7 Ways To Get College Credit Without Taking A College Class

The following is excerpted from The Edupunks' Guide, a free ebook by Fast Company senior writer Anya Kamenetz. You can download the PDF here and a plain-text ereader version here. For more on edupunk, watch the DIY U video here.

An edupunk is someone who doesn’t want to play by the old college rules. Maybe you have interests that don’t fit the academic mold. Maybe you’re in a remote location. Maybe you have a family, a job, or other responsibilities and you can’t take on life as a full-time student. Maybe you love new technology and new ways of learning. Or maybe you’re just a rebel! In any case, you need to know how to play the system. Here are seven ways to earn college credit without taking a college class, and seven ways to learn material for college credit without taking a college class.

7 Ways to EARN College Credit Without Taking A College Class

1. ACE CREDIT Cost: $45

The American Council on Education is a trade association representing all accredited U.S. colleges. Their Credit Recommendation Service translates approved forms of military and workplace training into recommendations for college credit. Eighteen hundred institutions around the country accept ACE credit; the list includes state universities as well as community colleges.

2.   CLEP Exam Cost: $77

The College Board runs the College Level Examination Program. They give 33 separate tests, covering entry-level college subjects in English, business, history, math, science, and foreign languages. The 90 minute exams are administered at testing centers on computers, so you can see your score immediately after you finish. CLEP credits are accepted at 2900 colleges nationwide.

3.  DSST exam Cost: $80

DSST exams, targeted specifically at military personnel, are now commonly taken by civilians as well. They can be administered at military installations as well as local college campuses via the Internet or on paper. DSST offers 38 exams in diverse subject areas, usually less general than CLEP subjects. Examples include: substance abuse, health, public speaking, Vietnam war history, and intro to world religions. Designed to allow students to get college credit (usually, per ACE recommendations, up to 3 baccalaureate or upper-baccalaureate credits) for previous learning experience outside traditional classroom settings, including on-the-job learning experience.

4.    Excelsior College Examination Cost: $95-$275

Excelsior is a public online college located in New York State that's been an innovator in evaluation, assessment, and accreditation for non- traditional learners. The college has developed fifty-one of its own examinations to award course credit in a variety of subjects from "Juvenile Delinquency" to "Global Population." These ECEs (Excelsior College Examinations) are accepted in turn for college credit at hundreds of other universities.

5.  LearningCounts.org Portfolio Cost: $500 for the 6-week portfolio course

Learningcounts.org is a new initiative for DIY learners by the nonprofit Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL). It’s a national service for Prior Learning Assessment. You can call the organization and talk to someone who will walk you through all the possibilities for earning college credit for something you already know. You can then submit a portfolio that shows your prior learning in order to earn ACE credit directly for something you already know.

6. UExcel Test  Cost: $85
A new program, UExcel offers seven different examinations covering the content of typical low-level college courses—calculus, psychology, political science, college writing, physics, and statistics. Administered at Pearson VUE testing centers.

7. WGU Assessment  Cost: $2,890 for unlimited assessments per 6-month term

At WGU, you can earn your whole college degree by passing tests. They formed as a private nonprofit in the 1990s, when the governors of nineteen Western states decided to take advantage of the Internet to expand educational access to rural students across the region. Today they have 12,000 online students in all fifty states. (The state of Indiana launched its own separate chapter of WGU in the spring of 2011.) WGU offers fully accredited bachelor’s and master’s degrees in teaching, IT, business, and nursing.

Bonus: 7 Ways to LEARN College Material for College Credit Without Taking A College Class

  1. Professional certification (eg. Microsoft certification or insurance industry exams)
  2. On-the-job training
  3. Military training
  4. Volunteer work
  5. Travel (especially in a foreign language)
  6. Life experience
  7. Use of open courseware/participating in open learning
[Image: Flickr user 4 Colour Progress]

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  • Jorge

    ANYA KAMENETZ Hi I was wondering if you could answer a few questions for me. Do you know if I can use open courseware/participation in open learning in order to obtain a bachelors degree? I want to get a business administration and computer science degree do you know if I can do that via open courseware?

  • Espi

    There is a book called three months to a college degree, or something like that. The authors go over open courseware and how you can get these reviewed by the Entrepreneurial School of Costa Rica. Once the credits get obtained, you would have to transfer these credits to Thomas Edison State College and you would obtain another review to earn regional college credits valid in the US through their international credits review system. This is a book you may download from Amazon to a kindle. They have another book on this subject. The also mention how you might be able to obtain up to 30 college credits by maxing out on some of the GRE SUBJECT tests. 

    You might also be able to obtain the college credits on the open course-wares if you can prove you are proficient at the subject being offered on the courseware. The PLA process from Learningcounts.org lets you know how to put together a college credit portfolio. It is a big process. It is for the most part easier to test out on DSST, Excelsior Exams, Thomas Edison exams and CLEPs for business college credits.