10 Ways to Get College Credits Fast

Begin earning college credit as early as high school. This guide explains ten ways to earn college credits fast, save money, and graduate earlier than expected.

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by Nalea Ko

Updated May 11, 2022

Edited by Madison Hoehn
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10 Ways to Get College Credits Fast


Students can take the traditional route to earn a degree or shortcut the system and learn how to get college credits fast. Many top colleges and programs award prior learning credits — one of the fastest ways to earn college credit — such as credits based on work experience, military training, community service, and independent service. Many exams also allow students to receive credit and test out of required classes.

Use this guide to learn about earning and transferring college credits to graduate faster than the average student.

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1. AP Exams

Cost: $94

Ideal for: High school students enrolled in AP classes.

Taking AP courses in high school not only looks good on an academic record, but colleges may also offer credit or advanced placement to students who perform well on AP tests. High school students can get college credit by taking the AP exams administered every May by the College Board.

Earning a passing score on an AP exam indicates that a student understands the material covered in the corresponding AP course. Students can choose from 38 AP tests, including exams covering art history, biology, calculus, chemistry, English language and composition, music theory, and psychology.

High school AP coordinators help students register for the exams through the College Board. Students can prepare for AP tests with the help of tutors, AP teachers, and the AP Classroom, which features study resources such as videos and progress checks. Passing exam scores range from 3-5, depending on the college.

2. Accelerated College Classes

Cost: Varies

Ideal for: Working students or students with family obligations; however, any college student might benefit from accelerated courses.

Colleges typically offer 14-15-week courses broken up by winter and summer breaks. This format allows students to take 4-6 courses every semester. Accelerated college classes — often offered for online degrees — may only last 5-10 weeks. Taking a compressed college course means students can complete more classes in the academic year. Not all majors offer accelerated subjects, and not all colleges provide these courses.

Students can sign up for accelerated courses through their college in the same way they would register for traditional classes. However, accelerated courses may begin after the official semester start date, which could affect state and federal financial aid eligibility. Students could be ineligible for full-time aid or have their awards delayed if they take accelerated courses.

3. CLEP Exams

Cost: $89 (plus the test center registration fee)

Ideal for: Any high school or college student interested in earning credit by taking College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams.

CLEP exams reward students with college credit by assessing their knowledge of select subjects. The College Board offers 34 exams on topics such as American government, business law, chemistry, psychology, sociology, and Spanish. This credit-by-examination program allows students to get three or more credits at more than 2,900 schools across the country. Military personnel can take CLEP exams at no cost and access free prep books.

Test-takers can choose from more than 2,000 test centers. Exams test participants on topics covered in an introductory college-level course. Each exam asks 60-100 questions over about 90 minutes. The College Board offers study guides and test prep material to help students practice for CLEP exams. Taking the exam remotely by proctor requires test-takers to be at least 13 years old.

4. DSST Exams

Cost: $100 (plus administrative fees at the testing site)

Ideal for: Undergraduate and graduate students, including veterans and active-duty military personnel.

Once only available to military personnel and their families, DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) now provide every college student the chance to earn credit. College campuses, as well as military bases, offer authorized DSST testing centers. However, not every school accepts DSST results. Policies about prior learning credits vary by institution.

Prometric, which administers these multiple-choice exams, also offers a remote proctoring service. Students complete the paper-based or online exam, choosing from more than 30 subjects. Exam subjects include ethics in America, astronomy, criminal justice, general anthropology, lifespan developmental psychology, and technical writing. Each exam offers up to 2.5 college credits.

5. TECEP Exams

Cost: $50-$75

Ideal for: College students enrolled at any institution.

Administered by Thomas Edison State University, Thomas Edison Credit-by-Examination Program (TECEP) exams offer students at any school the chance to get credit for their job experience, volunteer work, or independent studies. Individuals can choose from 43 exams on topics such as English composition, public speaking, news reporting, abnormal psychology, the science of nutrition, and operations management.

TECEP offers open resources to help students study for these mostly multiple-choice exams. The exams are graded on a credit/no credit scale based on a minimum score. TECEP grades do not affect a student's GPA.

6. Work and Life Experience

Cost: Varies

Ideal for: Older, more experienced students and members of the armed forces.

Students can leverage their life experience and work experience to gain college credit. Schools may recognize corporate training, volunteer service, military experience, and professional credentials.

The number of credits a school offers and the methods used to verify eligibility depend on the institution. Many schools also have a limit for each student or degree program. Applicants may submit documentation to prove their prior learning, or they may be asked to take an exam.

Certificates and Licenses

Besides providing career advancement opportunities, certificates and licenses can also lead to college credit. Professionals and students often earn certifications through professional organizations and licenses from state agencies. In contrast, students earn certificates from vocational schools, junior colleges, and universities.

