Credits are one of the defining factors in your college life, whether you want to save time or make use of your real-world experience.
If you’re wondering how to get college credits without taking classes, then several methods are available.
In this guide, I will go through all the possible details regarding earning credits without taking classes. I will go through possible options, what you need to do to complete them, and more.
Therefore, make sure to go through each section carefully before you decide which method you should opt for to get credits without going through classes.
Remember that you should only plan to skip classes if you are confident that you have learned the topics already or have better alternatives.
Accelerate credits by exams, transfer credits, or prior learning assessments for faster progress through college.
Competency-Based Education (CBE)
One of the most common ways to avoid classes in college but still get the credits is through Competency-Based Education or CBE.
This is a method of earning college credits based on mastery of a subject instead of the time you spend in a classroom. CBE programs often include exams, projects, and other assessments that allow you to demonstrate your knowledge and skills.
Think of these exams and assignments as a condensed version of all the quizzes, presentations, papers, and projects you would have to give in a semester. Taking CBE means that you have mastered everything there is to the course and don’t want to take classes to waste your time.
Some colleges and universities offer CBE programs, which can be a faster and more affordable way to earn a degree. Make sure your college offers this service or not.
Earn college credit for relevant work experience through prior learning assessments, showcasing skills and knowledge for academic recognition and advancement.
How It Works
Competency-based education (CBE) for college students is a system of schooling where students acquire college credit through demonstrations of what they know and can do.
CBE is different from the traditional model of education, where students earn credits based on the courses they take and the grades they receive.
In CBE, students are assessed on their mastery of specific competencies, which are the skills, knowledge, and abilities that are relevant to their chosen field of study.
This allows students to learn at their own pace and in their own way and to receive credit for their prior learning and experience.
Transfer college credits by following your institution’s guidelines, submitting transcripts, and meeting course equivalency requirements.
The process of CBE for college students may vary depending on the institution and the program, but generally, it involves the following steps:
Choosing a Program and a Pathway
Students select a CBE program that aligns with their academic and career goals and a pathway that suits their learning preferences and needs.
There are some CBE programs that offer multiple pathways, such as online, blended, or self-paced options, so make sure to pick your course wisely.
Enrollment and Payment
You must enroll and pay a tuition fee before starting your CBE. The fee will be based on the number of competencies you want to complete, the time you need to complete them, or a flat rate for a certain period of time.
Planning and Preparing
Students work with an academic advisor or a mentor to create a personalized learning plan that outlines the competencies they need to master. This roadmap contains the resources they will use for assessments they have to go through.
Some programs also encourage students to prepare for their learning by accessing the online platform, reviewing the course materials, and taking any diagnostic tests or pre-assessments.
Practice and Learn
After the initial plan for the course is set, students engage in various learning activities, such as reading, watching, listening, writing, discussing, or doing projects.
This is done to acquire the knowledge and skills related to the competencies.
Students can also practice and apply their learning by completing assignments, quizzes, or simulations and by getting feedback from their instructors, mentors, or peers.
Demonstrating the Results
Students then have to demonstrate their mastery of the competencies by taking summative assessments. These assessments can range from tests, essays, and portfolios to presentations.
A student must meet a certain level of proficiency, usually 80% or higher, to pass the assessments and earn the credits.
Students can also earn credits for their prior learning and experience by submitting evidence of their work, such as transcripts, certificates, or portfolios, and by taking challenge exams or portfolio assessments.
Progressing and Graduating
Students track their progress and achievements through online platforms or by providing the necessary details to their advisors. The advisors or mentors will provide support and guidance regarding their progression.
This is where students can adjust their learning plan and pace according to their needs and goals after completing the required number of competencies and credits.
With the advisor/mentor’s approval, students may graduate from the CBE program and receive credits.
Grading System in CBE
The Competency-Based Education (CBE) grading system is designed to assess and report student learning based on their demonstrated proficiency in specific competencies or skills.
The grading scale for CBE is reported through the use of the 1-4 achievement indicators in K-9, while grades 10-12 and higher are reported through the use of a percentage grade.
In order to complete your college credit, you will have to get equal or over 80% on your CBE courses.
