Some colleges offer the option of "validating" their courses – taking the final exam without having to sit in class or do the course work – while working toward a degree at those schools. There are also three widely-respected series of tests on many subjects by which you can earn college credit accepted by colleges and universities throughout the U.S.
The College Level Examination Program (widely known as CLEP) consists of a series of exams that test your college level knowledge gained through course work, independent study, cultural pursuits, travel, special interests, military service schools, and professional development. The American Council on Education (ACE) recommends the minimum score for awarding credit, but each college or university determines what scores you must attain for each test to count toward its degrees and how much credit from each test it will apply toward its degrees. CLEP General and Subject examinations are accepted for credit by more than 2,900 colleges and universities. These tests are owned by the CollegeBoard.
Another series of tests is the DSST (formerly DANTES Subject Standardized Tests). The DSST program was inaugurated in the 1960s by DANTES – the Defense Agency for Non-Traditional Education Support – which is part of the Department of Defense. There are 37 different DSSTs, examinations on college subjects that are comparable to the final or end-of-course examinations in undergraduate courses. ACE recommends 3 semester hours of credit per test. Like CLEP tests, these exams are also accepted for credit by hundreds of colleges and universities. A number of years ago, a private company bought the rights to DSSTs and its successor corporation now administers the program.
The third series of exams for which you can earn college credit were created and are still administered by Excelsior College (formerly Regents College) in New York. The Excelsior College Examinations (known as ECEs) are used to meet specific college degree requirements of the Excelsior College degrees and are accepted for college credit by over 900 colleges and universities.
Thomas Edison State College (TESC) also has a series of almost seventy TECEP (Thomas Edison College Examination Program) tests available. These can be used to satisfy degree credit requirements at TESC and other schools and you can use tuition assistance to pay for them, even if you haven't been admitted to TESC as a student.
Finally, there are the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) subject tests. These tests are primarily used by graduate schools to screen applicants to their programs. However, some undergraduate schools also grant credit for scores on GRE subject tests. The GRE program is owned and administered by the Educational Testing Service.
CLEP tests, DSSTs, ECEs, and GREs are available to Coast Guard personnel free of charge.
If you've taken DANTES-sponsored tests (CLEP tests and DSSTs) and can't find your score reports, relax. You can get an official transcript showing scores on all DANTES-sponsored tests you've taken any time since 1974 for $30. (If you don't need an official transcript, your ESO can request an unofficial transcript for free.) Either way, you'll need to fill out all applicable information on the "Military Transcript Order Form" and submit it to your ESO.
For Coast Guard uniformed personnel at DANTES test centers, the first time you take a paper-based test there will be no charge.
For civilian Coast Guard employees and spouses of Coast Guard military personnel at DANTES test centers, the first time you take a paper-based test there will be no charge.
For all personnel who are re-taking a test (uniformed personnel and their spouses, civilian Coast Guard employees) and for retirees, CGES employees, and Auxiliarists) who are taking a paper-based test at a Coast Guard DANTES test center for the first time there will be a charge of $122.
For uniformed personnel and their spouses, and civilian Coast Guard employees, taking a computer-based test for the first time, the exam fee is paid by the Coast Guard through DANTES. You have to pay the registration fee (between $15 and $25, depending on the test center), but may be reimbursed (if you're eligible) through Coast Guard Foundation or Coast Guard Mutual Assistance grants.
If you fail to pass one of these tests, you may re-take it after a waiting period. However, you’ll have to pay for all re-tests for the same test yourself. That is, the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) will not pay for you to re-take any of these tests.
Computer-based re-tests: If you’re taking a test at a National Test Center (i.e., taking a computerized test), you will be required to pay the examination and administration fees by credit card.
Paper-based re-tests: If you’re re-taking a DSST with your Test Control Officer (i.e., using paper-and-pencil tests), you will need to pay using a certified check or money order in U.S. dollars, drawn on a U.S. Bank, made payable to Prometric.
Study materials for credit-by-exam tests are no longer be available from the DoD, but are available from a number of other sources:
the public library,
from publishers of study books,
from various on-line and brick-and-mortar book sellers.
Study materials relevant to most of the tests you can take for college credit are now available free through various sources via the Internet. You can find a long list of them by clicking here.