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Nontraditional Paths to College Credits and a College Degree

Updated on January 29, 2021

Independent Reading Can Lead to College Credits

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Friendly Options for Nontraditional Students

Is the lack of a college degree holding you back at work? Sometimes you know you can do the job, but nobody will let you try until you show them a piece of paper from a university. Fortunately, you won’t have to spend four years in a dormitory to get that credential; there are legitimate ways to turn your work experience, personal reading, and assorted coursework into college credits and an accredited degree.

For example, one way to get credit for American literature is to take a college course and pay the requisite tuition. Another way is to pay about $80 to take a CLEP test validating your familiarity with Hawthorne, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Longfellow and Faulkner. CLEP tests are available for a variety of humanities, social sciences, mathematics, business, and natural sciences; these tests cover the general education core for many colleges. Excelsior College offers a means of consolidating all your CLEP exams. They then let you take whatever online courses you need to finish an accredited Associates or Bachelors degree. Excelsior welcomes students who are not the traditional teenaged freshmen. Excelsior also accepts UExcel and DANTES exams, and offers college credit for working students who have computer certifications, allied health certifications, or a portfolio of work experience.

Thomas Edison State College is another institution that offers accredited degrees through non-traditional paths. Investigate Excelsior or Thomas Edison before spending money on expensive classroom-based courses. You might already be closer to graduation than you thought!

Many traditional universities and community colleges also offer credit for examinations. They do not usually promote this fact, however, so you will need to be proactive in asking about credit for CLEP or other examinations. If the content of a course looks very familiar to you, try asking, "Is there a way I could test out of this class?" It never hurts to ask, and you could save yourself time and money!

Online College

Have you ever taken a course online or gained credit-by-exam?

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Massive Open Online Courses

The latest trend in distance education is the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course.) Many colleges now offer some of their classes for audit (no credit) via the internet. Some even offer credit for a fee. These courses are an opportunity to learn from professors you might not otherwise be able to access because of cost or distance.

One fine example of a MOOC is the Constitution 101 class at Hillsdale College. Lectures are available for download at your convenience. Check out sites such as Udacity and Coursera for classes that can enhance career skills.

Father Guido Sarducci on Education


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