How to Save Money on College Using CLEP Exams and Minimize Student Loans
July 30, 2014

There’s a lot of talk about how to save money on college, but one cost savings measure hasn’t gotten a lot of press in recent years that can be a huge boon to cash-strapped students – CLEP tests. These are College Level Examination Program tests and can be taken in lieu of certain college courses and so can save you thousands of dollars on your college tuition costs.

Taking a test

CLEP exams can save you big bucks on college costs
Image Source: Flickr Creative Commons User Bill Selak

How CLEP exams work

CLEP exams are offered by the College Board and cover 33 different courses. They are accepted at nearly 3,000 colleges and universities. At your average state school, a three credit core course can run you $500-$1,200. By comparison, a CLEP test on the same core course runs you just $80. CLEP courses are available only for core and lower level courses, but using CLEP instead of taking the classes can save you time and money.

But here’s the caveat – you have to know the material to pass the test. But if you’re a math pro, passing the college algebra or precalculus exam may be child’s play. You can pick up exam guides for around $10 to pre-test yourself and ensure you have the competency to pass the test so you don’t waste your money. CLEP tests can be very helpful for core courses outside of your major where they are simply a hurdle to get through to get to the courses in your major.

Considerations before taking CLEP tests

So that you don’t waste your time and money, you need to make sure your college or intended college accepts CLEP credit. For instance, Harvard doesn’t accept CLEP credits, but most state schools do. Click here to search for your institution. And if you’re planning on starting at one school and transferring to another, you’ll need to make sure that both colleges accept them. The good news is, you can start taking CLEP courses while still in high school if you want to get a leg up.

If your first school takes them, but the second does not, you can be sent back to the drawing board. However, if you use CLEP credits to complete your Bachelor’s degree and then move on to another school to get your Master’s that doesn’t accept CLEP credits, this likely won’t cause you any problems. You’ll need to know your likely major and courses required to graduate before you start selecting CLEP courses to take to ensure you use your money wisely.

Courses you can CLEP for credit

There are five major categories of core courses. We’ve listed these below and the tests under each so you can get an idea of what subjects you may be able to earn test credit for to save thousands of dollars:

History & Social Science

American Government – US History I (colonization to 1877) – US History II (1865-present) – Human Growth and Development – Intro to Educational Psychology – Intro to Psychology – Intro to Sociology – Principles of Macroeconomics – Principles of Microeconomics – Social Sciences & History – Western Civ I (ancient Near East to 1648) – Western Civ II (1648 or present)

Composition & Literature

American Lit – Analyzing and Interpreting Lit – College Composition – College Composition Modular – English Lit – Humanities

Science & Mathematics

Biology – Calculus – Chemistry – College Algebra – College Mathematics – Natural Sciences – Precalculus


Financial Accounting – Information Systems & Computer Applications – Intro to Business Law – Principles of Management – Principles of Marketing

World Languages

French I and II – German I and II – Spanish I and II

How to get started with CLEP

Be sure to first check and make sure your college accepts CLEP, then check out sample questions online to see if you know what you need to know. If you’re unsure, check your library for a CLEP test guide to help you prep. Once you’re confident that you’re ready and that your school will accept the CLEP for credit, sign up for a CLEP exam online.

You’ll have to go to a test center to take the test as CLEP exams aren’t offered online – they carefully check ID to make sure it’s really you taking the test. Some colleges accept as many as 45 CLEP credits toward an Associate’s and 90 toward a Bachelor’s. This can knock months or years off your time in college and save you tens of thousands of dollars.

If you’re already in college and borrowing, be sure to sign up for’s free student loan tool to keep track of and optimize your debt. And read our blog often for tips on student loans and managing your money.