How to Earn College Credit


The most obvious way to earn college credit is to satisfactorily complete courses in a college or university. However, understanding how to earn college credit in less traditional ways can be of enormous help when it comes to making progress on your bachelor's degree, saving tuition money and making space in your college course schedule for work.

Things You'll Need

  • Testing preparatory books and websites for your subject

Traditional College Courses

  • Complete college and university courses to earn college credit. You can enroll as a degree student or as a part-time non-degree student.

  • Consider online courses for college credit. Many community colleges, for instance, offer online courses at prices lower than most colleges. You can complete some basic courses for credit to help advance faster toward your degree. For example, Clovis Community College in New Mexico offers very affordable online college courses, and the college is regionally accredited.

  • Take courses at a nearby college and transfer the credits. If a different college in your area offers low-cost summer courses or a course you cannot fit into your schedule at your school, taking courses and then transferring the credits can help smooth your degree process.

Test Out of College Courses for Credit

  • Go to the College Board's College Level Placement Examination (CLEP) website to browse more than 40 college courses you can "test out of"--and earn college credit.

  • Check with your college or university to make sure it accepts CLEP credits. Most schools do, but some carry a small administrative fee to accept the CLEP test results. Some schools limit the number of CLEP credits students can earn.

  • Prepare for the tests by purchasing textbooks online and testing preparatory materials. For example, independent study with a psychology textbook and some testing preparatory materials can lead to testing out of Psychology 101 and earning three college credits. CLEP tests cost $70. Compared to the cost of a three-credit course in tuition and fees at your college or university, the CLEP is a bargain.

Get Credit for Work Experiences

  • Ask your college advising office if it gives "work experience" or "work portfolio" credit. Some colleges will give three, six or more credits for business experience that is related to a college course. For example, if you work training corporate employees on complex computer systems, you may receive college credit for this experience.

  • Contact former employers and request complete job descriptions, references and details of old work projects. You can fill in details for work portfolios and increase the chance of getting more credit.

  • Use volunteer experience as well. A year overseas in a country where you needed to learn a new language can translate into foreign language college credit.

Get College Credit While You're Still in High School

  • Take Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Like the CLEP tests, AP courses allow you to take an exam that gives you between three and six college credits. You must take the AP course to sit for the AP exam and pay a fee ($70) for the exam.

  • Enroll in a "dual" program. More than 200 high schools nationwide have agreements with community colleges and some four-year colleges that allow students to take college courses while still in high school. The credits count for both high school and college, allowing you to make progress toward a high school diploma and a college degree at the same time. Most high schools pay for the college enrollment; consult your guidance counselor for more information.

  • Enroll at a local community college as a "non-degree student." Most community colleges will allow students to take up to 12 credits as a "non-degree" student before requiring enrollment. Take one course per semester in the evenings during the junior and senior years of high school, then enroll, and those 12 credits can be applied toward your degree.

Tips & Warnings

  • Always ask the college advising office for more details on how to earn college credit. Each school has different policies and may offer an opportunity that you didn't know existed. Teachers can earn continuing education units (CEUs) by attending professional development workshops. Although these CEUs are not college credits, they do help with certification and licensure. Contact your state's department of education for more details.
  • Do not assume that your college will accept transfer credit, CLEP tests or work experience credits unless a college adviser explicitly tells you this is true. Do not spend money on any college credit experience without seeking the advice of an academic adviser from your college or university first.

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