A few years ago, I came across 10 strategies which can greatly improve the affordability and degree completion of US college students.
Degree completion programs, in combination with exams such as CLEP, DSST and AP, along with free Saylor academy and other MOOC courses can reduce the COST and time of your accredited US college degree by 60-90%. These programs provide unlimited credits transfer and evaluate experience for college credits.
Not all colleges provide these programs but there are several of them in multiple US states. Age is no barrier and any high school graduate with a few college credits is eligible. Even switching majors in college is more easily accomplished in such a program.
How To Make College More Affordable
- Degree completion programs are highly transfer-friendly and can transfer about 90 or more prior college credits FREE of charge.
- College board exams such as CLEP, DSST or AP can earn you about 3 to 6 transferable US college credits per exam. Each such exam costs less than $100 and there are many free and low cost textbooks and study resources.
- All Saylor Academy courses are free to take online and with proctored exams, they are eligible for ACE-accredited college credits.
For having a great career, the college name is much less important in comparison to how lucrative your major or field is, or when compared to how motivated you are to excel in a career of your choice.
- There are several work-study colleges in the US that provide free college tuition in return for weekly student work on the campus or in the local community.
- A college credit bank is a service provided by some degree completion colleges to non-enrolled students for having all their prior learning evaluated on their credit bank student report, for a small fee. This report can be used by students to more easily get their transfer credits accepted when they enroll into any college.
- Foreign courses can also be evaluated for US equivalent credits by credential evaluators who are recommended by the degree completion colleges.
No SAT or ACT scores are required by the degree completion colleges. So any high school graduates or adults are directly eligible for admission into a US degree completion college.
- There are rolling admissions at these colleges throughout the year, so students can enroll into these colleges without the stress of admission deadlines. Taking few months of break from college or a gap year is perfectly acceptable.
- MOOC courses from degree granting college curriculum such as EdX, and other accredited MOOC courses such as Saylor can earn students college credits. This provides students the opportunity to take MOOC courses from MIT, Harvard or other ivy leagues for a greatly reduced cost.
Colleges with Degree Completion Programs
There are colleges with degree completion programs in many of the 50 US states.
The top 5 degree completion colleges in USA are:
- Excelsior college in Albany, NY is a private college and was previously part of the University of the State of New York (USNY)
- Thomas Edison state college in Trenton, NJ
- Charter Oak state college in New Britain,CT
- Empire State college in Saratoga Springs, NY is part of the State University of New York (SUNY)
- Granite State college in Concord, NH
To find another degree completion college in the state where you live, simply go to your favorite browser and do a google search to see which of the following brings up a transfer-friendly and flexible degree completion college:
- <Your State Name> degree completion program. Eg:- North Dakota degree completion program
- <Your State Name> Fast track college program
- <Your State Name> Accelerated degree program
- <Your State Name> returning adults degree program
In case the above searches do not yield adequate results for your US state or locality, try to at least find a transfer friendly college in your state with this search query:
<Your State Name> Transfer-friendly college
How to Choose an Affordable College
In the book on College Shortcuts, I go into great detail on how to decide which degree completion college is right for you. You can also speak with the colleges directly on the phone or attend one of their in-person or online events for prospective students.
Speak with the college counselors and ask them all your questions and get your doubts clarified. You might also be able to meet other prospective students if you directly visit the college.
Alternately, you can ask the college staff to refer you to their alumni students or one of their current students. By doing this, you can gather direct student feedback about their experiences studying at the college.
CLEP, DSST Resources and Student Community
These exams are administered by the College Board and taken at test centers on each test center’s test dates/ schedules. CLEP is suitable for lower level college credits and so is DSST, though some DSST exams are also good for upper level credits.
But both of these exams are available to everyone and there are many test centers in the US and also in other countries. CLEP and DSST tests are free for anyone in the US military. CLEP tests are multiple choice and each test duration is 90 mins and DSST allows students 2 hours per exam.
With CLEP and DSST, it is best to first register for the exams in subjects that you already have some college-level familiarity. Once you’re more comfortable with the test formats, you can start taking more of the exams on subjects that are newer to you.
Be sure to take many practice tests to prepare for the real exam. The tests will actually test your college-level know-how on the topics, so they are not easy by any chance, though some exams are easier than others.
As recommended by most students, the following are the best resources for good scores on the CLEP/ DSST exams:
- College Board’s Exam Study Guides
- Instant Cert Flash cards (monthly subscription)
- Petersons.com Practice Tests
- Wikipedia and other general online resources
You can also find additional student feedback on the exams in the Degree Forum student community.
Free/ Low-cost Online Credit-eligible Courses
There are many online course providers some of whom are specifically for earning college credit, and others that are focused on building professional skills. A few courses/ providers are able to do both i.e. earn you college credits while simultaneously building you valuable skills for the workplace.
A few well known and recommended online providers specific to earning college credits are Study.com and Saylor.org. Study.com charges a monthly subscription for less than $100 and Saylor.org offers free courses.
However, many of Study.com’s courses provide upper level (UL) credits whereas only about 3 or so courses of Saylor Academy are upper level.
As for earning college credits along with professional skills up-gradation, some of the best options include MOOC courses that are part of college curriculum. Many of edX’s courses are credit-eligible.
