What Are CLEP Exams, and How Can They Help You?

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Earning a college degree requires completing an adequate number of credits, both in your specific major and in general studies courses. If you already have experience – from college courses you’ve completed in the past, the military, or even in your career – you may be able to transfer credits to your new program, starting off ahead.

Depending on the school you attend, you can potentially save time and money. Although most students earn transfer credit via prior college transcripts or military transcripts, you can still earn college credit even if you haven’t taken any courses or if it’s been a while since you’ve been in school.

The College-Level Examination Program, or CLEP, is designed to recognize existing knowledge and experience via an exam. Depending on your individual school’s policies, passing a CLEP exam can mean earning up to three college credits and saving significant time and money.

In this article, we provide an overview of CLEP exams and explore if they’re right for you.

CLEP Exams Overview

Each CLEP exam takes 90-120 minutes to complete, and most are multiple-choice tests. They are available in 34 different subject areas in categories like:

How colleges apply credits earned by CLEP exams vary. Most will only apply the credits to general education courses and may only apply them in a general sense, such as six credits in math. Other schools use the CLEP test to exempt students from introductory level or general studies courses but won’t award credit. For example, passing the College Composition CLEP test might exempt you from taking an introductory writing course, freeing you up to earn those credits in a more challenging course.

Most colleges cap the number of credits you can earn via CLEP tests and won’t grant credit if you have already taken an equivalent course somewhere else, regardless of whether you passed. In the previous example of College Composition, if you took a college writing course at another school, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to apply CLEP credit for College Composition as well, as that would equal six credits for the same subject. This applies even if you failed the course.

In some cases, schools may only allow CLEP credits to apply toward electives and not courses required for your major. Although this means you may not be able to take some elective courses that appeal to you, it does free up your time and financial aid to focus on your major, and you can still reduce the time it takes to earn your degree.

Are CLEP Exams Right for You?

Before you sign up to take a CLEP exam – which costs $89, plus testing center fees up to $25 – evaluate whether it’s the best option for you. Preparing for and taking the exams takes time, and before you invest that time and money, be sure that it’s going to be worth it. Taking CLEP tests for credit is not a shortcut to a college degree, nor is it a guarantee that you’ll earn college credits.

Before you sign up, ask a few key questions:

If you’re looking for ways to reduce the cost of your college degree, and you have extensive knowledge in a particular subject, CLEP credits can help you reach your goals faster. Just be sure you understand exactly how the program works – and the pros and cons of earning credit this way – so you can get the most from your existing knowledge and accomplishments.


At Columbia Southern University, we accept CLEP credits, along with military and other transferrable credits. To learn more about how you can be on your way to a degree with credit for prior learning, visit ColumbiaSouthern.edu/Admissions.

For information about how CLEP exams may be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, visit https://clep.collegeboard.org/coronavirus-updates.

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