Most jobs require some kind of college degree as a prerequisite of employment. If you’re in need of a degree but don’t want to spend four years and $50K+ on a piece of paper, you’re in luck. In this article, we’ll explore exactly how to obtain a bachelors degree, for under $5000, in under one full year.

College Return on Investment

If you look at most college undergraduate programs today, you’ll notice that 1) they take 4 years, and 2) they cost $50K-100K or more. What do you get with this investment? Most people go to college for one of two reasons: knowledge and credentials (to learn, and to get a degree). That’s what you’ll get for 4 years and $100K. But what if we could find a way to get the same thing, for much less of an investment?

If we could get the same thing for one-fourth of the time investment and 1/20th of the financial investment, it would mean a significantly higher ROI (return on investment). You pay much less; you get the same thing. Low cost and crazy value.

The Process - Overview

College Board CLEP

The process consists of taking tests to earn college credits. These tests are called CLEP tests, official exams offered by the College Board (same organization that makes the SAT). There are 33 different CLEP exams covering almost every subject. Each exam is worth 3, 6, or 12 college credits.

But how do you know you can pass the tests? How do you turn successful tests into a real college degree? Is this degree worth anything to employers? Read on to find out.

The Step-By-Step Method

Step 1: Do research. You should plan everything out before you get too far into this. Make a document that lists everything you’ll be doing – it’s different for each individual. Make sure you know which exams you’ll take, which college you’ll be getting your degree from, what kind of degree you’ll get, and how much you’ll spend.

Step 2: Study. Once you have everything figured out, you should start taking tests. I recommend you use a study guide for every test unless you know the subject well. CLEP tests aren’t that hard, but you don’t want to waste your time and money if you fail (you do get unlimited attempts, and you don't have to wait to take it again if you fail. But it's another $80 test fee wasted). There is an official CLEP study guide for every CLEP test. These tell you exactly what kind of questions will be on the test (if you see it in the study guide, you’ll probably see it on the test). The study guide also contains practice tests and test-taking tips. They’re a great value, but if you want to save money, you can check them out from your local library. Tip: you can see sample questions and a list of tests on CLEP's website.

Step 3: Take test. Once you’ve looked over your study guide and you’re ready for the test, it’s time to take it. Tests cost $80 to take, and you can schedule it at a CLEP test center (most local colleges have them).

Step 4: Repeat. There are 33 different CLEP tests, and you’ll need 120 credits to get a degree. In step 1, you research your college and exams. Depending on what kind of degree you want, you may find that you need to take a class or two in person. There are degrees that can be had by only taking CLEP tests – or you could get a different degree using mostly in-person classes with a few CLEP credits. It’s extremely personalized and flexible. Figure this out during your research process.

Step 5: Transfer your credits to a college. Once you have the required 120 credits, you’ll have to transfer them to an accredited college to get a degree. Excelsior College is the most common for CLEP students – you can get all your required credits from CLEP. Two other common options are Thomas Edison State College and Charter Oak State College.

Once you’ve chosen your degree and college, you’ll need to apply and get accepted. You’ll spend about $1500 for the application fee, enrollment fee, and graduation fee. Then transfer your credits, and boom! You’ve got an undergraduate college degree.

Signaling Value

Testing via CLEP exams is an excellent way to earn a legitimate degree. It’s a great option if you need a real degree to put on your resume (so diploma mills are not an option) but don’t want to spend the extra time and money for a traditional college program. Plus, doing it this way shows a prospective employer that you’re a creative problem-solver with intelligence and determination. Getting a college degree in a year for $5000 is an impressive accomplishment.


Taking exams to earn college credit

To buy a $20 study guide and $80 test for 30+ tests, plus college fees, will cost somewhere around $5000. It does require a financial investment, but not nearly as much as a traditional college program. It’s a lot of work, but nowhere near as much as regular college. Plus, you can do CLEP exams on the side, while you maintain your day job, finish high school, travel, or whatever you want. Traditional college offers nowhere near this amount of freedom – you’re stuck in one place, doing full-time work.

This plan is extremely customizable, and can be used to earn all of your credits or just a few. Most colleges accept some CLEP credits, so even if you’re going to a tradition college, check to see if you can CLEP out of a few classes.

Not only do you get credentialed with this process, but you also get knowledge. You’ll learn a lot by studying for and taking CLEP exams. And the freedom you’ll get with this approach means that you’ll have plenty of time to study your chosen field – get real-world experience, take classes, intern, or anything else.

To sum it up, taking CLEP exams to earn a college degree is one of the best options available for college. It offers a crazy high ROI, with a high-value degree and extremely low cost. Plus, you get freedom and benefits that traditional college can’t touch. I highly recommend considering CLEP if you’re looking to get a college degree.

The CLEP Official Study Guide

CLEP Official Study Guide 2014
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(price as of Sep 2, 2013)
This all-purpose study guide includes practice exams for all 33 CLEP tests. There are also individual CLEP study guides available for each test.