What is CLEP?
College Level Examination Program (CLEP) was developed by College Board over 40 years ago as a way to “receive college credit for what you already know for a fraction of the cost of a college course.” College Board offers 33 different exams at $80 each. The exams take 90 to 120-minutes each and are offered at a variety of testing centers around the country.
Pros and Cons to this Education Option
When a high school upper-classman or a college student knows a subject so well that she only has to study a few hours in order to pass the CLEP test, the true benefits and purposes of CLEP are realized. She just saved hundreds or thousands of dollars and many hours of class time.
CLEP credits can be valuable. Students can still take the CLEP tests after taking a course that is not specifically designed for the CLEP. For example, they can take World History, then study specifically for the Western Civilization I or II CLEP test, take a practice test, and then take the CLEP test to earn the credits for college. This method provides a good foundational class plus college credits through CLEP with just a little extra work.
A difficulty with early-age CLEPPING is that the classes to prepare for the CLEP test will be taught at a college level—moving faster than a high school class and bypassing the fun activities-- because the CLEP test is a college-level test that earns the student college credit. This method works well for a few students. However, other students (and their parents) have been surprised at the pace when partway through the semester, the student is burned out and not enjoying the learning process.
Nowadays, some students are starting CLEP tests in junior high and early high school. The argument for starting so young is that studying the same topic in high school and then again in college is a waste of time, so why not take a CLEP test after the high school class is finished, and earn the college credits for it. However, the development of the brain’s capability to process higher level information needs to be taken into consideration. I oftentimes look back on information I studied in high school and think, now, why was that so difficult back then? Take history, as an example. In high school it was a long, dull blur of facts, but now as an adult, the stories of history have dimension, purpose, and deeper meaning. Similarly, when a student takes a college level biology class in ninth grade to prepare for a CLEP test, she most likely won’t be processing the information with the same level of understanding as when she takes a college biology class when she is 18 years old.
My philosophy on CLEP in high school
Let me be direct—which doesn’t surprise most of you. This is why my kids have never earned college credits through CLEP. I wanted to have the freedom to fill classes with significant and meaningful content rather than teaching to the test. If I had to focus on teaching to the CLEP test, the focus is limited to its parameters and the class becomes more standardized rather than thought-provoking. Moreover, the benefit of learning in a classroom with peers, a professor, and thoughtful homework assignments weighs heavier than hurrying through with a CLEP test.
Other reasons I see that CLEP credits have their limitations:
- Most colleges accept a limited number of CLEP credits (e.g., 12 credits maximum).
- Some colleges have a very limited list of the specific CLEP credits they accept (e.g., the U of M only accepts three CLEP exams: College Math, Microeconomics, and Macroeconomics).
- CLEP credits might not be directly applied to your major. They might land in the extras bucket, especially if you are aiming toward a degree with a license, like nursing.
- Students earning college credits only through CLEP miss the real-life experience of interacting with professors in their field of interest, thus missing the opportunity to figure out what they want to major in (e.g., one of my daughters changed her major to Finance as a result of a Finance professor, and another daughter was so inspired by her math professor while taking classes at the community college through PSEO that she changed her major to mathematics).
- Students earning college credits only through CLEP miss the interaction in classes with other students that gives them the opportunity to learn how to work together on projects, develop problem solving skills, and establish relationships for future career networking (e.g., In a Business Capstone class, my daughter was required to establish a real, working company with her classmates. She gained experience in organizational structure, product development, financing, sales, accounting, etc. The professor also emphasized giving back to the community and meeting international needs, so they volunteered at a local shelter and donated all the profits from their business to a foreign mission. This experience could not have happened through CLEP).
- The networking that the college experience provides for post-graduate studies is priceless; a CLEP degree does not provide this (e.g., my son was awarded a full-ride research scholarship with a stipend for his Master’s degree because of a connection through one of his professors).
- The networking that the college experience provides for jobs is important (e.g., my daughter got her foot in the door at a Fortune 500 company because of another graduate from her college).
Over the years of homeschooling, I have seen many trends come and go. While I am supportive of students getting through college with limited debt, I am cautious of missing the value of the college experience and cheapening the value of the classroom connections to the point where the value of the college degree is diminished.