The College Board reports that a “moderate” college budget for an in-state public college for the 2015–2016 academic year will average $23,210. Over 4 years, assuming no increase in tuition (ha!), that’s $92.840 for a bachelor’s degree.
According to the Department of Education, fewer than 40% of students who enter college each year graduate within four years, while almost 60% of students graduate in six years. I’m sure you can do the rest of the math. Yes, financial aid helps, but unless you get some hefty scholarships, the average college student’s debt load is still enormous.
Then, consider that nearly half of recent college grads are working at jobs that don’t require a degree, and total student loan debt has reached 1 Trillion Dollars. To be frank, this is an extremely bad time to be entering the job market as a college graduate.
Unfortunately, the world still revolves around institutionalized, higher education, and a degree is the only key that most doors of opportunity will open with (unless you work extra hard to bust through the door). We’re told that in order to really “make it” in life, you have to get a college education. To a large extent, that is true, but is the sacrifice worth it, especially since 53% of recent college grads are jobless, or underemployed?
A lot of college-aged, young adults are seriously considering that question now that they see their friends working low paying jobs, living with their parents, foregoing marriage and family life, all because they are being crushed under a veritable mountain of student loan debt with seemingly no way out. This is becoming the norm.
Allow me to offer an alternative.
A bachelor’s degree consists of 120 credits.
Most classes count for 3-4 credits (a few classes count for more, but they are rare).
If we were to assume every class only counts for 3 credits, that’s 40 classes total.
Most people know that you can use CLEP exams to test out of lower level classes, but not everyone knows you can test out of an entire degree using other exams, such as DSST, to fulfill higher level course requirements. Instead of sitting in every single one of those 40 classes for 14-16 weeks each, you can study for each exam, and get the same amount of credits in a fraction of the time, if you’re motivated enough. For most people, 1-2 months is the maximum amount of time you’ll need to devote to studying for each exam.
The best part? Most exams cost $80-100. That breaks down to around $30 per credit.
Now, assuming you can do 2 exams per month, at 3 credits each, it will take you less than 2 years, (20 months to be exact) to get all 120 credits.
If we assume you need to take 40 exams to reach 120 credits, and we assume each exam is on the high side at $100, that’s a total of $4,000 in exam fees. Your study materials can be a mix of free, online sources, and textbooks. The total price of your study materials is very subjective, but shouldn’t total more than a couple thousand.
Free, online study materials are becoming more and more abundant. Even if we were to assume that your total study material costs are $2,000 (on the very high side), that’s still only $6,000 to acquire 120 college credits; less than the average in-state tuition fee alone for 1 year at a public college.
When you take this route, you still need to transfer those credits to a degree-granting college so you can get that diploma. This is where it gets a little bit tricky. Most colleges will not accept very many transfer credits, let alone exam credits. Most colleges also have a “residency requirement”, which means there is a minimum number of classes you have to take through that college, even if they’re online.
There are 3 widely known, regionally-accredited, online colleges that accept unlimited exam transfer credits and have no residency requirement; Excelsior College, Charter Oak State College, and Thomas Edison State College. These are not “degree mills”. Each of these institutions has the highest form of accreditation possible in the United States, which means their degrees will be accepted by employers, their classes can be transferred to other schools, and you can continue onto graduate school.
While there is no “residency requirement” at Charter Oak State College and Excelsior College, you do have to take one or two “Capstone” courses with them. The rest can be transferred in.
For Excelsior, you may have to take their Information Literacy Course if you don’t have anything that is equivalent to it. This is a 1 credit course that can be completed in just a couple of hours.
Because of this capstone requirement, technically speaking, Thomas Edison State College is the only college in America where you can get a Bachelor’s degree entirely by exam transfer (for most degree programs). The trade-off is that their admission, tuition, and graduation fees are somewhat higher than at Excelsior College or Charter Oak State College.
Once you apply and enroll at one of these colleges, there will be admission, tuition and graduation fees in order to get the degree, but it usually adds up to less than $2,000.
So, to summarize, that’s a bachelor’s degree in less than 2 years, for under $8,000.
(These costs will obviously rise over time, but not nearly the same rate as college tuition will rise.)
Most of the degree programs at these colleges can be completed entirely by exams, but a few of them require 1 or 2 courses be taken online because there is no equivalent exam. If you don’t want to take any classes ever again, make sure your all the courses for your degree have an equivalent exam.
I’m going to get a BSBA in General Management from Thomas Edison State College simply because all of the required classes have an equivalent exam, and it is therefore the easiest and fastest degree to test completely out of. We’ll talk more about finding exam equivalents in a moment.