Common licenses and certificates used to obtain college credit include nursing and information technology credentials. Students must submit copies of their licenses or certificates to get credit.

Military Experience

Veterans and active-duty military in the Army, Navy, Marines, or Coast Guard can use their training and experience in the service to qualify for college credit. The American Council on Education evaluates a service member's military records to determine eligibility. They record that information on the Joint Services Transcript (JST), which academic institutions use to determine qualifications for college credits.

Each school has different policies for awarding credit for military training, with some military-friendly colleges offering more benefits to service members and their families. More than 2,300 schools accept credits based on the JST.

Volunteer Work

Internships and volunteer hours can provide professional training and networking opportunities. They can also lead to college credit. Students can find local and international opportunities with nonprofits and community-based organizations. Schools may accept volunteer work done before enrollment or provide opportunities during college. Academic advisors work with students to find acceptable internships and volunteer work. Students can sometimes earn stipends for volunteer opportunities.

7. Excelsior College Exams

Cost: Varies

Ideal for: Any college student willing to test to qualify for credit.

The Excelsior College Exams (UExcel), once called the Regents College Exams, let students independently study a subject and assess what they have learned. Prior to the test, candidates receive free exam content guides with information about what to expect and where to access study materials.

Credit values, test formats, and costs vary by exam. Students can earn 3-6 credits per exam. Nursing exams offer the most credit. Registration information is available online.

Exam topics include adult nursing, anatomy, business law, calculus, labor relations, managerial accounting, and workplace communication with computers. Live proctoring allows students to take the exam remotely. Test-takers can also test in person at a Pearson VUE test center.

8. New York University Language Exams

Cost: $279-$579

Ideal for: Students attending courses at New York University and elsewhere, as well as working professionals.

NYU's School of Professional Studies provides language proficiency exams that let working professionals and college students assess their proficiency in a language. Teachers and government workers who need proof of language competency can take the exam. NYU administers exams in 30 languages, including Armenian, Bengali, French, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, and Yoruba.

Candidates can choose from three types of exam formats. The 12-point exam includes reading, writing, and listening components. The 16-point exam has advanced oral and writing assessments. Both exams include multiple-choice questions, oral responses, and essays. Candidates who earn an 8-10 on an exam can take the 4-point exam to get four additional points.

Interested test-takers should call NYU to schedule an exam appointment. The school offers onsite locations and optional online proctored exams.

9. GRE Subject Tests

Cost: $150

Ideal for: Graduate students needing to take the exam as part of the admissions process or to apply for fellowships.

The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) Subject Tests assess a student's comprehension in chemistry, mathematics, physics, or psychology. Exams take about two hours and 50 minutes to complete.

Test-takers can register for GRE Subject Tests online or by mail. Test centers offer paper tests in September, October, and April. Exams scores fall on a 200-990 scale. Candidates have access to a free practice book.

10. University Challenge Exams

Cost: $100-$200

Ideal for: Any college student at a participating institution.

Students can test out of classes by passing University Challenge Exams, which some universities offer. The exams focus on specific topics, such as arts and humanities, communications, computer science, education, exercise science and wellness, health sciences, justice studies, legal studies, mathematics, sciences, and social work.

Students receive a pass or fail score. Test-takers who fail an exam can retake it after waiting a certain amount of time and paying another registration fee. Students register directly through their college or university.

Frequently Asked Questions About Getting College Credits Fast

What is the fastest way to get 60 college credits?

At some schools, students can get up to 60 credits through prior learning credits, including through CLEP exams, DSST exams, UExcel exams, and AP exams. Degree-seekers can earn additional credits for their work and life experience, professional certifications and licenses, and military training.

Credits earned from other colleges and schools can also transfer toward a degree and help students graduate quicker and save money. Taking online accelerated courses also lets students complete required courses fast.

How do you graduate from college in two years?

After taking advantage of various ways to accumulate prior learning credits, some experienced students may be able to earn a bachelor's degree in 2-3 years. For example, transfer students who have earned an associate degree can transfer into a four-year college with roughly 60 transferable credits and graduate in two years. Another way to speed up the graduation timeline is to take accelerated classes and increase your course load each term.

What is the easiest class to take in college?

When students study subjects that interest them, they may find the lessons easier and more engaging. Many degree-seekers enjoy electives, which allow them to choose from a selection of non-required courses. Introductory courses that cover the foundations of a particular subject can also prove easier for students than upper-level courses that require advanced writing and research.

How long do college credits last?

College credits essentially stay on your academic record forever. However, students may be required to retake courses they completed too long ago (e.g., 10-plus years ago). Students also may not be able to transfer credits from unaccredited schools.

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BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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