Cheap College Credits: How to Save Money and Get the Same Degree

Is the financial burden of college getting you down? Do you stay up at night, worried about how you will afford tuition and wondering whether the cost of the degree will be worth it?

These days, the cost of college is rising significantly faster than inflation. Student debt far exceeds credit card debt, nationally and per household. As such, most students and their families have the cost, up front and in the future, of higher education on their mind. Fortunately, there are money-saving ways to earn college credits before enrolling at your dream school.

Massive Open Online Courses

You may have heard of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) before. These are free classes offered online from companies like Udacity, Coursera and EdX. Courses via Coursera and EdX are offered in collaboration with reputable universities, like Stanford and MIT. Taking a MOOC involves watching video lectures by professors, taking online exams, and participating in discussion boards along with thousands of other students. 

While at the present time many of these free courses are not available for credit, there are select offerings by Coursera that allow students to earn American Council on Education credits. In order to earn credit for the courses, students enroll for the “Signature Track” course option, which confirms the student’s identity while they are doing required coursework. The first Signature Track course costs $49, and subsequent courses are $79.

Credits Earned by Exams

Did you know that most schools will grant students college credits for lower-level classes (100 or 200 level classes) if they simply pass a test to prove that they’ve already mastered the information taught in those classes? The College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) was developed as a way for students to earn college credits for information they already know so that they save time in college. The credits earned by taking these tests can be transferred to over 2,900 colleges. In addition, if a student takes an Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) class in high school and earns high enough marks on the exam, then the class will be accepted as college credit by most institutions. 

Another innovation is being several universities, including The University of Wisconsin. Some of these programs allows students to test out of specific units within an online course, so that students only need to spend time learning the information they don't already know. For instance, if a student is enrolled in a high-level math class, they could test out of linear algebra but still take the trigonometry portion of the course. Other schools are allowing students to test out of lower level English composition and math courses, simply by taking an exam to confirm they already have the knowledge. Students will then earn college credit for the exam, as if they had actually taken and completed the course.

Community College

Are you planning on getting your online degree from a four-year college? Well, consider taking online classes* from a community college first. The typical community college costs a little over $3,000 a year (College Board). Compare this to the average cost of a four year public college (over $8,500) and a student would save more than half the cost of annual tuition by going to a community college for their first two years of schooling. 

The savings jump significantly if the student were to attend a private four-year college, as the average annual tuition at those schools is close to $30,000 per year. Earning some credits, or even an associate degree, from a community college before pursuing your bachelor’s has the potential to save you a lot of money. Most community colleges have robust online course programs and will allow you to earn most, if not all, of the credits for an associate degree in an online format.

*Please note that not all colleges will accept credits granted by other institutions. Before signing up for any of the above programs, you should check with your school to ensure that the credits earned will transfer.