Lowering College Costs with the College Level Examination Program

Jul 26, 2011

The College Level Examination Program, or CLEP, touts itself as 'the most widely accepted credit-by-examination program,' one through which students at over 2,900 colleges can earn course credit for knowledge they've already gained. What should students know about CLEP?

By Eric Garneau

CLEP college level examination program PLA prior learning assessment college credits

PLA is A-OK

As a form of PLA (Prior Learning Assessment), CLEP exams can help prospective college students save time and money by allowing them to gain credit for courses covering material they already know. A 2010 study by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) has shown that application of PLA credit has a significant correlation with graduating from college. Though CAEL's study was concerned primarily with adult learners (those aged 25 and older), PLA can also help younger students on their way to a college or university setting for the first time.

An Easier Time Investment

CLEP exams are meant to test the knowledge you'd gain in a typical college course. Mostly the tests cover a semester of learning, though occasionally they evaluate a whole year of information (or even two). They can be taken at basically any point in your academic career - you don't have to be an incoming college freshman straight out of high school to benefit from CLEP credit. In fact, CLEP makes special provisions for current military servicemen, and many adults with career and family lives can be helped by CLEP credit as well. Participating institutions grant up to 12 credits per CLEP exam completed, though each school's responsible for its own crediting policies.

CLEP by the Numbers

Here are some facts about CLEP exams to mull over:

  • There are 33 CLEP tests in total, split into the following categories: Composition & Literature, Foreign Languages, History & Social Sciences, Science & Mathematics and Business.
  • In 2011, candidates can choose from 1,700 testing locations throughout the United States, and CLEP credits are accepted at 2,900 institutions.
  • Each CLEP test costs $77 to take, which is typically significantly less than the cost of a college course.
  • CLEP tests take about 90 minutes to complete. They're totally digital, so you receive your scores right away. Most are multiple choice, though some English tests include essay segments, and the foreign language exams feature a listening component.

The Benefits of CLEP

Echoing the findings of CAEL's recent study, the College Board website reported in 2011 that 91% of students surveyed think that CLEP credits helped them to earn their degree, while 70% talked to believe it helped them pay for their education. In a time when educational leaders - including U.S. President Barack Obama - have stressed the importance of wider access to schooling, these somewhat non-traditional avenues to success shouldn't be ignored.

Take the Test

If you're interested in potentially earning college credit for knowledge you've already gained, you can find a CLEP testing center that's convenient to you. Each location handles scheduling and procedure differently, so contact your desired center for more information. Remember, you can take CLEP exams at any point in your life - though you'll probably want to study first!

Advanced Placement tests are another popular form of PLA. How are they changing with the times?


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