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Earning a Debt-Free College Degree

Earning a Debt-Free College Degree

Who is Paying for College

Few conversations have such a big impact on students’ financial future as the one that starts with, “Who is paying for college?” Most students have not given this question much thought and the result is a generation of graduates buried in student loan debt that they will struggle to repay over decades. As a homeschool parent of three, I invested in finding a way for our children to graduate college debt-free. I discovered credit-by-exam, what I consider one of the best kept secrets in higher education. CLEP (College Level Exam Program) and DSST (DANTES Subject Standardized Tests) are two nationally-recognized credit-by-exam programs that allow students test out of introductory-level college courses. The programs have been available for decades, but many students and parents are unaware of this credit-earning option. With forethought and planning, students can save a significant amount of time and money earning a college degree.

Offensive Strategy

My three children took these exams in middle and high school, often using the same materials they would have otherwise, with the addition of test-prep materials. Paired with vocation exploration, we determined this was the best offensive strategy against the high cost of college, versus the traditional passive approach of hoping for scholarships or being dependent on financial aid. By taking advantage of credit-by-exam in grades 8–10, and our state’s dual enrollment option in grades 11-12, each of our three children graduated with their 4-year degrees for under $15K. Two graduated high school with their 4-year degrees, and one child obtained his degree just one and a half years after high school graduation.

Personalized Learning

These achievements are unusual; however, some students are capable and eager to challenge themselves for this level of learning. They have invested their saved time and dollars into international travel, internships that led to employment, and graduate school. CLEP was developed by the College Board. Nearly 3,000 colleges and universities accept these tests as transfer credit. DSST, administered by Prometric, is a slightly lesser-known program. The exams test different subjects, so we used both in our plan. Each exam costs under $100 and is open to students of any age. Colleges will place a limit on the number of transfer credits a student can earn, so it is always best to review the policy of the college you are considering. There is no one right way to blend credit-by-exam with homeschool as each student’s post high school goals will be different. Some students are ready for this level of learning at an earlier age, especially when they are guided by their parents. It did require us, as parents, to make a shift in our thinking. I facilitated the process as a guidance counselor would, offering opportunities, guidance, and encouragement. Part of our completion strategy meant including studies in personal finance, career exploration, and internships so that when they made a vocational decision, they were thoughtful in their choice.

“Who is paying for college?”

In our family, we told our kids that we would pay for all college credits earned while they were in high school, but the cost of the remaining credits was their responsibility. This offered a realistic expectation and helped them set their own goals. The results of this plan exceeded our expectations!

You might also enjoy High School Credit in Jr. High? You Betcha!,  Blended Learning: It Just Makes Sense  and Clep Prep.

Cheri Frame is the founder of Credits Before College and a certified Career Direct® Consultant. As an advocate for college affordability, author, and home educator for over 15 years, Cheri shares practical ideas to help students maximize their affordable credit options and graduate toward a vocation that matches their design. Course Guides and resources can be found on her website