The list of majors to choose from isn’t completely extensive. If you plan on going into a highly specialized, regulated career like a medical doctor, this obviously won’t be applicable to you. The goal here is getting a bachelor’s degree for the cheapest price, in the shortest amount of time. Anymore, it doesn’t matter which major you choose, you’re not going to have much luck getting a job anyways unless you have experience, networking skills and contacts. In my opinion, if you want a bachelor’s degree, get the most relevant degree you can as cheap and fast as possible.
A degree isn’t enough anymore, and needs to be regarded as one qualification among many that you will need in order to stand out in the job market. Social and networking skills, relevant work experience, and solid professional contacts are as important, if not more important than a degree. If you want to get a highly specialized degree, are convinced that you need the “college experience”, or you are some sort of masochist, you’ll need to go the traditional college route.
Here’s one caveat I must mention; the advisers/counselors at these colleges will do the absolute bare minimum to help you out in your quest to test out of an entire degree. The college makes money when you pay the full price for each credit by taking their classes, not from you testing out. If you want to test out of an entire degree, you’re on your own. Well, not entirely. There are a lot of us out there searching for an alternative.
The most helpful resource I’ve found, by far, in navigating this convoluted process is http://www.degreeforum.net/forum.php. This is an entire forum full of people who have finished, or are in the process of testing out of a degree. Almost any question you could ever think to ask has already been answered there.
With all that said, I chose Thomas Edison State College almost entirely because of the name. To be frank, it simply sounds more legitimate than Excelsior College, and Charter Oak State College is a little harder to find information about, and didn’t really fit my needs.
The name of the school you go to definitely will give off a certain perception to future employers. TESC is the second largest State College in New Jersey, behind Rutgers, so it’s definitely legitimate. The other deciding factor is that TESC offers their own exams you can’t find anywhere else called TECEP exams, and it’s a popular school, so there is a lot of accessible information on how to test out.
As I mentioned, the hardest part of testing out of a degree is figuring out which exams correlate to the required classes for the major you pick. Because TESC is such a popular choice, there are actually charts that have been made that tell you exactly which exam you need to take to fulfill the course requirements. (These are “unofficial”, obviously. You will need to verify with the school, but these are widely regarded as being extremely accurate).
From there, I entered “TESC + [course name]” into google and got the course number from TESC’s website. Then I searched the chart to find the corresponding exam for that course number. I suggest you lay it out in an XML document to keep everything organized.
Here’s how mine looked (before I decided to quit and start a business). On the left side are the degree requirements directly from the website for a BSBA in General Management. On the right side are the corresponding exams (I included courses I’ve already completed at MNU, KCKCC, and JCCC).
|Required Class||Credits||Test Equivalent|
|I. General Education Requirements||60|
|A. Intellectual and Practical Skills||15|
|English Composition I and II||6||
|College Algebra or Quantitative Analysis||3||CLEP – College Algebra|
|Managerial Business Communications||3||TESC Online Class|
|Electives in Intellectual and Practical Skills||3||Public Speaking at KCKCC|
|B. Human Cultures and the Physical and Natural World||18|
|Macroeconomics||3||CLEP – Principles of Macroeconomics|
|Microeconomics||3||CLEP – Principles of Microeconomics|
|Statistics||3||DSST – Principles of Statistics|
|Humanities, Social Science, Natural Science or Interdisciplinary Electives||9||
|C. Personal and Social Responsibility||9|
|Diversity/Global Literacy||3||CLEP – Intro to Sociology|
|Responsible Ethical Leadership||3||DSST – Ethics in America|
|Other Ethics or Diversity Course||3||DSST – General Anthropology|
|D. General Education Electives||18||
|II. Professional Business Requirements||54|
|A. Business Core||27|
|Principles of Finance||3||DSST – Principles of Finance|
|Business Law||3||CLEP – Introductory Business Law|
|Business in Society or International Management||3||TECEP – Business in Society|
|Strategic Management||3||TECEP – Business Policy|
|Computer Concepts and Applications/Introduction to Computers/CIS||3||CLEP – Information Systems and Computer Applications|
|Introduction to Marketing||3||CLEP – Principles of Marketing|
|Principles of Financial Accounting||3||Accounting I at JCCC|
|Principles of Management||3||CLEP – Principles of Management|
|Principles of Managerial Accounting||3||STRAIGHTERLINE – ACC102 (Accounting II)|
|B. Area of Study: Marketing||18|
|TECEP – Advertising|
|TECEP – Marketing Communications|
|TECEP – Marketing Management Strategy|
|TECEP – Marketing Research|
|DSST – Human Resources Management|
|DSST – Organizational Behavior|
|C. Business Electives||9||
|III. Free Electives||6||2 FEMA Exams (3 Credits Each)|
Once you have everything laid out, study up, register at the testing center closest to you, and join the ranks of all the other jobless, or underemployed grads out there.