High school graduation is the pinnacle of homeschool success, but what comes after? You have set your child up for success. From reading lessons at age 3 to finding just the right math curriculum for algebra in high school, you have done everything that you could to make graduation successful and to prepare your child for the “real world.” However, some time, around ninth grade perhaps, something began looming on the academic horizon. You thought, “How will we ever have that much money?” and “Will he be able to pass the ACT or the SAT?” and “For that matter, which test should he take?” and “Where can I get financial aid?”

This unspeakable fear was...college.

Most people believe that a four-year degree at a cost of tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, is the only way to do college. For years, parents and students have subjected themselves to outrageous tuition fees and years of loan repayment, but there is a way to escape all of that. Through testing programs such as DSST and CLEP, students can save tens of thousands of dollars and bypass years of college tuition and time.

Taking credit-by-exam tests is a great means of bypassing those fees and loans. I spent less than $8,000 on my bachelor’s degree in English and graduated in June 2012, just one year after graduating from high school. Much preparation in homeschool helped, and thanks to input from friends and other knowledgeable people, I discovered this process and decided that saving tens of thousands of dollars on college tuition was something that I wanted very badly. I tested for 102 credits’ worth of credit-by-exam tests, took 18 credits of online classes, and graduated with a fully accredited degree. Now, I want to tell other homeschoolers out there about this option.

For most students, spending more than $100,000 on a four-year degree is all too common. In the 2011–2012 school year, the College Board reported that the average amount that out-of-state students budgeted for college expenses was $33,973; four years’ worth of expenses adds up to $135,892.

When you consider that roughly a third of the adults in the United States hold a bachelor’s degree, you begin to see how a B.A. or a B.S. is not as competitive as it used to be. With ever-increasing numbers of students earning bachelor’s degrees and still having trouble finding jobs, that bachelor’s degree might not be worth the $135,892 that so many students spend on it.

There has to be another way, right? There is, and it goes by many names, but I call it the MyCollege process. Through this process, a student can get a fully accredited degree for between $9,000 and $15,000. Homeschoolers in particular have benefited from the MyCollege process, because not only do the test providers cater directly to them but also because this plan is customizable to suit each student’s learning needs and strengths, similar to the way that homeschool is carried out. For less than 10% of what most out-of-state students spend on college, a dedicated student can earn an accredited degree three years faster than his peers who attend “regular college.”

The key to this entire process is credit-by-exam testing. Most who are familiar with this term think of the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST). There are others, but these two are the best when it comes to helping students. The idea behind these tests is that students who already know a topic well enough to be able to score at least a C on a class’s final test will be able to pass these tests. Grades for these tests are graded as “Pass” or “Fail,” with no effect on your GPA. With classes such as College Mathematics, Astronomy, The Civil War and Reconstruction, American Literature, and Spanish Language available, students are certain to find quite a few for which they already have acquired a strong knowledge base. Through online resources like www.collegeboard.com (CLEP) and www.getcollegecredit.com (DSST), students can find an abundance of study material and learn more about what kinds of tests are out there. Some tests are easy and some are difficult—it really depends on your knowledge—but there are resources for identifying those too, some of which are especially designed for home scholars.

Once you have decided that you want to take advantage of this process, schools such as Thomas Edison State College, my alma mater, are great places to take your credits. Many private schools such as Liberty University and numerous state schools accept credit-by-exam credits. You can go to www.clep.collegeboard.com to see which credits your school accepts.

Thomas Edison State College is especially helpful to its students, because it accepts nearly a full degree’s worth of CLEP tests, enabling you to take or transfer nearly as many or as few classes as you like. Some schools accept only a few tests, while others accept any that will fit into their available degree plans. As you are selecting a college, find out how many classes you can test out of and how much money credit-by-exam testing will save you. Attending an online degree completion-focused school will save you the most money and time.

If skipping two to three years of schooling is not how you envisioned college, do not dismiss the credit-testing process. Some students decide that they want the college experience, but they also realize that the $100,000 price tag might be a little bit out of their price range. Check with your college to see how many credit-by-exam tests they accept (and which ones those are) to find out how much money you can save while still graduating from your ideal school. It is good to keep in mind that by simply taking approximately eight tests, saving you about $3,200 each at a $100,000 per year school, you could save enough to eradicate the average after-school debt of $25,000.

I knew little about the entire process when I started taking college courses, but as a result of studying information gleaned from websites, books, and friends, I learned quickly and found that the MyCollege process was completely doable and that I could even do it by myself! I could have chosen other options for guidance through the process, but I chose to continue on my own, because it was incredibly affordable and extremely rewarding. As a result of my choices, I will be able to gain valuable work experience, travel extensively, and go into the right career with a head start on my peers. You, too, can take advantage of this process and begin saving on college expenses today!

Clifford Stumme graduated from Thomas Edison State College in June 2011 at a total cost of less than $8,000 and plans to continue to pursue his education with a master’s degree from Liberty University in 2013. He also runs a consultation service called MyCollege that is dedicated to helping students finish college inexpensively, in less time, and with more options for their lives. To find out more, contact him at mycollegecliff@gmail.com.  

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Publication date: April 3, 2013