subjects. The chart below lists the exams, as well as the American Council on Education recommendation for what scores colleges should require in order to grant credit (out of a total score available of 800 on the General Examinations and 80 on the Subject Examinations) and the semester hours of credit recommended for those scores.

Please note that the score levels and credit earned are only recommendations. Individual colleges may change scores required and credit granted, or require additional exams and projects in order to grant credit.

As you can see, many subjects your high schooler plans to study at home can be transformed into golden college credits with a little planning and a few CLEP tests. Go for it!

General Examinations
Each of these five exams covers a "core" area that most colleges require you to take a selection of courses in during the first two years. The college of your choice may grant credit in that area for a satisfactory test score, as opposed to granting credit for a course, as is the case with the subject examinations following this list.
Exam Score Sugg. Credit
English Composition (with or without Essay) 420-500 6
Humanities 420-500 6
Mathematics 420-500 6
Natural Sciences 420-500 6
Social Sciences and History 420-500 6
Subject Examinations
Exam Score Sugg. Credit
Information Systems and Computer Applications 52 3
Principles of Management 46 3
Introductory Accounting 45 6
Introductory Business Law 51 3
Principles of Marketing 50 3
Science and Mathematics
Calculus with Elementary Functions 41 6
College Algebra 46 3
Trigonometry 50 3
College Algebra-Trigonometry 45 3
General Biology 46 6
General Chemistry 47 6
Composition and Literature
American Literature 46 6
Analysis and Interpretation of Literature 47 6
English Literature 46 6
Freshman College Composition 44 6
Foreign Languages
College French 39 6
  45 12
College German 36 6
  42 12
College Spanish 45 6
  50 12
History and Social Sciences
American Government 47 3
American History I: Early Colonizations to 1877 47 3
American History II: 1865 to the Present 46 3
Human Growth and Development 45 3
Introduction to Educational Psychology 47 3
Principles of Macroeconomics 44 3
Principles of Microeconomics 41 3
Introductory Psychology 47 3
Introductory Sociology 47 3
Western Civilization I: Ancient Near East to 1648 46 3
Western Civilization II: 1648 to the Present 47 3
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