How it Works

Everyone has unique circumstances. The plan outlined on this page is the most ideal way to graduate from college as quickly and cheaply as possible. A 4 year college degree can be finished in 3 years or less at minimal cost. Ideally, you have not started college yet and plan to do so in a maximum of 6 months. If you're not planning on starting college for a year or more, that's even better. To begin, it is easiest to start at the end.

Pick your major

You can change your major later, but it's important to pick it now and stick to it if possible. The major you choose may impact what college you can go to. Not all colleges offer all majors. Changing your major has varying impact on how long it will take you to graduate. Consider these 3 very different examples:
You decide on a business degree in finance. In your sophomore year you change to accounting. Since they are both business degrees and you are in your sophomore year, there will be no impact on your graduation timeline. If you make the change in the first semester of your junior year, there will likely still be no impact. You'll be taking business core classes, which are required by all business majors. If you make the change late in your junior year or after, it is likely you will have to attend college longer. You will have taken upper level finance classes by this point and they will not apply toward your accounting degree, so you'll have to take additional classes. At this point it's better to double major if your college allows it.

You decide on a degree in computer science engineering. In your sophomore year you change to education in mathematics. These degrees have some similarity, but different core classes. If you're late into your sophomore year you may have to take an additional class or two. Switching in your junior year or after is a bigger deal. The upper level core classes are different. Upper level mathematics classes (linear algebra, discrete mathematics, etc) will likely cross-apply, but major-specific courses won't.

You decide on a degree in veterinary science. In your sophomore year you change to art history. These degrees have no similarity. Only the most basic, lower level classes are shared. Depending how late it is in your sophomore year, you may have to take more than a few extra classes. With the exception of upper level electives (universities usually require 6 hours of upper level electives), any classes you take at the junior level and beyond will not apply to your new major. You'll have to take all new junior level classes.
If your goal is to graduate as quickly and cheaply as possible, picking a major and sticking to it is the best path. If you have to make a change, make a change within the same field (business, education, etc) and no later than your sophomore year. Once you are taking 300 level classes and above, don't switch.

Pick your 4 year university

After you've picked your major, pick your final school. Make sure the school you want to attend offers the major you want. In all cases this should be an in-state public university. Private schools are expensive. Out-of-state public schools are expensive. If you need to go to another state because your major isn't offered in your state, then you should move early. You won't be going to the public university for 1-3 years yet. If you move early and establish residency, when it is time for you to attend you will pay the lower in-state tuition rate. Most public universities require living in the state for a minimum of 1 year to qualify for in-state tuition rates. Find out what the college of your choice requires for residency documentation. If you graduated from a high school in the state, that's usually enough. If you graduated from an out-of-state high school, they'll often use the issue date on your driver's license. Sometimes they require other documentation. Find out in advance and have it ready so you are prepared. This single step can save $10,000 or more on your final education bill.

Make sure the 4 year university you choose allows CLEP testing. CLEP is accepted at more than 2,900 colleges in the United States. However, what CLEP tests are accepted by a college, how much credit is awarded, and how it is awarded, varies greatly among colleges. Some colleges don't allow business majors to use CLEP business classes, but they allow everything else. Some colleges cap the number of CLEP credits you can use at 30. Every college has different CLEP limitations. This link is a good starting point, but don't accept the information there as gospel. Follow up at the university of your choice and look for their exact CLEP policies on their website in writing.

Colleges often change their policies, but they're good at grandfathering people in. If you enter a school and they allow 30 CLEP credits, but before you graduate the college changes its policies and only allows 20 CLEP credits, you should be okay. The college will grandfather you in. Their new policy will apply to new students after the policy date.

Another factor to consider when choosing your 4 year school is the tuition rate. Tuition rates vary greatly among states. Some states are very high while others are quite low. It is often worthwhile to move to another state to establish residency and benefit from lower tuition rates. Some of the cheaper states include Wyoming, Florida, Montana, Utah, and New Mexico. Some of the expensive states include Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, and New Jersey.

For the 2018 academic year, one year of tuition and fees at the University of Wyoming is $5,218.