Evidence of Learning
Your progress is calculated through transcripts and report cards from your advisor or mentor. Reporting is a crucial part of the CBE system, and it requires teachers to summarize the learning that has taken place and how they did according to their assessment.
Digital Report Cards
Some schools offer digital report cards to help with accessing student assessment and reporting information. Like the Calgary Board of Education, their students can refer to the information on the MyCBE Technical Support for Students & Parents website.
Remember, the specific implementation of the CBE grading system can vary between institutions. It’s always a good idea to check with your specific institution for the most accurate information.
- CBE programs are self-paced and flexible
- You can earn college credits based on your mastery of a subject
- CBE programs are often more affordable than traditional college courses
- Many colleges don’t offer CBE programs
- Some employers may not recognize CBE programs as legitimate.
Here are some examples of colleges that offer CBE programs:
There are over 200 CBE programs offered at Southern New Hampshire University in various fields:
- Certificate in Healthcare Management Fundamentals
- Associate in Arts General Studies
- Associate in Arts Healthcare Management
- Bachelor of Arts in Communication
- Bachelor of Arts in Healthcare Management
- Bachelor of Arts in Management
You will find Capella University offering CBE programs in business, information technology, nursing, and psychology.
- Bachelor of Science in Business
- Bachelor of Science in Information Technology
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing
- Master of Business Administration
- Master of Education in Teaching and Learning
- Master of Science in Information Assurance and Cybersecurity
- Doctor of Education
Offers CBE programs in business, education, health professions, information technology, and nursing.
- Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
- Bachelor of Science in Data Management/Data Analytics
- Bachelor of Science in Nursing
- Bachelor of Arts in Special Education
- Master of Science in Nursing
- Master of Science in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance
Credit by Examination
As the name suggests, credits by examination is a form of exam that determines whether you have enough knowledge about the course you don’t want to take classes on.
If you pass the exam, you can earn college credits. Now, the type of exam may vary from one college program to the other. This may include the following—
- Advanced Placement (AP) exams
- College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams
- Defense Subject Standardized Test (DSST) exams
- Excelsior College Exams (ECE)
How it Works
Credits by Examination is a way of earning college credit by taking a standardized test that measures your knowledge of a certain subject.
It can help you save time and money by skipping courses that you already know or have learned through other means, such as work experience, self-study, or online courses.
You won’t have to take any other assessments other than taking the exam.
There are different types of credit by examination programs, each with its own features, benefits, and limitations. Here are some of the main ones:
Advance Placement (AP)
These are exams that are created to determine how well a student has mastered the topics & contents of a course. Getting a good grade will allow you to get the credits for the same college course without taking any classes.
However, a student will have to score three or higher in these exams to earn college credit. This varies from college to college, so make sure you have the courses listed before you sit for the exam.
There are 38 AP courses and exams available, ranging from subjects covering arts to advanced calculus. You can find the list of all subjects on the official website.
AP exams take place in May, generally over two weeks. So, you will have to register beforehand if you want to sit for the exam. Each exam will cost a total fee of 95$. This fee can change if you are taking the course from outside of the US.
College Level Examination Program (CLEP)
This is the most popular and widely accepted credit by examination program. It is offered by the College Board, the same organization that administers the SAT and other tests.
CLEP tests are available in 33 subjects, mostly in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. They are equivalent to lower-division college courses, usually worth 3 to 6 credits each.
You can take CLEP tests at any of the 1,400 testing centers across the country, usually located at community colleges or universities. The cost of each test is $89, plus a small administrative fee.
To earn credit, you need to score above a certain threshold, which varies by test and by school.
Almost 3,000 colleges and universities accept CLEP credit, but you should check the policies of the school you plan to attend before taking the test.
DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST)
This program was originally designed for military personnel but is now open to anyone who wants to earn college credit by exam.
These tests have a total of 38 subjects, which covers both lower-division and upper-division courses. They include topics such as business, technology, health, and education.
The cost of each test is $85, plus a small administrative fee. To earn credit, you need to score above a certain level, which varies by test and by school.
