Perhaps you've started a course excited to cover new material, only to realize your military experience prepared you for everything on the syllabus. Maybe you're scrolling through course options and realize that your professional training qualifies you to teach a few of the listings. More likely, you may need to take a prerequisite class for a subject you already studied in high school.

College can be expensive and earning credits before you start school can save you time and money. The College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) can help with that and is ideal for active-duty and veteran service members, professionals returning to school, and some high school graduates.

What Is CLEP?

CLEP was created in 1967 to help adult students and military members earn college credits for knowledge they acquired outside the classroom. Today, anyone interested in earning college credit can take a CLEP exam. Essentially, the program allows students to test out of a class and earn college credits. Currently, CLEP offers 33 different subject exams for introductory courses.

A passing CLEP score can help you save on your education. Credits range from $135 per credit at two-year public colleges to well over $500 at private universities. Each CLEP exam costs $87, though some testing centers charge an additional administration fee. As long as your prospective school accepts CLEP, the exams are a cost effective way to obtain credits.

CLEP credits are accepted at nearly 3,000 colleges across the United States. The program is ideal for all learners, but can be especially helpful for working professionals or those with family obligations.

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CLEP was created in 1967 to help adult students and military members earn college credits for knowledge they acquired outside the classroom.

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Each college independently determines the number of CLEP credits they accept and the minimum passing score to earn them. Since schools determine their own guidelines for CLEP credits, you should investigate if and how many credits your current or prospective school will take, as well as which exams it accepts. For instance, the University of Michigan awards three credits for a passing score of 47 on the chemistry CLEP exam, while Biola University grants four credits but requires a higher score on the same test. Credit amounts also vary by semester or quarter systems and whether a lab is required.

Some schools accept nearly all of the CLEP exams: Washington State University, for example, accepts 30 of the 33 available exams. Other schools accept far fewer, and some colleges -- including all of the Ivy League schools -- don't take any at all. Students can check how many credits their school accepts on CLEP's website. Most schools accept scores within the 45-55 range, which equates to a "C" letter grade.

Who Benefits from CLEP?

While CLEP can help almost anyone, certain students may find CLEP particularly beneficial. For high school students, the CLEP program operates similarly to AP exams. If your school doesn't offer a specific AP class, you may still be able to receive credit through CLEP. These exams let you accrue college credits before enrolling, which can help you graduate early. These credits also prepare students to begin work on advanced or major-specific coursework immediately.

Ideally, CLEP allows returning college students to use their life experiences to earn college credit quickly, allowing you to bypass redundant prerequisites. While CLEP is beneficial to all learners, military members especially benefit from CLEP exams because of the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) program.

Top 5 CLEP Exams by Military Pass Rate
CLEP Exam by Subject Pass Rate Percentage
Spanish Language 84%
College Composition Modular 82%
French Language 76%
College Composition 75%
Information Systems 69%
Source: DANTES

DANTES covers the cost of all 33 CLEP exams. The program only covers one attempt per CLEP exam, so you must pay for retakes if necessary. To see if you are eligible for DANTES, you can check the criteria below.

DANTES Program Eligibility

Service Members

Includes active duty, Guard and Reserve, components, U.S. Coast Guard, and USCG Reserve members. Must have and maintain a valid government-issued Common Access Card (CAC).

U.S. Coast Guard Spouses

Spouses of active duty and Reserve Coast Guard members. Must have and maintain the Uniformed Services Identification and Privilege Card, DD Form 1173.

Air Force Service Employees

Non-contract U.S. Air Force civilian employees. Must test at on-base or fully-funded test centers.

Department of Defense Acquisition Personnel

Only eligible for CLEP exams in principles of macroeconomics, principles of microeconomics, and principles of marketing.

Source: DANTES

What Are the CLEP Exams?

There are five main categories of CLEP exams: composition and literature; world languages; history and social sciences; science and mathematics; and business. Each includes several subjects, and there are two tests for each foreign language. Other categories cover similar topics in different subsections, like the two separate tests that cover American history. CLEP exams are developed by over 600 college faculty members across the United States. The questions are college-level and reflect actual course content.

Prospective test takers can purchase an official CLEP study guide for the current year. The study guide encompasses all 33 available tests and includes practice questions. If you're considering taking more than one CLEP exam, the $25 study guide is a great value. Smaller, subject-specific guides are also available: these only cover each test's specific subject matter and cost $10 apiece. CLEP also offers an app with additional study information.

CLEP exams must be taken in one of the country's 1,800 approved testing centers; many states have DANTES- or military-specific testing locations. Tests take 1-2 hours to finish. On exam day, you must bring your printed registration ticket. Certain literature and composition exams may have an optional essay section. Testing centers also accommodate students with disabilities.

Is CLEP Worth It?

Overall, if your college accepts CLEP credits and you're confident you can pass a subject test, you should consider taking the exam. Dedicating time to studying for these exams will help you inexpensively earn college credit before reaching campus.

Contact your school ahead of time if you are considering taking CLEP exams. Some schools may only accept a certain number of transfer credits; if you already have credits from previous coursework, CLEP credits may exceed the number of transfer credits. Since institutions have their own transfer policies, speaking with an adviser or registrar from each school can clarify any lingering questions.