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CLEP-ing Your Way To Lower College Costs


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If you have high school aged kids, chances are that very soon you are going to start seeing the warning signs. The pale, nervous faces. The eyes, ringed by dark circles due to lack of sleep. The irritability, tinged with impending hysteria. That’s right, finals are coming and your normally moody, unpredictable and volatile teenager is about to become moodier, more unpredictable and volatile beyond belief.

So while you might think that scheduling a few extra tests into their already psychotic schedule is a very bad idea, I am here to tell you that nothing could be farther from the truth. If, that is, we are talking about CLEP tests.

For those of you who have never heard of the College Level Examination Program, it is a group of standardized tests developed by the College Board, the same entity that administers the SAT and AP exams, and offers actual college credits to students who score a passing grade on the test. While not every college in the United States will accept CLEPs in lieu of college courses, there are 2,900 colleges nationwide that do.

What does any of this have to do with your high schooler? Let’s say you have a daughter who is currently taking high school biology. She will likely be studying her brains out in order to pass her biology final, which will most probably encompass all the material she has learned over the entire school year. Once she is already devoting so many hours to studying biology, she may very well have a thorough enough knowledge of the subject to pass the college level biology CLEP, which will gain her six credits of biology and hopefully exempt her from a college science requirement.

Can a high school student actually expect to pass a college level exam?

In a word, yes. While there is no guarantee that your teen will pass the test, the fact that most of the tests are multiple choice exams works in their favor. Tests are scored on a scale from twenty to eighty but in most cases a score of fifty is considered to be a passing grade and test scores are given immediately upon completion of the test.

The number of credits per test varies, with most CLEPs offering either three or six college credits, although some foreign language tests offer as many as eight credits. Thirty three CLEP exams are currently given in five different areas: History and Social Sciences, Composition and Literature, Science and Mathematics, Business and World Languages. The cost of each exam is $80, with a registration fee charged by the testing center, which means that for an average investment of approximately $115 your child can potentially walk away with some very valuable college credits. Just do the math. For a three credit CLEP you will be paying approximately $39 per credit. For a six credit CLEP, the price drops by half. And at eight credits…well, you do the math. Suffice it to say that with prices hovering at several hundred dollars per credit at my local city college, if your teenager does well, you have gotten a steal of a deal.

Be warned: your child may not pass every CLEP they take. These are college level tests and your high schooler is just that – a high schooler. But if your child is diligent, reasonably bright and is willing to work hard to ace their finals, asking them to invest another ninety minutes for a CLEP is a solid investment on all fronts.

CLEPs are offered at over 1,700 test centers and the easiest way to find a testing center is by visiting the CLEP website search page, www.clep.collegeboard.org/search/test-centers. A word to the wise: don’t wait until the end of June to schedule your CLEPs – before your teen goes off to summer camp. Many of the testing centers, which are located on the campuses of local schools, may likely be closed. And while your child can take CLEPs at any point in time during the year, the most logical course of action is to take them during finals, when the material will still be fresh in their minds.

Which CLEPs are the best choices for your high schooler? If your child is taking American History, he or she can take either History of the United States I: Early Colonization to 1877 or History of the United States II: 1865 to the Present, both good for three credits each. If your teen has been studying Global History, register for either Western Civilization I: Ancient Near East to 1648 or Western Civilization II: 1648 to the Present, also three credit tests. In the sciences, there are CLEP exams offered in both Biology and Chemistry, with each test netting your child a whopping six credits. Both College Algebra and College Mathematics are excellent choices for high school juniors who have completed three years of math with one notable difference: College Algebra is a three credit CLEP while College Mathematics is a six credit test. Reports from my own crew of CLEP takers indicated that the two tests are comparable, so why not try for the six credit College Mathematics?

How to study for a CLEP? In addition to inhaling their own high school textbooks, it might be helpful to find your teen a CLEP study guide. While the college board site does offer them, I have generally been successful in checking them out at my local library, as long as I don’t wait until the beginning of June to find them. Alternatively you can check out your local used bookseller including half.com or eBay to find great bargains on previously owned books.

Like any other exam, test taking strategies can be helpful when it comes to CLEPs so be sure to share these tips with your teenager.

1. There is no penalty for wrong answers, so when in doubt take your best guess, but don’t leave any questions out.

2. Manage your time appropriately. Spending too much time on one question may mean that you run out of time at the end of the test.

3. Don’t be rattled if some of the questions seem very difficult. This is a college level test and no matter how hard you study you are never going to know the answer to every question.

4. Don’t go back and change your answers. Chances are that your first instinct was probably the right one.

5. Most of all, do your homework in advance. If you have your heart set on sending your child to a particular college that doesn’t accept CLEP credits, there is no point in having them take the tests. Additionally, institutions that do take CLEPs may have limitations on the number of CLEP credits they will accept and in what subjects. As with anything else, it makes sense to do your research well in advance so you can decide if having your teen take the tests is a smart financial investment.

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