It’s no secret that college can be very expensive. Thankfully, there are a few ways to earn college credits and to save money on college tuition. High school students can take AP exams or they can take college classes while still in high school. Students of all ages can take CLEP exams and adult learners can earn college credits for relevant life experiences.
Let’s look at these options and see what the advantages and disadvantages of each one are.
AP Courses And Exams
AP (Advanced Placement) courses are, as the name implies, advanced courses that students take while still in high school. Taking an AP course alone, without taking the AP exam is not going to earn any college credits. There’s a small fee to take AP tests, and most colleges will not accept scores lower than three. Colleges treat AP test scores as transfer credit, so acceptance of college credits earned through AP tests is subject to each school’s transfer policy.
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CLEP (College Level Examination Program) exams cover intro-level college course material in over 30 subjects. Unlike AP, college students can take a CLEP exam at any time in their academic career. Non-traditional age students can also take CLEP exams. The student can even take CLEP exams while attending college to help them pass general education requirements, such as literature or history. You can also take CLEP tests in the summer instead of taking summer courses, saving time and money.
As with the AP exams, work with your college or university to make sure credits earned through CLEP will be accepted and applied toward the degree.
Taking College Courses Before Becoming A Full-Time College Student
High achieving students can often take college courses for dual (high school and college) credit while still in high school. Depending on your area, and what you have nearby, you can take courses at a community college or a four-year institution. Taking some general education or core requirements can significantly help with college costs down the road.
It is becoming more common for students to graduate with a high school diploma and an Associates Degree from a community college at the same time. Before fully committing to this, check with the college or university you intend to attend. Not all dual classes will be beneficial or count toward the intended major. An Associates Degree in liberal arts might not be very useful to an engineering or pre-med student.
Another way to save money on tuition is to take summer courses at a local community college. Usually, students can take general education type courses, as well as courses for their major.
Work Or Life Experience Credits
Some schools will award college credits that count toward a degree to non-traditional age students who have relevant life or work experience. Have you been working in marketing for a few years but don’t have a business degree? You might be able to receive college credit for marketing courses required for a business major. Alternatively, colleges might waive certain degree requirements, such as internships, if you can prove you have the relevant experience.
These policies vary school by school. If you are going back to school, talk to a few colleges that have transfer-friendly policies. Many schools have programs in place to help non-traditional students earn their degrees as fast as possible.
Online On-Demand Course Providers
Straighterline, Coursera, and other online course providers offer “on demand” courses that students can take at their own pace. Course offerings vary by provider. Make sure to check with each one to see if they have the courses you need for your degree. And, of course, always check with the accepting institution to see if the courses will transfer and apply toward your degree.
At first glance, it might look very attractive to take as many college-level courses and credit earning exams as possible. Students and their parents might think that by loading up on these, while still in high school, they are going to save a lot of money later on. However, it is good to be aware that college-level courses taken while in high school, AP and CLEP exams, all are treated as transfer credits by colleges and universities. And each has its own standards on what grades/scores they accept and how they count these transfer credits.
Some of the more selective, and more expensive, schools often limit the number of transfer credits a student can bring in. The limit will include the actual college courses as well as AP exams. While taking these might signal to the receiving school that the student is solid academically, it does not guarantee the college will accept these credits. So all the time and money spent taking AP exams might not actually help the student graduate faster.
It’s always a good idea to check with the colleges you are interested in, on how many transfer credits total they will accept.
Working closely with an admissions counselor before starting college, or with an academic advisor while in college, is always a good practice. I suggest working with an academic advisor of the school or program you are interested in before starting school. Academic advisors often know transfer policies better than admissions counselors. Advisors can also recommend specific courses a high school student can take that will help with student’s progress toward the desired degree.
There are a few ways to cut college costs, but the student must be intentional about it to avoid wasting time and money.
What other ways to save money on college have you found? Share your tips in comments!