Over 2,000 colleges and universities accept DSST credit, but you should check the policies of the school you plan to attend before taking the test.
You can take DSST tests at any of the 1,900 testing centers nationwide, which are mostly located at military bases, colleges, or universities.
Excelsior College Examinations (ECE)
This is a Credits by Examination program run by Excelsior College, a private, non-profit institution based in New York.
The ECE tests are available in 60 subjects, covering both lower-division and upper-division courses. They include topics such as nursing, criminal justice, history, and psychology. These tests can be taken in Pearson VUE Testing Centers, which are located around the globe.
The total cost of each test varies by subject, ranging from $110 to $335, plus a small administrative fee. To earn credit, you need to score above a certain level, which varies by test and by school.
ECE credit is accepted by fewer schools than CLEP or DSST credit, so you should check the policies of the school you plan to attend before taking the test.
Grading System in Credits by Examination
The grading of credit by examination tests depends on the type of test, the subject, and the school. Different tests have different formats, scoring scales, and passing criteria. Here are some examples of how credit by-examination tests are graded:
There are 38 AP courses you can opt for. These AP exams are usually two to three hours long and consist of multiple-choice and free-response questions. Some exams may also have special components, such as audio or video prompts, spoken responses, or portfolios.
The scores are reported on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 being the highest. You will be provided a report which will show where you did right and wrong in the exam.
Most CLEP tests are multiple-choice questions, with some tests having essays or spoken responses. They are scored on a scale of 20 to 80, with 50 being the recommended passing score. However, some schools may require higher or lower scores for credit, depending on the subject and the level of difficulty.
These tests are also mostly multiple-choice questions, with some tests having essays. The tests are evaluated on a scale of 200 to 500, with 400 being the recommended passing score.
However, some schools may have different score requirements for credit, depending on the subject and the level of difficulty.
ECE tests are either multiple-choice questions or essays, depending on the subject. They are scored on a scale of A to F, with C being the minimum passing grade.
- Credit by examination is a fast way to earn college credits.
- You can earn college credits without taking classes.
- Credit by examination is often more affordable than traditional college courses.
- Not all colleges accept credit by examination.
- Some employers may not recognize credit by examination as legitimate.
If you have already learned the courses assigned to you and have the necessary proof or certifications in your portfolio, you can show that to skip classes but still get the credits.
Portfolio assessment is a method of earning college credits based on your prior learning experiences. You create a portfolio that documents your knowledge and skills in a particular subject area.
The portfolio is then evaluated by a faculty member who determines whether you have met the requirements for earning college credits.
Here are some tips you can follow to get started with your portfolio:
- Identify the learning outcomes: Before you start building your portfolio, identify the learning outcomes for the course or subject area you want to earn credit for. Make sure it resonates a similar vibe to the course, which is the credit you are hoping to get.
- Gather evidence: You need to showcase your expertise to the board; therefore, collect evidence that demonstrates your knowledge and skills related to the learning outcomes. This could include work samples, certificates, awards, or other documentation.
- Organize the evidence: Organize your evidence into sections that correspond to the learning outcomes. Place your evidence based on the level of work: fundamentals & and introductory at first, advanced levels later.
- Write reflections: Your portfolio should contain your learning reflections. They will explain how each piece of evidence demonstrates your knowledge and skills related to the learning outcomes.
- Get Recommendations: What is better to support your claims than showing recommendations from people who are experts in the same field? Get in touch with your teacher or work supervisor, who can vouch for you in front of the board.
- Get feedback: Share your portfolio with someone who can provide feedback on its organization and content. You might have to make changes based on their recommendations. Always make sure to get your portfolio checked out by some experts before you send it out.
- Portfolio assessment allows you to earn college credits based on your prior learning experiences.
- It is often more affordable than traditional college courses.
- Portfolio assessment requires significant effort to create a portfolio.
- Not all colleges offer portfolio assessment programs.
- You will need to complete a prerequisite (certain credits) before you can use your portfolio to get credits for courses without taking classes.
Professional Learning Reviews
Professional Learning Reviews are evaluations of non-collegiate training courses or programs that may be eligible for college credit recommendations from the American Council on Education (ACE).
