College can be a very stressful experience. Gone are the days where one can work part-time at a fast-food restaurant during the summer months, while paying for an apartment and a full years’ worth of tuition with the funds.

We live in a generation of loans, where if one does not want a loan, education quickly takes a back seat to often taking several jobs in order to pay tuition. A general internet search about the matter will result in stories galore of students and parents desperate to make ends meet, all because they want to obtain that coveted diploma.

I was once of those students eagerly working toward my first degree. I was attending a run-of-the-mill brick and mortar school near me, and I enjoyed going.

From Happiness to Frustration

While attending school, I worked at a warehouse part-time during the semester, and full-time during breaks and holidays.

During my first year, I didn’t find the tuition to be too expensive, and although I only made slightly over minimum wage, I was able to make my finances work.  Eventually, that was no longer the case as with every year that passed by, tuition kept climbing and new fees were introduced.

Classes became too full, and I couldn’t get into the ones I needed in order to graduate with my English degree. I even looked into changing my major to Psychology, but was told that would add two more years of work to my graduation timeline. To me, it wasn’t worth it. After five years of diligently going to school, I made the difficult decision to drop out.

At first I blamed myself for a lack of ability or skill, and in a state of complete and utter frustration, I took to the internet to read about people going through what I was and if there was anything I could do to improve my situation. That’s where I stumbled upon the concept of testing out of a degree.

Testing Out Sounds Like a Foreign Concept to Most Students

In the beginning, I was skeptical. I hadn’t heard of anyone in my day to day life who had used this method. I thought it was too good to be true, but after further investigation, I quickly realized this was a legitimate way to get college credit and speed up the graduation process.

I managed to take over 30 tests, for three college credits per class, each test costing me about 129 after administrative fees. Using the test-out method, I was able to obtain my AS in General Studies and BS in Psychology within the span of a year.

At the end of the day, I paid about one semester’s worth of tuition in order to obtain both degrees. The savings were extraordinary! For the record, I’m no genius. I don’t have a high IQ, nor did I have endless time on my hands. The one thing I did have, however, was the motivation I needed to be a self-starter. If you have that, then the strategy below should work for you too.

How to Test Out to Get Your Degree

You don’t have to want to completely test out of a degree to use this strategy. I’m simply using that example because that is what I did. The strategy works just as well for any individual who is less fond of a certain class and just wants to test out of it by getting it out of the way, or someone missing a credit or two in electives who is seeking to graduate.

There are two main testing providers I used to obtain my degree: DSST (DANTES Subject Standardized Tests) and CLEP (College Level Examination Program).

CLEP is more well-known and accepted by most colleges, as some colleges don’t accept DSST at all. Tests are typically 100 questions long, completed at a computer testing site, usually at a library or university and monitored by a proctor. Test subjects include a variety of topics including but not limited to: accounting, mathematics, technical writing, literature, biology, physical science, art history, etc.

General study guides are available for purchase on the testing websites, as well as suggestions as to which books one ought to purchase to prepare for the test. There are also great online references a general internet search will pull-up for additional resources. I used a combination of the three resources.

It is not impossible to study for a full week and be prepared for a test. I once tested out of three classes in one day, after studying the three subject areas for two weeks straight.

Where Things Can Get Complicated

When it comes to testing, most colleges put a limit on how many credits can be transferred in. I’ve concluded that many colleges will allow up to a years’ worth of coursework to be completed via the test-out method, but it’s important to always check with an advisor and the schools transfer policy to determine which tests will be accepted and how that will fit into your unique degree plan.

Not all college transfer/test-out credit programs are created equal.

When taking a test, it’s important to remember that a person is being tested on an entire semester’s worth of knowledge on a topic.  Because these tests are harder, typically a 50 or higher is considered a passing score for CLEP. Once the test is completed, the test-taker immediately gets their results via a print out.

CLEPs are listed as pass or fail, and DSST courses are listed as either pass or fail, or a letter grade.  Typically, these test results don’t factor into grade point averages, just whether or not college credit is issued.  If a test is failed, there is a waiting period to re-take the exam.  Test results are kept on a transcript, available to be purchased and transferred over to ones school of choice once they have completed all the tests desired.

Choosing the Best School for Testing Out

My school of choice was Charter Oak State College in New Britain, CT, as they have a very generous transfer credit policy. They accepted all of my previous university work in addition to my test scores, which enabled me to be complete my degree.

I was assigned an advisor who was able to counsel me on what courses would work toward my degree program and which ones wouldn’t. I also took classes that were unrelated to my major to educate myself on topics I might not have been exposed to, had I continued to go the traditional route.


Obtaining my degree has opened amazing doors for me, and because of those open doors, I’m enjoying new experiences I could not before. Having a degree is worth the trouble, and having a degree is most certainly priceless. Just don’t let yourself get priced-out by a pricey degree if you don’t have to.