How to Test Out of College Classes

Did you know that you can earn college credit through exams without ever taking a college class? Read on to learn how to test out of college classes.
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  • You can earn college credit without taking a college class.
  • Some of the more popular credit by exam options include CLEP and AP exams.
  • Earning credit from test scores can save you time and money.
  • Some colleges maintain their own college-specific exams.

General education classes, or "101" courses can be tedious, especially if you're already knowledgeable in the material. But everyone has to get through them, right?

Not always. Depending on your school, you may be able to test out of general education classes and earn credit without taking the class.

Some colleges offer in-house opportunities to test out, but you can also earn college credit through programs and advanced classes in high school. Read on to learn the advantages of testing out of classes and how you can earn credit from your test scores.

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What Is Credit by Examination?

Credit by examination is a method used by some colleges to award you credit towards your degree for demonstrated proficiency. You can earn credits by examination in a few different ways: through AP exams in high school or through college-level tests like CLEP and DSST.

Each credit by exam option differs in what it's testing for, but one thing they all have in common is that you need to achieve a certain score on the exam to pass and earn credit. The score you need to earn credit can also vary from college to college.

5 Credit by Exam Options

There are a few different ways to earn credit by examination. Below are some of the most widely used and accepted options to earn college credit by examination:

  • College Level Examination Program (CLEP)
  • DANTES Subject Standardized Test (DSST)
  • Advanced Placement (AP)
  • International Baccalaureate (IB)
  • College-Specific Challenge Exams

College Level Examination Program (CLEP)

The College-Level Examination Program is a series of tests offered by the College Board to enable students to earn credit for subjects that they already hold college-level proficiency in. This means students can earn credit without spending the time and money to take the class.

You can register for a CLEP exam in 34 different subjects. If you score high enough, nearly 3,000 colleges and universities will accept your exam scores for credit. They are more affordable than taking a college class, but CLEP exams have fees — usually $93 per exam.

DANTES Subject Standardized Test (DSST)

Similar to CLEP, the DANTES Subject Standardized Test is a series of exams that you can privately register for to demonstrate prior knowledge of a given subject and earn credit from your college. DSST exams cost $100 each.

While the DSST is not as widely recognized as the CLEP, nearly 2,000 colleges and universities accept DSST scores, so check if your school is one of them.

Advanced Placement (AP)

AP classes and exams are a popular way to earn college credits before you ever set foot on a college campus. Unlike the CLEP and DSST exams, AP classes and exams are offered at the high school level. While there's no extra cost to take an AP class in high school, the exams typically cost around $100 each.

Many colleges will offer you credit for passing scores (3 or higher) on AP exams, with some schools offering more credits for higher exam scores.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

Like AP classes, International Baccalaureate exams are offered at the high school level and allow you to earn college credit before you start college. Many colleges and universities will award you course credit for passing scores (usually 3 or higher) on your IB exams. Some high schools may charge students for the IB exam fee, so be sure to check with your school on the costs.

Most colleges and universities recognize the IB program and award credit for higher-level IB exams, but not all give credit for standard-level IB exams. Be sure to check each of your prospective colleges' credit policies.

College-Specific Challenge Exams

Some colleges offer their own exams for credit by examination or exemption from certain degree requirements. These are typically held on campus — sometimes during your orientation period — and can only be taken once you've enrolled with the school.

For example, at New York University and the University of Michigan, you can take exams to place out of your foreign language requirement if you're already proficient in another language.

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The Benefits of Testing Out of College Courses

Testing out of college courses and earning credits by examination can be difficult, but there are many rewards to it. Here are some advantages to testing out of college classes:

Save Money

While some exams have mandatory exam fees, testing out of college classes can save you a lot in the long run. Since you won't need to take the classes, you won't be paying for them. Depending on how many credits you test out of, you can end up saving on a semester or more worth of tuition.

Graduate Faster

If you're eager to hit the ground running, testing out of college credits can get you closer to graduation faster. Students who earn a large number of credits by examination may be eligible to graduate a semester or even a whole year earlier.

Skip General Education Courses

One advantage of college is being able to focus on your major and the subjects you're most passionate about. Testing out of general education courses through credit by examination makes this even easier, allowing you to skip introductory classes to subjects you're less passionate about.

Frequently Asked Questions About Testing Out of College Classes

What is the difference between AP and CLEP?

While both AP and CLEP are offered by the College Board, only high schoolers can take AP exams, while anyone can take CLEP exams at any time. Another difference between these two exams is that you must prepare for CLEP exams on your own time, while AP exams are usually taken after you complete the corresponding AP course.

You can take AP exams without taking the corresponding AP course, but the test may be significantly more difficult without the instructor and coursework to help you prepare for it.

Can you earn college credit for internships and work experience?

Earning college credits from internships and work experience is possible, although the process to earn credits is a bit different than the credit by examination process. For example, military-friendly schools might award veterans with up to 30 credits.

And if you've worked in law enforcement and completed police academy courses, you may qualify for 30+ credits, potentially saving you more than 25% on tuition costs.

If your work experience has helped prepare you for the CLEP or DSST, you can also earn credit by examination that way. Sometimes there are other programs available, depending on your college and experiences. Check with your school's counseling or prior learning office about the options for obtaining college credit through internships or work experience.

Do all colleges accept credit by examination?

Not every college accepts credit by examination, and there is variation among those that do. Some colleges, for instance, only accept AP scores of 4 or higher. Additionally, some schools may only award one credit for passing an exam instead of three.

Be sure to check each of your prospective colleges' credit by examination policies. 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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