Earning College Credit While in High School (Minnesota)
With the increasing challenge for students to afford a college degree, families are searching for options. There are several ways students can earn college credit while in high school, reducing their college costs. Most of these programs are free to the student.
Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) allows Minnesota high school juniors and seniors to take courses at a college, on campus or online, at no cost (includes textbooks). The Advanced Placement® exams (AP) and International Baccalaureate® (IB) are two well-known Credit-by-Exam programs (CBE) that also allow juniors and seniors to earn college credit. But perhaps you’ve never heard of CLEP® and DSST®, two other credit-by-exam programs. These exams were developed to enable colleges to award students credit for demonstrating knowledge equivalent to that learned by taking the college course. Students of any age can take these exams. Blending these exams into a course of study can be financially and academically rewarding.
If you are unfamiliar with these exam programs, it can be confusing, and even daunting to fully grasp how to help your student get started. However, with such a significant savings of time and money, it is well worth your investment. We found that including CLEP exams in our high school plan actually helped chart a course by creating an end goal. Each passed test was like earning a CLEP-scholarship.
Developed by the College Board®, the people behind AP® and SAT®, the College-Level Examination Program® (CLEP) has been available since 1967. Another global provider of testing services, Prometric®, offers DANTES Subject Standardized Tests or DSST. While the process for earning college credits by exam is similar for both, the organizations are independent of each other. CLEP includes 33 exam titles and DSST 38 exams for subjects typically covered in what you'll find in first- and second-year college courses. Depending on the exam subject, students can earn between 3-12 college credits. Tests are easily accessible to homeschool students, scores are kept on file for 20 years, and the cost is under $100 per exam.
What does this mean for my high school student? Since the course content of introductory-level college courses is often an overlap of the material studied in a rigorous high school course, demonstrating your knowledge by passing an exam is a great strategy students can use to dramatically reduce the time and money it takes to earn a college degree. Like homeschooling, earning CBE is about choice. Motivated students have the ability to earn college credits for a fraction of the cost of traditional college courses without sacrificing the quality of education.
CLEP for College Credit in Minnesota
Across the country, over 2,900 colleges grant credit for the CLEP and almost 2,000 grant credit for DSST. For a quick check of colleges that award credit for CLEP exams, look up the college’s profile on the College Board website. While credit policies vary from school to school, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) has led the way by setting a uniform credit-granting policy. With its 31 institutions, including 24 two-year colleges and seven state universities, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system is the largest single provider of higher education in the state of Minnesota.
The procedure outlined in Policy 3.33.1 defines guidelines for all 31 MnSCU schools to grant equivalent course credit for a specific lower-division college course for each CLEP examination that covers substantially similar material. If there is not an equivalent course, the college can grant elective credits. Having this uniform policy provides a level of transparency that creates an enormous opportunity for degree-seeking students.
Within the MnSCU system, earning credit with DSST is addressed in Policy 3.35 which requires each system college and university to have a policy in place regarding DSST and other types of credit for prior learning. Under these guidelines many schools award credit for the DSST but a uniform policy is not in place, as it is for the CLEP. Students will need to ask schools individually for their policy and course equivalency guide.
Since the University of Minnesota is not part of the MnSCU system, they are not part of this uniform policy. Private colleges are independent as well. A quick sampling of seven private Minnesota Christian colleges reveals that six have CLEP credit-granting policies posted on their websites, many accepting between one and two years of CLEP credits.
Both DSST and CLEP have been reviewed by ACE, the American Council on Education. ACE provides both a recommended passing score and a recommended number of credits that could be awarded to successful students. Some schools set their own standards for awarding credit and may require a higher score than the ACE recommendation. Make sure to obtain this information from the institution from which you expect to receive credit and review the transfer policy for the college you are seeking a degree from.
Understanding Course Equivalencies. Since these exams were developed to enable colleges to award students credit for demonstrating knowledge equivalent to that learned by taking the college course, students might ask, Which course may I receive credit for completing by “testing out” with CLEP or DSST? Many colleges post information for course equivalencies at www.transfer.org.
Here are some helpful instructions to access a guide: Go to www.transfer.org and select Quick Equivalencies; then select your State and School; next select Standardized Exams, and CLEP and/or DSST. On the next screen, click the box next to the exam type and select ALL (if you don’t select ALL, only one or two courses will appear). Print out your Guide! This information may also be found by searching “CLEP” at the college/university websites, or speaking to someone in the registrar’s office at the college. Asking is the key to getting the information.
Which exams should my student start with? There is no one best exam to begin with. Start with an area your student is strong in or with studies they traditionally learn in depth in 8-12th grade like US History or Analyzing and Interpreting Literature. These courses are also often repeated as part of the requirements in the first two years of a college degree. Since the exams do not include a curriculum component, preparation through a rigorous high school course of study is suggested, though you may find the books your student is already studying are adequate. College-level learning is more about engaging the material enough to understand the “why’s” rather than it is about memorizing answers. Students should also take available practice exams to determine their readiness. Official resources and links can be found on at http://clep.collegeboard.org/study-resources and http://getcollegecredit.com/testprep as well as many other helpful websites.
When and where are exams given? Exams are easily scheduled by appointment at testing centers located on many local 2- and 4-year college campuses. Visit the above websites to find your nearest location and contact that center directly to make an appointment. Appointments are available year-round, so simply schedule when you student has completed his study.
Advantages. According to Prometric, “Homeschooled students are using DSST exams to complement their admissions portfolio.” Others are using exams to challenge and motivate students and others are seeking cost- and time-savings options. Combining the flexibility homeschooling provides with the uniform policy credit-granting policy at MnSCU institutions, and Minnesota’s popular PSEO program, affordable degree options are within students’ reach.