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How To Finish College Early

With so many things to juggle in life these days, students want to know how to finish college early. Is it possible? Yes, but it takes a bit of planning with the correct information to guide you. There are many choices and paths available – you just need to decide how to get all your ducks in a row for which ones are best for you and make a plan. 

How To Finish College Early – A Guide On Different Steps You Can Take


The first place to begin is when you are in high school. You can pass the CHSPE (California High School Proficiency Exam) to finish high school early. Even if you do not live in California, all individuals and institutions subject to California law that require a high school diploma must accept the CHSPE certificate as satisfying that requirement.  

The U. S. Department of Education recognizes the CHSPE as equivalent to a high school diploma for various purposes, including applications for federal student aid.

The CHSPE takes about 3 ½ hours and costs $230. Subjects, knowledge, and skills tested include math, English-language arts, reading, and writing. The test is offered three times a year and practice tests and study guides are available if one wants to try out this option. 

DSST Exams 

DSST (Dantes Subject Standard Tests) Exams are designed to test your knowledge in a variety of general college subject areas, including business, humanities, math, physical science, social sciences and technology.

These tests are frequently used in conjunction with CLEP tests by students pursuing college degrees in non-traditional formats. However, DSST exams are available for both upper and lower-level credit. Nearly 2,000 colleges and universities nationwide accept these tests as college credit. 

These DSST exams are credit-by-examination tests originated by the U.S. Department of Defense for military personnel but can be used by anyone. The only difference is that if you are currently serving as military, a veteran, or a civil service worker, there is no fee as these exams are paid by the GI Bill or DANTES (Defense Activity for Non-traditional Education Support). Like the CHSPE exams, study guides are available. 

It should be noted that DANTES will not pay exam fees for previously funded exams. 

CLEP Tests

CLEP (College Level Examinations Program) testing is a way for college students to take an exam to demonstrate knowledge of college course material rather than attend a full semester or term’s worth of classes in that subject. These, as are the DSST exams, are fee-free for currently serving military members.

CLEP tests are almost exclusively used for lower-level credit at regionally accredited institutions. Veterans, dependents, and other eligible applicants may have their testing paid for by the GI Bill. However, DANTES does not pay the exam fee for previously funded CLEP exams. Currently serving military also must wait three months to retake these tests. 

CLEP tests are administered by a non-profit organization called the College Board.  There are approximately two thousand test centers in the United States. The participating college you attend must accept these results and may grant the college credit.

However, it is important to note that some colleges will not permit a student to take a CLEP exam in an area for which the student has previously attended college class. The good news is that these exams cost under $100 each and there are over 30 tests from which to choose. If the exam is not taken on a military base or fully funded center, some administrative fees may apply. 

Life Experience Credit

A student may apply for Life Experience Credit during the first semester of matriculation in the college program. You must complete an application form for and submit same to the School Dean in which the program is located. These types of credits help eliminate extra course costs and can help you skip some general education classes. 

There are six basic ways to get credit towards a college degree for prior work, educational or life experiences: 

  1. Take an exam to prove competency in a subject 
  2. Gather a portfolio to document your work 
  3. Corporate training or other seminars 
  4. Professional licenses and credentials 
  5. Military training and experience 
  6. Competency-Based Education 

AP Courses And AP Exams

AP (Advanced Placement) programs are created by the College Board which offers college-level curricula and examinations to high school students. American colleges and universities may grant placement and course credit to students who obtain high scores on the exams.

It is usually a good idea to take three to five if you are aiming for a highly selective school and two to four if you are aiming elsewhere. As in the other choices, there are AP exam online courses and test prep courses available.  

Other Ideas

As if your head isn’t swimming with choices already, there are still more choices to think about before making your final plan of attack. 

  1. Consider taking accelerated college classes 
  2. Enroll in a summer semester as well as other semesters 
  3. Transfer credits while you are in high school from postsecondary education, e.g. college classes, work experience or professional development training, military training, or personal and volunteer experiences 
  4. On-line classes 

One or more of these options is sure to assist you in graduating college early. Study them thoroughly, get your ducks in a row for a possible plan, then take time to make your choices. You should also ask for advice from trusted advisors and follow your intuition. Follow these steps and you will surely be successful!

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Joanne is a professional speaker, writer, organizer, and certified life coach. She received her Communications/Creative Writing BS degree from Chapman University in Orange, California.

Since deciding to attend college in her later years, she is well versed in the why and how it works. Her children were inspired to continue their education after high school, after watching their mom attend at an advanced age. Joanne was working for a Fortune 500 Company and knew getting a college degree would make her more competitive in the job market. She started at the junior college level and transferred her credits to Chapman. To her amazement, after graduation, a new Communications Department opened up and she was selected to be one of the Communications Specialists in the new department. It was also at a pay increase which made it all the more satisfying.

Currently, Joanne has her first two e-books in her Better Life Series on “How to Have More Love and Peace in Your Life,” and “Four Steps to Happiness.” “Beyond Hoping” is in the works along with a children’s book.

Joanne has seen how a college education can create new opportunities for young and old students and wishes she had a team like My College Planning Team available to her and her children to assist with their process and save them time, stress and money.

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