(The following is a guest post from Sara Porras.)
If you’ve homeschooled for any length of time, you’ve heard the question, “But, what about high school?” or “How will they ever get into college?” They don’t understand that you don’t really teach high school, but rather you become their guidance counselor. You choose or help your students, select curriculum, books to read, or even help them find co-op classes or a few online live courses where they learn subjects like Algebra, Latin, or history from a more learned teacher.
When starting my research on homeschooling high school, everyone’s advice seemed to have to do with getting the students into college. Teens take courses to prepare themselves for the college entrance exams, the ACT and the SAT, they volunteer in the community, participate in sports, and they might even earn a few college credits all to appease those college admission counselors. I started to wonder how hard it could be to “get in?” And although I’m in no hurry to rush them off into a college classroom and or onto a college campus, couldn’t they just start by taking some classes while in high school? What about college-level exams?
The first time I learned about CLEP exams, College Level Examination Program, my understanding was that they were a great way to prove your student had taken courses with academic rigor and that they had mastery of the material they had studied. Honestly, I didn’t know if my bright, but mostly average kids could pass a college-level exam. I had also heard horror stories of kids earning multiple college credits from one source or another, later to learn their student’s college of choice would never accept the credits. I was skeptical.
CLEP Exams can save time and money!
My research quickly led me to some astonishing information. While watching a wonderful webinar by Becky Muldrow of Dual Credit at Home, I learned that not only are homeschool high school students passing these exams and earning college credit, they are also earning associate degrees, and some are earning four year Bachelor degrees.
They are doing it for a small fraction of the cost of attending a brick and mortar school. There are accredited colleges that accept many college credits via college equivalency exams, dual credit exams, and more! Consider Liberty University, which accepts 75% of 120 credits needed for most bachelor’s degree as transfer credits. Three colleges, known as “The Big Three,” accept almost all credits via transfer. Charter Oak State College, a regionally accredited online college, accepts 114 transfer credits. They offer Bachelor degrees that, if carefully planned, can be obtained for less than $6,000! Our college funds are currently pretty small. However, if we can combine college and high school at the same time, I believe they can finish their undergraduate degree debt-free.
Planning is Key
When planning to do college and high school simultaneously, it’s important to plan well. You want to make sure your student meets at least your state’s homeschool high school requirements if any. You also need to know the transfer policies at the college your student plans to complete their studies with. Most of the general education or lower-level classes needed for a Bachelor degree are the same subject high school students study. Your student will study subjects at a high school level, add in some extra study and then take and pass a 90-120 minute college-level exam which helps them bank college credit and you can issue them high school credit for their time and effort while studying to learn the material.
Our CLEP Exam Journey Begins
Not one to enjoy wasting time or money and enjoying a good challenge, I plunged in with this journey last fall, my twins’ Freshman year of high school. I recommend starting with a subject your student enjoys as your first exam. For our boys, it was US History, and I had already planned to have them study this subject. They began high school history, Omnibus III from Veritas Press in the fall. They did extra studying using Quizlet’s free games, and online flashcards with Speedyprep (HSLDA offers members a discount for Speedyprep.) By February, they were ready to take the plunge and just see how the testing would go with CLEP US History I.
Our First Test!
The staff was quiet and calm when we arrived, and all eyes were on us as they noticed the ages of our kids. They asked if we knew these were college-level exams and there was no guarantee of passing. We paid the $25 proctor fee, per test; fees vary among testing centers. The boys were sent into the testing room and out of my line of sight.
I waited in the lobby for the first hour of the 90-minute exam and returned to wait for the rest of the time in the small testing office just outside the exam room. The receptionist asked where the boys went to school and how old they were. She said quietly, “Oh, I see. Well, a passing score is 50, for most colleges, and we typically see scores just under that or slightly over. Occasionally, someone studies hard and manages a score in the 60’s.”
I told her that I honestly, just wanted them to pass. These exams are pass or fail, and at most schools, will not earn a grade. Ten minutes later, our son Luke emerged from the exam room with a large smile on his face. The receptionist took his printed score off the printer and said, “Nice job, young man!” as she mouthed the words “Seventy-one!” to her co-workers. Two other staff members came out from behind their cubicles to congratulate them. They also asked about homeschooling and when we planned to return for the next test! In the meantime, our other son completed his test with a respectable 68! We were elated.
Banking College Credits
Since then, they have banked 12 college credits by passing the Civil War and Reconstruction DSST, which is another college exam worth a 400 level college history course at most schools that accept CLEP, the CLEP American Government, and CLEP US History II. They could also take CLEP American History, which we plan to take next year, which will earn 3-6 credits depending on the transfer school.
Day to day while preparing for an exam and doing high school? We are currently working on studying a few high school classes, like Algebra II and Spanish, plus one exam at a time. On an average day during this past spring, they would spend an hour doing their high school level history curriculum, thirty minutes practicing online flashcards with SpeedyPrep or Instantcert, around 45 minutes watching videos reviewing the material with Study.com, and around 15 minutes doing the review questions from the free membership with Modern States.
After completing the courses with Modern States, they offer a free voucher to pay for the $89 CLEP exam and will even reimburse the proctor fee. They offer this to the first 10,000 students to apply each year.) After getting through the Study.com videos, about three weeks per exam, they would spend a week doing practice tests from either Peterson’s or REA and reviewing any areas they were weak in and then they took the exam. The practice exams were equal to or harder than the actual exam. It is a lot of work. Some subjects will require more time for us. But their success has motivated us to press forward.
Planning for Success
Our son, Luke, has zeroed in on a Bachelor degree in Government with a concentration in Policy and Politics from Liberty University Online. They accept up to 90 credits of the 120 needed for a degree to be transfer credits. Because several CLEP exams are worth 6 credits and some language exams are worth up to 12 credits, I believe they can finish all of their general education credits within the next year. We won’t have Luke actually apply to Liberty until he has earned around 80 credits including all of his general education credits which he will earn through these examinations.
During high school, he also plans to volunteer or intern for a non-profit lobbying group which defends school choice, life, and the freedom of religion. Our son Grant is working on his general education requirements and considering all his options including aviation, biology, or cartography. They are working hard toward their goals to complete high school along with a degree at the same time or shortly after and are already eager to work in an area of their interests to make a difference. We’re enjoying the ride.
(Are you interested in CLEP courses for your high school student? Check out our CLEP Prep Course offerings at True North Homeschool Academy.)
Sara Porras is married to her active-duty military sweetheart, has been homeschooling their three boys since 2011, she enjoys portrait photography, prepping schoolwork plans and tutors online part-time.
To begin your homework on this journey, I recommend checking out Academic Advising and Orienteering at True North Homeschool Academy, Becky Muldrow’s Dual Credit At Home, Homeschooling for College Credit, and Free-Clep-Prep.