Earning College Credit by Exam: Types & Process

Instructor: Lindsey Mitchell

Lindsey has achieved a bachelor's degree in Global Policy and Communication, with minors in biology and French. She currently teaches English in France.

Students interested in earning college credit by examination can read about three different exams that will allow them to accomplish this goal: AP exams, CLEP tests, and DSST exams.

Some colleges and universities have individual examination systems in which students can take exams designed by the institution to earn credit. However, there are also a few standardized tests available around the country. There are several differences among these exams, as they cover diverse subjects and are typically geared towards different student groups. Below, students can learn about three of the main exams they can take to earn college credit.

Advanced Placement Exams (AP)

Students who are enrolled in high school and have the opportunity to take Advanced Placement (AP) courses can earn college credit by subsequently taking the AP exam related to their course. AP courses generally are more challenging than standard high school classes, as they are designed to be like introductory college courses. Students who perform well on the AP exams can earn credit towards their college degrees while also skipping some of the first courses they would normally take in college. While AP credit is widely accepted, it is critical that students who plan to take AP courses in order to earn college credit check the policies of the university they plan on attending about AP credit. Some schools may stipulate that a student must earn a certain score on the AP exam or they may not accept AP credits at all.

AP courses are offered in more than 30 different subject areas like world history, Spanish, calculus, psychology, macroeconomics, and biology. The exams are administered by the College Board once a year at the end of the academic year, often over a two-week time period in the month of May. Students who would like extra preparation for these exams may be interested in some of the prep and review courses offered by A few of these are listed below.

College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) Exams

Students also have the option of earning college credit by participating in the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP). This program, also administered by the College Board, is open to a greater number of students than the AP exam program, as students of any age or background can take CLEP tests in order to earn college credit. For example, an adult who decides to enroll in college for the first time may want to take CLEP tests in subjects that they already think they have developed mastery in due to their work history or general life experience. CLEP exams are offered in 33 different subject areas, including marketing, natural sciences, American government, and college composition.

In order to earn credit for these exams, students must earn a qualifying score, and the school they attend must also accept CLEP credit. Over 2,900 post-secondary institutions do accept CLEP credit, though policies differ among schools. Some schools may accept many credits earned through the CLEP exams, while others may set a limit on how many credits a student can earn, or they may not accept CLEP credit at all. It is up to the student to research the school they plan on attending to gain an understanding of the policy regarding CLEP exams and credit. offers students study guides and test prep materials to help them prepare for CLEP exams. Some of these options include:

DSST Exams (DANTES Subject Standardized Tests)

Originally designed exclusively for military members, DSST exams now provide both military members and civilians with another way of earning college credit through an examination. Prometric administers these exams, which are accepted by over 1,900 different colleges and universities and can be taken by adults, high school students, currently enrolled university students, and military members. Like CLEP tests, DSST exams are also offered in a wide variety of subject areas, including some that may draw more upon life and work experience, like fundamentals of cybersecurity, criminal justice, and principles of supervision.

Before finding a test center that administers DSST exams, students will want to check their prospective or current college's policy regarding credit earned through DSST exams, as these policies, again, may differ by school.

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

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