Coupon CLEPping cuts tuition costs

Brooklyn Dippo | News Editor

Here’s a coupon for 98 percent off your first three classes at the University of San Diego: a CLEP exam.Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 7.08.36 PM

Turns out there is a rarely advertised way to test out of general education and several prerequisite classes. USD students can take College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests to get out of many semester long courses. There are currently 14 CLEP exams approved for credit for lower division classes.

CLEP Exams are developed by the College Board, the same creators of AP courses and the SAT exam. There are big differences between CLEP and the College Board’s other exams though. The CLEP is the least expensive, consists primarily of multiple choice questions with a few variations depending on the test, and is designed to be passable with general knowledge on the topic.

The cost of taking a CLEP Exam is $80 (or free if you are active military). With no scholarships or financial aid, a three unit course at USD costs $4,710. That means that you can pay 1.6 percent of the cost to take a 90-120 minute exam and if you pass you get the same credit as a student who spends an entire semester in the equivalent course.

Once students pass the CLEP Exam they need to have their scores sent to the University Registrar, obtain an approval for the credit from the registrar, and then pay a processing fee of $25 per unit of credit to the Student One Stop Service Center.

The above CLEP Examinations have been approved for credit by USD for 2016.

The above CLEP Examinations have been approved for credit by USD for 2016.

For students in the science department, they can earn six units of chemistry credit for passing the $80 General Chemistry CLEP Exam and an additional two units if they can provide evidence of chemistry lab experience, saving them a total of $12,480 in course fees at USD.

USD Biology graduate, Carly Elder, had already taken an Honors Chemistry course and lab in high school and wishes that she had at least tried to take the CLEP Chemistry exam for credit.

“I definitely would have taken it,” Elder said. “Saving that time and money would have been awesome. No one ever told me that CLEP was an option. I only found out about it as a sophomore after I had taken Chemistry 151 and 152 at USD.”

Junior Clay Oliver is also a science student who was surprised by the option to take a CLEP exam but thinks that USD chemistry classes gave him a better foundation for four years of science classes.

“I think that while you save a lot of money and time by taking a CLEP exam, you miss out on valuable experience in the lab,” Oliver said. “I’m not sure how far a high school chemistry lab can go in terms of lab techniques due to time constraints, and I think you learn a lot of foundational skills in [CHEM] 151L and 152L that you’ll build off of for the next three years. There’s just some things that you cannot avoid, and I think that’s the case for [CHEM] 151 and 152.”

Though a student might not want to opt out of prerequisite classes, they can take CLEP exams for required lower division classes unrelated to their major. Getting core curriculum and lower-division courses out of the way with CLEP Exams can save students a semester or more of courses.

College counselors rarely advertise this option to high school students but relentlessly push AP Exams on them. One reason might be that of the $92 exam fee per student to take an AP Exam, the school gets a rebate of $9. The rebate is supposed to cover administrative costs but ultimately generates thousands of dollars for schools administering the tests, allowing them to turn a profit.

Some schools overcharge their students for administrative costs; in 2014 Palo Alto High School charged students $115 dollars per AP Exam when it only costed $89, meaning that they made a $26 profit on each test. After paying for proctors and fees related to the AP Exams, the school had nearly $25,000 in profits remaining that was spent on school supplies and technical equipment unrelated to the administering the AP Exams according to The Paly Voice, the official Palo Alto High School student newspaper.

CLEP exams are a time and money saver for college students and a legitimate way to knock out some core classes and prerequisites. Check the list of CLEP Exams available to USD students to see if there are any credits you can test out of.