With MOOC’s such as EdX, Coursera or Udacity, it is best for students to not just take the course but to also write the exams and get a verified certificate. The MOOC platforms in some cases have an agreement with university that administers the course to award college credits for a somewhat higher fee.
The other option with MOOCs is to get the course certificate and then to apply for a portfolio/ prior learning assessment at your degree completion college for evaluation into equivalent college credits.
Career Prospects and Degree Completion Programs
Degree completion programs are offered by accredited colleges and are well received by employers and treated as on-par with most traditional colleges. In fact, most companies will hardly pay much attention to the college you graduated from, as long as it was accredited and as long as you got good grades.
Beyond your first one or 2 years of employment, most employers will pay the most attention to your quality of work experience, and will hardly care about whether you studied at an ivy league or at a degree completion college.
The industry, field or profession will certainly play a major role in the type of work and salary you are able to command. For example, someone with a degree in Healthcare or Computer Technology is likely to have more job opportunities and higher salaries than say someone else with a General Liberal Arts degree.
How Should We Think About College Affordability?
Some people might have heard of a friend who completed a degree completion program but most people have no clue what its about. Most people believe that college is expensive by default and are not aware of the highly affordable nature and flexibility offered by these programs.
So if you are ready to start or re-start your college this way, gather up family support by keeping them informed about the benefits of this program. If you are a student, be sure to share the details with your parents and anyone else who is supportive of your college goals.
If you are a parent and are interested in your child enrolling into such a program, tell them all that you know about it and have an in-depth discussion with your child about the merits of such a program. In case your child is interested in experiencing college campus life, s/he can follow a hybrid approach by enrolling into a regular college for an year or so and later transfer the credits to a degree completion college.
Alternately, to reduce costs, the student can attend community college for the associates degree and follow that up with a degree completion college for the bachelors degree and even a masters degree if needed.
There is usually peer pressure and some students prefer attending a college that their friends and former school classmates are planning to attend. If so, be sure to discuss the details of the degree completion program with your close friends. Jointly combine your college selection efforts with them and research more about it together if possible.
Having a close friend attending the same college as you can be motivating in many ways, so be sure to keep them in the loop about your latest research and decision on enrolling into a degree completion program.
Most degree completion colleges require newly admitted students to at least have a few prior college credits after high school graduation. So in case you do not have any college credits yet, just complete one or more CLEP, DSST and/or AP exams before applying for admission into a degree completion college.
In case your family or friends need additional convincing, you can always refer them to the top 5 degree completion colleges, or show them just how many students are successfully completing these courses in the degreeforum student community.
Degree Completion for International Students
At any of the degree completion colleges such as Excelsior or Thomas Edison, foreign college courses recognized by that foreign government’s education department are eligible for a foreign credential evaluation to US equivalent college credits.
So foreign students can pay the foreign credential evaluator a fixed fee for this evaluation, send in all the transcripts/ mark sheets along with the course syllabus/ curriculum, and then have the final report sent to your enrolled degree completion college.
These foreign credits that are approved can be credit transferred to the US college free of charge. Therefore, any international students or US students who travel frequently can enroll into such as US degree program. Upon traveling, simply update your new international address with your college and continue your US degree at a degree completion college as always.
Anyone over the age of 18 (or over 16 in some cases) can attend a degree completion college. There is no upper age limit either.
In fact, many degree completion students are in their late 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s or even early 60’s.
Many such students are returning college students who are re-starting college which they dropped out of years ago. Financial problems or family issues might have previously prevented them from completing their college degree.
These programs are ideal for working adults and you can set your own study schedules to fit around your own work schedules. You get to decide which courses to take, whether online or at a college campus, or write credit eligible exams for credits. All that matters is that the course curriculum needs to fit the degree credit requirements at your degree completion college.
If you are working and your college major is in the same field/ industry, you have good chances of getting your work experience evaluated for college credits via a prior learning evaluation.
Switching Your College Major
There are times in life when students may be unsure of which college major to choose, or when a student may suddenly find a subject to be far more interesting than their chosen major. IN most traditional colleges, changing a college major would involve a long process and a lot of additional expenses.
But since the expenses and credits transfer at a degree completion college are so simple, all you would need to do is to re-enroll into the new degree major and then have all your general credits transferred to the new degree major free of charge. Any specialized credits can also be transferred as per the degree requirements for your new degree major.
Even More Secrets for College/ Career Success
There are also nil-to-minimum residency requirements at these colleges so you can live right where you are and still enroll in many of these colleges. However, each college has its own requirement and some of colleges might expect you to earn about 30 college credits directly on their campus or via one of their online courses.
The key is to successfully complete college in about an year or more, so as to quickly move on to a great career. So don’t be too stuck up about experiencing college campus life or dorm life. However, if you are interested in this, you can still take some of your courses on-campus so as to enjoy college life.
Note that the sooner you complete your degree, the lesser your college expenses will be, and the sooner you can be start earning a good salary in your chosen field.
The real beauty of these 10 secrets is that you can avoid the financial stress of affording college and student loans, and simply complete an accredited US college education for a 5% to 10% of the cost of the high-priced US colleges.
Since a lot of your previous college courses, non-accredited learning, work experience, and writing CLEP and other such exams can earn you credits, the time for college graduation can be accelerated by about 50% to 80%, depending on individual circumstances.
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