Here is something that few people know, but can substantially decrease the time it takes to earn a college degree, CLEP and DANTES examinations.
I taught at the university level for many years, so this comes from experience. The first two years of a four year degree or the first 30+ hours of an Associates in Arts (AA is not the same as AS), are commonly known as "Gen Ed Courses". These are essentially the EXACT same courses you took in high school. For the most part they consist of the following...
* US History 1 & 2 * World History * English Comp 1 & 2 * Algebra and another math course * Two science courses - one Natural (biology, earth science), one Physical (physics, chemistry) * Humanities * Social Science (usually two areas - like Economics and Geography - if it ends in a "..phy" it is not a science) * Foreign Language (if going for a BA, most BS degrees usually do not have a language requirement). If you took 4 years of say French in high school, you have met this requirement.
So if these courses are the same as what you took in high school, then why do them? Because the university, to be accredited, must show that all students have essentially the same basic knowledge on what are considered primary knowledge areas. So, undergrads are required to have credit in these General Education courses. AH, but here is the trick, for MOST, but not all, universities how you get this credit can be accomplished through either attending class or testing out or what is called "Challenging the Course".
Challenging simply means that you feel you have enough knowledge that you can pass all the course requirements without doing anything other than proving your knowledge to a professor. This may be done through taking a test, doing some project or (normally) giving an oral presentation of all materials to the professor. The problem with this is that you still have to pay the full tuition for the course, whether you pass the challenge or not. You are not given a grade, but instead what is called a "Pass/Fail", thus this has no impact on GPA, positive or negative.
One of the best ways to get credit is to take either a CLEP (College Level Examination Program) or DANTES (Defense Activity for Non-Tradional Education Support). By taking and passing a SUBJECT MATTER exam through one of these, you earn your credit hours, save a huge amount of time and money. See, you only have to pay to take the test, not pay for the tuition and books for the course. Once again, these are "Pass/Fail Exams", so your score means nothing regarding your GPA. With these (in most cases, but not all), passing with a 70 is the same as making a 100. The difference comes with Foreign Language and in some cases U.S. History. Most universities that accept CLEP credit provide more credit hours for the higher your score in Foreign Language or will give credit up to both required US History requirements.
CLEP has two types of exams. General Knowledge and Subject Matter. General Knowledge exams are ones that cover all of the studies in a specific area. So the General Knowledge Social Sciences exam will have questions on everything from geography to economics. Many universities do NOT accept these exams for credit. Subject Matter exams focus on a specific subject.
If you are fresh out of high school and scored a B or higher in those classes, then you can probably take the related CLEP/DANTES exam with very little study. If you've been out of school for a while, but have some knowledge of one or more of those areas, then you can pick up a study guide from almost any bookstore for about $25, study it and then take the test.
The tests usually cost about $75. If you fail, then you can retake it 6 months later. If you pass, you have it. So why is this such a good deal? An average undergraduate GenEd course usually consists of 3 semester credit hours. The average cost per credit hour is about $75 ( $225 for the course), add in the required textbook(s) which can be another $50-$100 and you have about $300 tied up in course costs. Then add in the 4 months it will take to finish the course. Instead, you take the exam, pass it and move on to the next course. For most people I never recommend taking the exam more than once (unless you scored like 1 point below the minimal score) and remember that the acceptable minimal passing score is set by the university. So one could require a 65 and another would require a 72.
Are these really accepted? Yes, but check with your university to find out which ones are accepted and what the required score is. Plus, some universities, if you are already a student require that you request permission to take the test first. In the State of Florida for example, it is actually a State law that the public universities accept CLEP/DANTES credits. Other schools that accept go from Harvard to UNC to UCLA to Columbia.
One problem though with "Pass/Fail". Since these do not affect GPA, then if you need to raise your GPA these will not help. In most universities, if you actually took the course and failed, they will normally NOT allow you to get credit in the course through exam. Also, most degree programs have a maximum number of "Pass/Fail" courses that can be taken in a specific degree program.
With all that said, you can knock off from a full semester to an entire year off of a degree program and save a substantial amount of money. Colleges don't tell you about these exams because they don't make any money off of them.