Making the Most of the High School Years

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t get an email from another mom wanting to know how our kids managed to rake up so much college credit before they ever graduated high school -— and asking what steps they can take to give their own child(ren) a similar headstart.

The good news is, it is not nearly as hard as you might imagine! Whether your student is attending public school, enrolled in private school, or being educated at home, investing just a little extra effort now can lead to huge savings in terms of time and tuition-costs in the future.

Even if your child has not yet decided on a career path, dual credit courses and CLEP exams can be used to chip away at the core classes required for almost any degree; however, you will save even more time and money by agreeing upon some educational goals in advance.

If you are home schooling, you will especially benefit from having a clearly defined course schedule planned for your student’s high school years. Don’t know where to start? Then check out Diana Johnson’s High School @ Home: You Can Do It! -— it’s full of commonsense advice for designing courses, awarding credit, computing grade points, and keeping records. Having such a gameplan firmly in place will allow you to plan ahead, capitalizing on the knowledge your child acquires through his high school studies.

College Prep Genius

If your child already knows where she wants to go to college and what she plans to study, so much the better. Such information can be used to map out a tentative degree plan, making careful note of which dual credit classes will transfer to that particular university, checking which CLEP exams it will accept and the minimum score required on each for credit to be awarded, and deciding which classes (if any) your student would prefer to take on campus.

Dual Credit Courses:

Teaching PhysicsThere may be certain courses your child wants or needs to take in a traditional college classroom. Our boys, who plan to pursue a career in medicine, decided that taking the requisite science classes, attending the lectures, and doing the labs, would better prepare them for the MCAT, so rather than trying to CLEP biology and chemistry, they took those courses for dual credit at the local junior college as soon as they had finished both subjects at home (using Apologia, which more than adequately prepared them for higher level study).

If your child attends public or private school and wishes to take dual credit classes, she should talk to her school counselor. Such classes are normally offered to juniors and seniors, take place on the high school campus, and count toward both a high school diploma and an undergraduate degree.

Home schooled sudents wishing to earn dual credit will enjoy even more flexibility and can take advantage of a wider range of course offerings by simply applying for early college admission. We have found that sending our kids to the local junior college for at least a couple of classes their senior year is an excellent way for them to transition from learning at home to being in a classroom setting.

In order to prove that your home schooled student is academically ready for college-level work, you will be asked to provide test scores demonstrating this fact. If your child has already taken the SAT or ACT, a minimum score on either is usually sufficient for gaining early admittance.

If the score is high enough, your child may even qualify for an academic scholarship should he decide to continue at that school after graduation. In fact, at UT Tyler, there are no scholarship forms to fill out; all incoming freshmen are automatically considered for scholarships based on their SAT scores. What’s more, a new student is considered an “incoming freshmen” irrespective of the number of dual credit classes or CLEP exams he has taken, provided all his hours were earned prior to high school graduation.

If your child wants to begin dual credit classes before she has taken the SAT or ACT, then she will be required to take a shorter exam administered by the college. At Tyler Junior College, this required test is the TSI (Texas Success Initiative). It costs about $35, takes three to four hours to complete, and covers mathematics, reading comprehension, grammar, and essay writing (you may click here to view sample questions). The exam is offered Monday through Saturday in the testing center. Visit TJC online for more information, including specific hours of operation, or call 903-510-2617 to schedule a test.

Taking CLEP Exams:

CLEP Testing
Although our kids were all planning to attend college, they wanted to knock out as many of their core requirements as possible so as to shorten the time (and reduce the money) they’d need to spend getting a college education.

CLEP exams provide the perfect way to do this. This option is less time-consuming and less expensive than taking dual credit classes, and if your student is a good-test taker, it is definitely the way to go.

Many colleges will accept up to 60 hours of credit by examination, so between CLEPs and dual credit classes, a student can easily whittle two years off a four year degree, often before he ever finishes high school. Keep in mind, though, that the CLEP exams accepted and the minimum scores required often vary from college to college: for example, both A&M and UT Tyler accept 60+ hours of CLEP credit, but whereas a student must make a 65 on the American History test to receive credit for it at A&M, UT Tyler only requires a score of 50.

Campus Book Rentals

There are two ways to approach taking CLEP exams. The first is to have your student take a test in some subject she has already covered in-depth, thus demonstrating her proficiency in it. Our boys did this for math, taking the college algebra CLEP as soon as we had finished Saxon Algebra 2, the pre-calculus CLEP upon our completion of Saxon Advanced Math, and the calculus CLEP after we’d gone through Saxon Calculus.