ACE reviews workplace training courses and examinations to determine if they meet college-level standards. You can use these to exempt from taking college courses but still get their credits.
There are over 35,000 courses listed; therefore, you are bound to find ACE courses that you are eligible for. Applicants will have to pay a fee between $2400 to $3900 for ACE learning evaluations. Keep in mind that this is an annual fee.
You can opt for the following resources to find ACE-recommended courses—
ACE National Guide
The ACE National Guide is a searchable database of ACE-recommended courses from over 130 organizations.
These courses and programs listed in the guide have been evaluated by a team of subject matter experts and determined to provide a learning outcome at the collegiate level.
You can use the ACE National Guide can be used by students to find college credit they’ve earned and courses that can help them make progress toward a college degree.
- The ACE National Guide is a comprehensive resource for finding ACE-recommended courses.
- The courses listed in the guide have been evaluated by subject matter experts and are determined to provide a learning outcome at the collegiate level, which allows colleges to acknowledge your expertise on the course.
- Not all courses are eligible for ACE credit recommendations.
- Sometimes, the guide may not include all courses that are eligible for ACE credit recommendations.
- The overall fee is exceptionally higher than other options.
National College Credit Recommendation Service
NCCRS, or National College Credit Recommendation Service (NCCRS), is another organization that evaluates non-collegiate training courses and makes credit recommendations.
It works with colleges and universities to determine whether to grant transfer credit for non-collegiate courses or examinations.
You will have to use the NCCRS directory to find the recommended courses:
The NCCRS Directory is a searchable database of NCCRS-recommended courses from over 200 organizations. It includes courses that have been evaluated by subject matter experts and determined to provide a learning outcome at the collegiate level.
College students can use the directory to find college credits they’ve earned and courses that can help them make progress toward a college degree.
- Registered courses are approved by colleges across the United States, meaning you can get the credits for these courses if you meet the perquisites of NCCRS.
- Not all courses are eligible for NCCRS credit recommendations.
Military Training and Experience
If you have military training and experience, you may be able to earn college credits for your service. Many colleges and universities have programs that allow veterans to apply their military training and experience toward college credits.
- Military training and experience allow you to earn college credits
- Not all colleges accept military training and experience for college credits.
- You will need to complete a certain amount of credits before you can opt to get credits in exchange for your experience.
- The amount of college credits you can earn may be limited.
- Finding the right colleges, in this case, is the main task. You will need to find colleges similar to the following in order to use your military training and experience for college credits:
- American Military University
- Excelsior College
Credit for Life, Work Experience, and Professional Training
Students who have obtained a significant amount of experience through internships, work, or certain activities can get credits in exchange for those experiences.
There are colleges and universities that offer credit for life, work experience, and professional training. This method allows you to earn college credits based on your real-world experience.
You may need to take an exam or complete a portfolio to demonstrate your knowledge and skills.
- Get college credits based on your real-world experience.
- Allows you to gain valuable experience while taking care of college credits at the same time.
- Not all colleges offer credit for life, work experience, and professional training.
- You may need to take an exam or complete a portfolio to demonstrate your knowledge and skills.
Here are some colleges that accept work experience and professional training for college credits:
Online learning is another way to earn college credits without taking classes. Many colleges and universities offer online courses that grant college credits. You can take these courses from anywhere with an internet connection.
- Online courses are flexible and self-paced.
- You can earn college credits without taking classes on campus.
- Online courses are often more affordable than traditional college courses.
- Not all online courses grant college credits.
- Some employers may not recognize online courses as legitimate.
- Here are some examples of online courses that grant college credits:
- Sophia Learning: Offers online courses that transfer to 60+ partner colleges. Prices on courses may vary from one another.
- Example: Introduction to Statistics
- Structure: Self-paced course with 13 modules
- Fee: $329
- edX: This platform provides official online courses from top universities that grant college credits.
- Example: Introduction to Computer Science
- Structure: Self-paced course with 6 modules
- Fee: $1,008
Dual enrollment allows high school students to take college courses for credit while still in high school. This method can be a great way to get a head start on your college education.