For the 2018 academic year, one year of tuition and fees at the University of Pittsburg is between $18,000 and $23,000 depending on your major.

Pick your 2 year college

Community college for in-state residents is an extraordinary educational value. There is also a little known benefit to attending community college: the university back door. In many states, if you attend a community college in the state for at least one full semester, you are guaranteed acceptance into a public 4 year university in the same state. You are not necessarily guaranteed entrance into the college of your choice at the university. State policies vary by state. As an example, if you attend Mesa Community College in Arizona, you are guaranteed entrance into Arizona State, the University of Arizona, or Northern Arizona. However, if your major is business, and you want to go to Arizona State, you still have to apply to and be accepted by the WP Carey College of Business at Arizona State.

Mesa Community College is also unique in that it offers a 60 credit block transfer associate degree. The degree transfers in full to any of Arizona's public 4 year schools. You receive an associate degree and start ASU as a junior. Other community colleges across the country offer similar programs that are linked to their 4 year university counterparts.

Verify the CLEP policies of your community college. They are likely the same or similar to your chosen 4 year university if both are in the same state. But there may be minor differences you will have to account for.

Start CLEP testing

Now and only now are you ready to start CLEP testing. You know your major. You know what community college you will be going to. You know what 4 year public university you will receive your final degree from. You know what CLEP courses your 2 colleges of choice will accept. Pick your CLEP classes and take the maximum your colleges (2 year and 4 year) will allow. If it's 30 credits, that's 8-10 CLEP tests. Some CLEP tests transfer as 3 credits, some transfer as 6.

There is no age limit for taking a CLEP test. If you're reading this guide early enough, start taking CLEP tests during your freshman or sophomore year in high school. CLEP scores are good for 20 years, however individual colleges sometimes impose shorter limits such as 10 years.

Bringing it all together, a sample plan:

You are a 25 year old working adult in St. Louis, Missouri. You decide to go to college and get your degree. Right now you have a job. You want a career. You decide to purse a degree in Business Information Systems. You find the university's CLEP policy here. You choose Saint Louis Community College as your 2 year school, and they have a similar CLEP policy.

Over the course of 6 months you study hard and take 9 CLEP tests:
History of the United States I (3 credits)
History of the United States II (3 credits)
American Government (3 credits)
Introduction to Psychology (3 credits)
Introduction to Sociology (3 credits)
College Algebra (3 credits)
General Chemistry (6 credits)
Principles of Macroeconomics (3 credits)
Principles of Microeconomics (3 credits)
Each test was $100. Total cost, $900 and 30 college credits completed. You completed your first year of college in 6 months.

You attend Saint Louis Community College for 9 months gain 30 credits. You take 21 credits in the spring semester and 9 credits in the summer semester. The in-district, in-state tuition rate is $109.50 per credit hour. Total cost: $3,285. Credits completed: 60.

You transfer to the University of Missouri St. Louis in the fall. In your junior year you take 18 credits in the fall, 18 credits in the spring, 9 credits in the summer. The in-state tuition rate is $335.50 per credit hour. Total cost: $15,097.50. Credits completed: 105.

In your final year you only have 15 credits left. You take them in the fall and graduate. Tuition cost for the year: $5,032.50. Credits completed: 120.

Total cost: $24,315
Total time: 2 years, 6 months.

This is only an example. Tuition rates are always rising and university policies are always changing. There are cheaper universities to attend, but the University of Missouri was chosen because it is fairly average for the United States. Clearly, CLEP testing and community college can greatly reduce the final cost of a degree and the length of time it takes to receive a degree.

Summer college courses are a great way to shave time off getting a degree. If length of time is not a factor for you, courses can always be taken at a slower rate.


Higher education costs are at an all-time high and costs continue to rise. By building a solid plan before you start, you can save time and money while pursing your undergraduate degree. CLEP testing is essential to this plan. It can cut the overall cost of your degree by up to 25%. University Master was built to help college students graduate as quickly and cheaply as possible. Our free online courses prepare you for CLEP tests, where you can obtain college credit at the lowest possible cost.
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