By Alyssa Mulhearn


Bachelor’s degree is a term that, for many, conjures ideas of financial security, job opportunities, and a road to success. It’s the $60,000-plus price tag and four years that make people wonder if it’s really worth it.

As homeschoolers, you already realize that education is not confined to a classroom. “Distance education” and “online learning” have become viable, popular options in post-secondary education. So, how can you make these new technological education tools work for you?

The first two years of a bachelor’s degree are typically dedicated to general education requirements. These are courses that cover the basic educational building blocks: math, English, history, science, etc. High school graduates have already studied these courses. What if you could prove you already know the information by passing a test, like a final exam, and get college credit for it? The College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) offer you just that opportunity.

The College Board, the organization that brought us theSAT, has also created CLEP exams. A CLEP test is essentially a final exam for one of the thirty-three different subjects offered. When you pass one of their multiple-choice exams, College Board awards you the same amount of credit as if you had taken the entire course. In exchange for $80 and taking one 90-minute exam, you can earn three to twelve credits that are accepted at more than 2,900 colleges.     

Similarly, for passing grades on an exam, the DSST program grants college credit that is accepted at more than 1,900 universities. There are thirty-eight exams that are worth three credits each. Many DSST exams are in specialized areas, such as “History of the Vietnam War” or “Money and Banking.” These multiple-choice tests are timed and cost $80 each.

When there are required classes that are not available through credit by examination tests (CBE), online courses are another option. Many two- and four-year colleges are offering online courses now. There may be a small discount for online courses, but most cost the same per credit hour as do regular courses.

Online classes are similar to their brick-and-mortar counterparts. These courses include interaction with the professor and other students, finals, papers, and deadlines. They are usually on a semester schedule and can require you to log in at a certain time each week or just turn assignments in on time. It’s worth the time to search for the college that offers a course that fits your needs and budget.

The American Council on Education (ACE) is the most influential higher education association in theU.S.It represents all presidents ofU.S.accredited degree-granting institutions, public and private, tackling higher education challenges. One of their functions is to recommend college credit for completion of certain course programs. Two of the programs that are helpful for distance-education students are Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces (ALEKS) and Straighterline.

ALEKS is an online, performance-based math program. ACE grants credit for the completion of ALEKS courses from Beginning Algebra to Statistics. In ALEKS, you work on one area of math until you have mastered the concept. Once you have finished a certain percentage of the course, you contact ACE and receive three credit hours per course. For more information about ALEKS, see

Straighterline is a company that offers almost forty self-paced, online courses. Their thirty partner colleges grant credit for the courses. ACE also grants credit, so students at other universities may be able to utilize Straighterline’s services. To see the forty different classes available at Straighterline, visit

Selecting a college major can seem overwhelming. It involves an evaluation of the skills you possess, the skills you want to develop, and what you hope to accomplish with the degree. That may require looking at the current job market and predictions for the labor force or choosing a major that is available online if going to a college campus isn’t an option.

Also, remember that identifying a college major isn’t a life sentence. “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand” (Proverbs 19:21). Choosing a broader degree and planning on getting on-the-job training or a master’s degree may work for the undecided student.

Once a major has been selected, it’s time to choose a school. In the distance-education world there are three universities that are sometimes referred to as the “Big Three” of distance-learning universities: Thomas Edison State College (TESC),ExcelsiorCollege, and Charter Oak State College (COSC). All three are fully accredited schools that offer online degrees, with many of the required credits available throughCBE.

TESC is aNew Jerseystate school that accepts up to 120 transfer credits, including all CLEP, DSST, ECE, and TECEPs. Excelsior is based out ofNew Yorkand offers degrees in business, liberal arts, technology, and health sciences. COSC offers bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degrees with a concentration (instead of a major). Many colleges offer online degrees, but these three schools are known for their flexibility and experience with bothCBEcourses and homeschoolers.

Some degrees aren’t available online because of the hands-on training required. It is possible to take CBEs and apply them to a degree program at a brick-and-mortar college. That’s an easy way to save time and money. Check the college’s website or speak with a guidance counselor aboutCBE.

When earning a degree through one of the “Big Three” schools, it is not necessary to enroll when beginning to take CBEs. All three schools post the required courses for each degree they offer online. By plugging in toCBEand supplementing with online courses, it is possible to create a degree plan fairly quickly. Once you are ready to take courses from that school, enrollment is necessary. However, by postponing enrollment, you could save thousands of dollars. is a great resource for finding information about the “Big Three’s” degree requirements. Students post their degree plans there, and other students and graduates share their experience and advice about what each school will accept.

One handy hint to save time is to schedule exams that are in similar subject areas within the same general time frame. For example, take U.S. History One and U.S. History Two back to back since the subject matter will overlap somewhat.

Many college courses present views and beliefs that are contrary to a Christian belief system. How do you handle this information? You need to know your worldview; it is necessary for college and for life. If you earn credits by exam, you will have to deal only with a textbook that may present controversial ideas. In a class—online or on campus—there will probably be situations where you disagree with what is being taught as truth. “Picking your battles” is an important skill to learn, as is practicing respectfulness toward those with opposing views.

When studying for CBEs that are notoriously secular (such as science classes), Christian textbooks may be helpful. Jay Wile’s high school science texts are a good study companion to secular science textbooks.

Now that you have the tools with which to start on the path toward earning an online degree, select an exam, study, and then take the test. You can achieve your dream of attaining your bachelor’s degree without sacrificing four years or $60,000!


Alyssa Mulhearn, a homeschool graduate, earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in communications from Thomas Edison State College in 2011. She now works for Home Educators of Virginia as their Web Content Manager and is building her career in freelance writing and website design.


Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free apps at to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

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