- You will be able to earn college credits while still in high school.
- It can be a more affordable way to earn college credits.
- Not all high schools offer dual enrollment programs.
- Dual enrollment courses may not transfer to all colleges.
Here are some colleges that offer dual enrollment programs:
- Arizona State University: Provides dual enrollment programs in various fields.
- Example: Introduction to Psychology
- Structure: Online course with 3 modules
- Fee: $600
- University of California, Los Angeles: Offers dual enrollment when certain conditions are met.
- Example: Introduction to Sociology
- Structure: Online course with 5 modules
- Fee: $1,200
One of the most common ways to avoid classes but still get credits for them is through credit transfer. But in that case, you would have to take those classes at your previous college/university.
Credit transfer is the process of transferring college credits from one institution to another.
So, if you’ve taken college courses in the past, you will be able to transfer those credits to another institution.
The overall process of transferring credits can be complicated and may vary from one college to another. So, it’s important to check with the institution you plan to transfer to for their specific requirements. The general procedure is as follows:
- Contact the institution you plan to transfer to: First, you will need to get in touch with the college you want to move into. Contact the admissions office at the institution you plan to transfer to and ask about their credit transfer policies.
They will provide you with all the necessary details and requirements you will have to fill in order to transfer.
- Request transcripts: Colleges will need to evaluate you before you can transfer, and for that, they will need to review your performance.
Therefore, request your official transcripts from your previous institution and have them sent directly to the institution you plan to transfer to. Doing this as early as possible will speed up your transfer process significantly.
- Wait for evaluation: Once you have sent all the necessary documents, there is nothing but waiting for the institution you plan to transfer to evaluate your transcripts and determine which credits will transfer.
- Meet with an advisor: If you are eligible for a transfer, then you will have to meet with an academic advisor or education counselor at the institution you plan to transfer. You will have to discuss which courses you still need to take in order to complete your degree.
- Credit transfer allows you to use previously earned college credits toward a new degree.
- It can save you both time and money.
- Not all colleges accept credit transfers.
- The process of transferring credits can be complicated.
Knowing how to get college credits without taking classes can be beneficial if you want to save your time and dedicate it to something else. There are multiple ways you can do that, but make sure you understand the challenges you will face doing so. Best of luck!
Sources & References:
- “What Is Competency-Based Learning?” – Affordable Colleges Online
- “15 Best Competency Based Degree Programs [2023 Guide]” – MyDegreeGuide.com
- “Competency-Based Education: Helping Students Turn Experience Into Credits” – Education Dynamics
- “What Is Competency-Based Education?” – Walden University
- “Competency-Based Education” – Texas A&M University-Commerce
- “Earn College Credit with CLEP” – CLEP | College Board
- “Credit by Examination: Recognizing Learning and Supporting …” – WICHE
- “Credit by Examination (CBE)” | College Online Policy and Procedure – Lane Community College
- “CLEP Benefits for Everyone” – CLEP | College Board
- “Undergraduate Credit by Examination” | Academic Testing Services | Texas Tech University
- “Earning Credit by Examination” | College Credits Through Exams
- “Portfolio Development & Assessment for College Credit” – Purdue Global
- “Portfolio Assessment Guidelines” | Prior Learning Assessment – Penn State University
- “Assessing Student Portfolios for College Credit” – CAEL
- “Portfolio Assessment: Earn College Credit” | DeVry University
- “Portfolio Assessment” – Community College of Baltimore County
- “Portfolio Assessment Credits” | Peirce College
- “Learning Evaluations Eligibility and Standards” – American Council on Education
- “Learning Evaluations” – American Council on Education
- “Types of ACE Learning Evaluations Reviews” – American Council on Education
- “ACE Credit Recommendations” – CLEP | College Board
- “ACE️ credit recommendation FAQs” – Coursera Support
- “How to Turn Military Training into College Credit” – Veterans United
- “Joint Services Transcript, JST Receive College Credit” – Military OneSource
- “College Credit for Military Training & Experiences” – DANTES
- “The ACE Military Guide” – American Council on Education
- “College Credit for Military Experience” | Military.com