If your child has already devoted a lot of time and energy to learning a subject such as math, literature, history, or a foreign language, let her take the CLEP test in leiu of a final exam. Do this while the material is still fresh in her mind, to make the most of the time she’s already invested. She should take a practice test first, then if she passes that, sign up for the real thing. CLEP will bank her scores for 20 years, so it is to her advantage to do this, even if she is in her early teens or is uncertain where she wants to go to college.

The second approach is for your student to cram for subjects he has not formally covered, especially those required core curriculum classes in which he has little or no interest. If he can learn enough through independent study to pass the CLEP, he can avoid having to spend an entire semester taking the course in college.

For our boys, psychology was a perfect subject to tackle this way. They read through SparkNotes Psychology 101 over summer break, took the test, and got the credit.

I believe such accomplishments should also be reflected on their high school transcript; therefore, I award full credit for the courses my students and I cover rigorously together, and half credit for any subjects my kids study thoroughly enough on their own to pass the CLEP.

Most CLEP exams are 90 minutes long and comprised of multiple choice questions. For a full listing of the subject tests available, visit the College Board website. The exams cost $80 each, plus a small fee which goes to the testing center. Military personal and veterans can take the exams for free.

Both the College Board and REA publish review guides in almost every subject for which exams are offered. My kids generally prefer the concise clarity of the SparkNotes guides, but have also benefited from the REA CLEP Prep books, as most titles include a CD containing several practice tests in the same format as the computerized exams they are given when sitting for the test. (You can also take very abbreviated practice tests for free by clicking here). Most college testing centers will administer CLEP tests. My kids have taken exams both in Tyler at TJC and in Athens at TVCC. It’s usually best to call a day or two in advance, and be certain to bring two forms of identification, including a government issued photo ID (like a driver’s license or a passport) with you on test day.

As it turns out, there are many other ways to earn college credit besides CLEP and dual credit: you can also earn college credit through taking free online FEMA courses, take advantage of DANTES exams and military programs, or compile and submit portfolios for credit evaluation. We’ve known students who’ve taken advantage of such methods to get a college education without ever having to set foot on campus. One of our friends, in fact, is currently attending SMU Law School (on scholarship, even), having tested out of his entire undergraduate degree in just two years!

Unfortunately, my knowledge of credit-by-exam testing opportunities (other than CLEP) is rather sketchy, as I have no personal experience with such programs. If you are interested in going this route, you may want to investigate College Plus!, which is the resource our young law student friend used to accomplish such an impressive feat.

Clearly, college does not have to be terribly time-consuming or expensive. With a little forethought and determination, your student can take great strides down the road to success before he even leaves home. Make the most of the high school years by helping your child set some academic goals, and taking advantage of the work he is already doing to help reach those goals. May God bless and guide you in this worthy endeavor!



  1. Thank you for giving so much of your time, effort, and resourceful information. You are truly wonderful! I really enjoy so many of your freebies that you offer on your blog – along with your recipes, techniques, and family stories. You are such an inspiration. God bless you.

    1. Thanks so much for all those kind words of encouragement, Torri. I love doing what I do, but it’s always good to hear that our resources are being used and enjoyed. I appreciate your taking the time to write and share your thoughts with me today! Blessings on your sweet family!

  2. Do you know what months they usually have the CLEP? I’m looking to have my son take it when he finishes Algebra 2 after this upcoming school year (we did half this past year and will do the second half this upcoming year – he’s young), but not sure if we’re aiming for March or May or when exactly and I can’t find any specific information on their site. I actually stumbled upon your site searching it out further online and thought maybe you could help me out.


    1. CLEP tests can be taken year round. You’ll just need to call your nearest testing center and schedule a time to come in and take whichever exam your student is ready for. My kids took most of their CLEPs at a nearby junior college campus. The testing center at the campus nearest to our home offered CLEP exams only a couple of days per week and the tests had to be scheduled several days in advance, but there was another campus about 20 minutes away that offered CLEP tests Monday through Friday, and I could usually schedule those with very little notice — sometimes even the same day. So I suppose it really depends on the testing center you plan to use. Call the closest one to you and ask what days CLEP tests are administered.

  3. Jennifer, Thanks for sharing all this good information! Our own kids have tested out of either all of their degree or a major portion of it! After so many “How’d they do that?” questions we put our lesson plans into 49 weeks of Study Plans for kids to follow to accomplish the same thing. We’d love to help any of your readers who are interested. Our free ebook on the subject is available at

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