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College Through Credit-by-Exam

Important note: As of 2024, I graduated from Excelsior College over 10 years ago. It is Excelsior University now! All of the links on this page are working; however, the details about policies, prices, study resources and editions are not up-to-date. Use them as a starting point to find the latest information.


Since I have been unable to attend a traditional college due to a chronic illness, I looked for alternative ways to get my education. I found a school named Excelsior College (www.Excelsior.edu) that offers a lot of flexibility in degree plans. I chose to study independently and take proficiency tests for credit, but they allow many other ways to complete a degree. With some previous credits from correspondence courses, I have earned my associate degree and my bachelor's degree! I consider Excelsior College to be an important safety net for anyone, who has started a degree program, but has been unable to finish it for any reason. Even if you do not plan to enroll at Excelsior College, the opportunity to use credit-by-exam, like CLEP and DSST, applies to many college degree programs. A lot of colleges accept as much as 30 credits through CLEP exams, which would allow for testing out of many of the required general education courses. It would be like getting a scholarship toward 25% of a college degree! High school and home school students may even be able to use these exams for high school or college credit.

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Excelsior College - www.excelsior.edu

Excelsior College is located in Albany, New York. The college was founded in 1971 by the New York State Board of Regents and was known as Regents College. In 1998, it became a private, non-profit college and the name was changed. Excelsior College has over 150,000 graduates, as many as one-third of the students are members of the military. It is fully accredited by the same institution that accredits "Middle State" colleges, like Penn State, University of Pennsylvania (Penn), and Cornell. Additionally, the college's nursing program is accredited by ACEN, formerly known as NLN. The college offers associate degrees, bachelor's degrees, and master's degrees and access to federal financial aid. They have also started an MBA program.

Excelsior's policies are extremely flexible, which allows for them to accept almost all transfer credit for coursework and exams. Credit can be earned through college courses on-campus and online, written correspondence courses, independent study and proficiency tests, and sometimes a portfolio of life experience. This makes it very easy to transfer to Excelsior College; however, trying to transfer from Excelsior back to a traditional undergraduate program would probably be much more difficult without careful planning.

Many of the college students are adults who are working and/or parenting and can not attend traditional college campuses. They also have a lot of members of the military and their families and international students, which means it is possible to complete a degree from anywhere in the world. It is also possible to complete a degree when starting with no or few credits, with part of the credits, or most of the credits already earned. Excelsior often accepts credits that are many years old. They have lots of graduates, who are retirees and may be starting a new career or just wanting to finish a life-long goal.

Degree Program Catalogs - www.excelsior.edu/programs/catalogs

Liberal arts, business, nursing, health science, and technology are degree programs offered.

Credit-by-Exam - www.excelsior.edu/start-with-more-credit/transfer-more-credits

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Credit-by-Exam Resources

I have listed the resources that I used for all of the tests I have taken to earn college credit (US History, American Government, Chemistry, Biology, Natural Sciences, Analyzing Literature, College Math, Humanities, Social Science & History, and Marketing CLEP and Civil War, Astronomy, Computing, Substance Abuse, Health, Business Ethics, and Personal Finance DSST). It took 4 years to earn my Bachelor's degree. I might have been able to finish in as little as 3 years, but I didn't want to put too much pressure on myself. Another person could take the tests for an entire degree in less than 1 year. Here is the link to the list:

It is usually best to start with your career and/or graduate school goal and create your degree plan backwards from that point. Make sure to plan for any special requirements that need to be met, such as prerequisites for graduate school admission. Then use that information with the degree program requirements and your personal interests, needs, wants, strengths, and weakness to get the best combination of exams (non-traditional credit) and courses (traditional credit) in the plan.

Study Guides - with ad links to amazon.com for each

CLEP Official Study Guide 2015 -

This book gives an overview of all 34 CLEP exams offered and also gives lots of sample questions for each exam. It was a good way for me to measure when I was ready to take a test. It costs about $15.

REA Study Guides - www.rea.com

I also liked these study guides that are available for the CLEP exams. They have 150-200 pages of reading and 2-3 full-length practice tests with explanations for each answer. They cost about $20-25 each.

Other Study Guide Sources -

Each student needs to find the study materials that work best for their learning style. Some people do well with textbooks; I tended to avoid them, but found the quizzes and glossaries on the textbook websites to be helpful. Some people do well with watching videos, listening to CDs or MP3s, or using flashcards. I liked to read a good book that made the material easy to learn and understand and take as many practice tests as I could, since that was my favorite part of the study process. Some surprisingly good study guides came from these series:

Wiley Self-Teaching Guides, Complete Idiot's Guide, SparkNotes, CliffsNotes, For Dummies, Barron's EZ 101 Study Keys, Peterson's Official Guide to Mastering DSST Exams (vol I) and (vol II)

Amazon has a Test Preparation section which includes CLEP.


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CLEP website - clep.collegeboard.org

CLEP is one of the most commonly accepted credit-by-exam programs and is often a good way to get General Education credits, even in traditional schools.

At Excelsior College, all CLEP exams are pass/fail (no grades) and usually 3-6 lower level credits.

DSST website - www.getcollegecredit.com

DSST is accepted at about one half of the colleges that accept CLEP.

Be sure to go to the "Test Preparation" section to get a "fact sheet" for each of the exams at their website. It has a list of all of the topics covered and some sample questions for each test. There is also an official guide book.

Official practice tests are available for $5 each through this link: https://ibt.prometric.com/dsst

At Excelsior College, some of the DSST/DANTES exams are graded and some are upper-level credit.

CLEP and DSST exams are about $80 plus a proctor fee, which is usually around $15.

Members of the military can take all CLEP and DSST exams for free for the first attempt. I have learned from the forum listed below that earning college credit this way can INCREASE military pay and being able to finish a degree can open the opportunity for officer candidate school. Excelsior also awards college credit for military training.

Peterson's practice tests -
CLEP - www.petersons.com/college-search/clep-practice-test.aspx
DSST - www.petersons.com/college-search/dsst-practice-test.aspx

This site offers practice tests for CLEP and DSST exams. Before paying for these, be sure to check the website of your local library, which may offer this or a similar program for free.

College Forum - www.Degreeforum.net

I have gotten tons of helpful college advice and exam resource recommendations at this forum. There are many Excelsior College students, who are members. (You will also learn about the Big 3. These are 3 colleges with flexible and generous credit-by-exam and transfer policies - Excelsior College, Charter Oak State College, Thomas Edison State College.) Be careful about going to the forum because it is a whole bunch of people who are addicted to this "testing-out-of-college" credit process and it could happen to you, too! You can read a story about it called "Confessions of a Clepaholic": www.degreeforum.net/mybb/Thread-Confessions-of-a-Clepaholic-A-Slippery-Slope-Story

This forum is free and is sponsored by InstantCert Academy. It is a flashcard system that is geared toward exams for credit. If you would like to try it, you or a friend can use my ID # 99901 as the "discount code" and get $5 off the first month's subscription, which is usually $20.

The biggest contributor to the forum published 2 books. The first one is about homeschooling and earning college credit. It is called Homeschooling for College Credit. The second one is called Completely FREE Colleges: 2016.

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You might need this college information for yourself or want to pass it on to someone you know some day. I hope this will give you a good start on completing your degree and saving a lot of money, time, and energy in the process.

For US military veterans - VA Disability Claims Process for Presumptive Illnesses

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