Many of us wonder how long it will take to finally be able to walk up the stage and receive the piece of paper telling the whole world that you are a college graduate. Many four-year universities actually tell you that it normally takes 5 years of full-time studies to complete this monumental task. This simply is not true if you have retained most of the general knowledge that you gained in high school – or even if you have access Cliff’s Notes. Outlined here you will find a 3 simple steps (all you really need) to help you graduate in less time, with fewer headaches and without spending $100 – $500 per credit (depending on your school tuition schedule).

1. First things first

You need to get accepted into a university or a community college that offers CLEP exams. You can find out which schools offer these exams by calling their testing and evaluation offices. Once you are accepted, find out which CLEP exams are offered and how many credits your school will let you earn by taking them. At the University of South Florida there are 28 subject tests (120 credits). They will allow you to count approximately 45 credits of CLEP towards your degree. Do not…I repeat do not sign up for any classes that are available as CLEP exams at your school. Once you attempt taking a class, you will not be allowed to CLEP it, even if you drop the class mid-semester. Sign up for the exams right away. You want to get a seat in the testing center as far away from midterms and finals as possible.

I would suggest attempting four (4) exams per semester (even summers). If you feel comfortable taking more, I implore you. Don’t worry about the cost for these exams. The College Board only charges $60.00 per test. Each test can range from 2-8 credits. If you do the math, a 3 credit course at $150 per credit can cost in excess of $450.00 even before you buy the required books for the class. The same class with the same amount of credits will still only cost $60. (Some testing centers charge a sitting fee that could range from $5- $25 per test). If you are serving in the US military, the $60 fee will be waived.

Making It Through Your Undergraduate Degree In Less Than 3 Years

Try not to worry too much about what will be on the exams. The Biology CLEP is equivalent to about 1 college semester of Biology. If you took it in high school you will be fine. If you didn’t go pick up a Cliff’s Notes book on Biology from your school bookstore. Most exams only require a score of 50 to pass. Any CLEP that you may fail will not count against your GPA and you will be able to retake it. Most exams only require a score of 50 to pass. Any CLEP that you may fail will not count against your GPA and you will be able to retake it in six (6) months.

If your school allows you to count CLEP credits toward your degree, make sure to pick the tests that will allow you to meet your graduation requirements. 40 CLEP credits can easily save you 3.75 full-time semesters (Over 1 year of classes) and between $1800 and $19800 during your college career (not including any classes you may have had to retake).

2. If you really enjoy your summers or need the time to make some extra cash, this tip is for you

Most universities have online classes that you can take. The classes could range in subject from math to foreign language to a seminar on the AIDS epidemic. Do not pass up this opportunity to earn credits. Online classes do tend to cost a little more than their on campus counter parts, but it is well worth it to be able to listen to the lecture or take your final at 2AM on a Sunday if the need (or want) arises. The best part about it is that most online professors will allow you to work ahead, so you can finish some of these classes in a week and have the rest of the semester to lie on the beach, get a full-time job, or go on a much deserved vacation.

3. The most simple but overlooked facet of being a successful college student is to actually take the classes you register for

If you know you can handle 4 classes, but not sure if you can finish 5 without hurting your GPA then just take four. Under very rare circumstances should you have to drop any classes…ever. If your grades are slipping to the point you are worrying about failing, ask for extra credit, write a custom thesis. If that is not an option only drop the class that you are failing, then retake it next semester so the information is still fresh in your mind. Remember that every course you drop you have to pay for twice and some universities even charge extra to retake a course.

Most schools require 120 credits to graduate. If you take 12 credits per semester that is 10 semesters as long as you don’t drop or fail any classes. If you do not attend Summers it will take you approximately 5 years to complete the minimum credits necessary to graduate. If you tack on 45 credits worth of CLEP exams and take 4 online classes per Summer you will finish in about 2 ½ years without breaking the bank.