How Your Child Can Earn College Credits in High School (For Cheap)

College credits are expensive. Even a class at a community college can add a few hundred dollars to your overall tuition bill. For most undergrad degrees, the first two years are devoted to general education basics that don't necessarily impact an individual's future career. For example, to get my degree in English, I still needed to take Biology and Calculus classes.

There are a few methods that will allow high school students to earn college credits before they actually enter the college scene. Doing so can help them shave off a semester or even a whole year, which translates into a lot of money saved, depending on your college's cost per unit. (See also: 9 Freshman Shopping Tips to Cut College Costs)

Take CLEP Exams

The College Level Examination Program allows students to earn three credits or more on passed CLEP tests. There are 33 tests that can be taken and there are currently 2,900 colleges and universities that will accept credit for passing CLEP.

According to CollegeBoard, "More than 60% of CLEP test takers said that they relied on their high school course work to learn the material needed for their CLEP exam(s)."

The average college course costs $900, and the cost of CLEP is $80. If your child is able to pass five CLEPs, then it will cost you $400, but potentially save you $4,100 in tuition.

Every university has their own set of rules, so make sure you know how many credits from CLEP tests they will accept beforehand. It is also wise to know how many CLEPs are applicable toward your major. For example, the college might accept 10 CLEPs, but a specific major might only need eight of those. You don't want to waste time or money taking CLEPs that cannot be applied to your degree.

Take AP Tests

Many schools offer AP courses, which are more demanding that typical high school courses. Not only do AP courses look impressive on college applications, but they can count as college credit if students pass the exam.

AP courses and fee exams differ for each school. The standard fee for each exam is $93. A reduced fee is available for low-income families. Some schools might charge additional fees for proctoring and administering the course and exam.

Even if your child's school does not offer a certain AP course, your child can still take the exam. You will need to find an authorized testing center, and know that the test might be harder for individuals that did not take the specialized course for the entire year.

Enroll in International Baccalaureate Courses

Depending on the high school, students can take singular IB courses or choose to pursue an IB diploma. An IB diploma is challenging, but it can shave a whole year off a student's college experience. Unfortunately, IB is a smaller program than AP, and is not as widely offered. However, if your child's school does offer IB courses, it is possible that they can transfer for more units than an AP course, depending on the college and course.

Check with your child's school to see the exact cost of the IB program. As an example, Davis School District in Bountiful, Utah charges $864 for an IB diploma, which comes with six exams, on top of a $168 registration fee. However, they say their average IB students complete high school with 44 college credits, which comes out to the affordable price of $23.45 per unit. That is a huge difference from the usual $200–500 per unit cost that community and state colleges charge.

Take College Classes While in High School

Depending on your child's high school and community college regulations, your child can enroll in limited college courses while still in high school. Some college courses require prerequisites and you might need to gain signed authorization from your child's high school principal before they can dual enroll.

This option can cost more than AP classes or IB courses, but it can also be more flexible. Community college courses can be demanding, but for a student that is dedicated, it is more than likely they will pass the class. It can be disheartening to take a rigorous AP course only to have your credit riding on passing one exam.

Also with community colleges, your child will have access to online class options, help from professors, and summer class options.

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