College Credit by Examination: Getting a Jump Start on College

It has become very common amongst high school graduates to earn college credit prior to official enrollment – getting a jump start on college. Many college bound students are taking advantage of opportunities through their high school to earn credit through dual enrollment courses or through examination.

What is College Credit by Examination?

Earning college credit through examination is more popular than ever. It provides students a shorter path to graduation while earning a degree from a reputable and accredited college or university.

The two most popular options are Advanced Placement® and the College Level Exam Program® – both of which are subject-specific credit-by-exam programs offered by The College Board. Exam content for both exam programs is developed by a panel of college professors, many who sit on both test development committees.

Advanced Placement (AP)

Advanced Placement courses and the corresponding exams were developed in the 1950’s to provide a way for high-achieving high school students to get a head start on college work. In recent decades, it has turned into a mass program that reaches more than a million students each year.

Read about our experience with the Chinese Language & Culture Advanced Placement exam.

Offered and promoted through public schools, Advanced Placement receives more publicity and is more well-known than other testing programs. Advanced Placement courses help high schools raise their reputation and are suggested to high-achieving students as a way for them to demonstrate their academic ability.

If you are a home-schooled student, you are preparing on your own, or you attend a school that does not offer AP, you can still take the exams by arranging to test at a participating school or authorized test center.

Possible AP Exams to Consider

  • English Literature
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Calculus
  • Computer Science
  • Art History
  • Music Theory
  • Macro and Microeconomics
  • US History
  • World History
  • World Languages (Chinese, French, Italian, Spanish)

With qualifying AP Exam scores, students can earn college credit, advanced placement, or both at the majority of colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. You decide which colleges (if any) receive your AP Exam scores.

College Level Exam Program (CLEP)

College Level Exam Program exams are viewed as a method to demonstrate mastery of material often taught in introductory college-level courses. Since they are not associated with a high school course or curriculum, these exams are not as well marketed or as well-known.

As independent learners, adults and homeschooled students are taking these exams at an ever increasing rate. As they continue to grow in popularity, the test providers have taken notice and are actively reaching out to the homeschool market.

Possible CLEP Exams to Consider

  • American and English Literature
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Natural Sciences
  • Calculus
  • College Algebra
  • Macro and Microeconomics
  • US History
  • World Languages (French, German, Spanish)

Which Test Should I Take? 

The most pronounced difference between the two is their availability: AP is offered only once each year in May whereas CLEP is offered year-round. The difference in cost is near negligible; the AP exam costs $93 whereas the CLEP is $80.

While some colleges will exclusively accept AP exams, it has become common for colleges to award credit for CLEP as well. What tests are accepted and the qualifying score required may also differ so it is important to inquire with your intended university well in advance.

Individual colleges and universities, not the College Board or the AP Program, grant course credit and placement. Inquire with your school(s) of choice and obtain their AP policy in writing. You may find that what is considered a passing score to differ between institutions.

Advantages to Credit by Examination

While affordability, availability, and advancement are just a few reasons to consider earning college credit in your high school years. Obtaining credit through exam also benefits students in other ways.

►  Preparing for for these exams helps students develop the study skills and critical reasoning that prepare them for the transition to college.

►  They give students the confidence that they can successfully handle college-level work.

►  Successfully passing gives students a jump-start towards the completion of their degree.

Students entering college in the near future are encouraged to check the transfer policy of their desired institution to see which type and how many credits can be earned with credit-by-exam options.

About Eva Varga

Eva is passionate about education. She has extensive experience in both formal and informal settings. She presently homeschools her two young children, teaches professional development courses through the Heritage Institute, and writes a middle level secular science curriculum called Science Logic. In addition to her work in education, she is an athlete, competing in Masters swimming events and marathons. In her spare time she enjoys reading, traveling, learning new languages, and above all spending time with her family. ♥