Education – How valuable is a college degree? Part 3

Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here.

It took me 14 months to realize the only way to become one was to be a secretary admin for seven years and work my way up through program assistant or go back to school and get my Bachelor degree. It did not matter what the degree was in, but public service was always touted as a good one. My temporary assignment of two months had stretched to 14 months and I decided the only way I could afford going back to college was to go back to being a legal assistant so I could afford to take classes. So, I did.

I researched all the ways I could get my degree. Two of the State Emergency Operations Officers told me about taking CLEP and DANTES exams, which are college level exams. If you could pass them, you did not have to take the actual course. These are exams that cover the required first two years of college courses, such as Math, English, Humanities, Science, etc., as well as some upper level courses. The CLEP had 35 exams and DANTES just about the same number. The trick was you had to find the books and study by yourself to pass the course. I did some more research and stumbled across a website by a student who had analyzed this and come up with a study plan that he detailed, showing he had acquired two degrees from accredited colleges while working full-time. Hmmm….

Each exam at the time cost $70 bucks. It was always pass or fail, but they scored you as well. Based on college exam finals and put together by college professors, the exams tested your knowledge of the course. If you failed, you could take it again in six months. If you realized as you were taking the exam, that you didn’t have a snowball’s chance of passing, you could quit before the test was scored without penalty; but you lost your $70.00 investment. Now, an average three (3) hour credit course cost about $700 at the time, depending on what school you attended and that was before the cost of books, which can run $100 per book sometimes. For one-tenth of the cost, I could pass the course, get the credit and cycle through much faster than the four years of an average Bachelor degree. If you could find an accredited school that accepted CLEP and DANTES exams. See, although they are supposed to, it costs a school a tremendous amount of lost tuition to accept those in place of the $700 in course fees.

For anyone interested in following up on this, the website was and, at the time, he listed three colleges that were accredited and did accept the exams. Even better, he listed a website that did not advertise, but for $20.00 per month would help you learn the correct course material, a sort-of flash-card method. You picked which exam you were interested in, logged in and they would run a series of questions or statements past you with a blank to fill in. Initially, your score was going to be pretty bad because you don’t know the material necessarily. When you erred, it would flash the right response and tell you why it was the correct answer. This website is called and I cannot praise it highly enough. I learned a tremendous amount of information studying this way. They also help anyone needing to study for the GED exam (high school equivalency). While you can study online, the exam itself must be proctored and the proctor approved by the accrediting college, but you could take the exam locally and they would score and send both you and the institution your scores. If you are not ready to sign up for college yet, but want to get a jump start on credits, CLEP will bank your scores for you and send your records onwards when you are ready.

For the record, this is not for everyone. Some people cannot discipline themselves to study outside a classroom set up. For me, this was gold. It suited my guerrilla warfare tactics, it saved me a ton of money, and best of all, I could do most of it online after work in my home and use the weekends for taking the exams. Also for the record, CLEP has a booklet they put out with descriptions of the exams and they break the testing of content down into percentages with sample questions. I always tested myself on what my level of knowledge was before I began studying and then after doing the studies, I would test myself again. If I couldn’t pass the CLEP questions with 80%, I kept studying until I could.

As an aside, I was very intimidated by the CLEP description of the Humanities exam. They outright state that it is rare for a student to do well across the board on this exam; that they might do well in parts, but the overall score should not be held against the student… My brother heard me out on my worries and began to laugh. “Huntie, you have over 3,500 books on every type of knowledge, filed by subject and then alphabetized. And, you read them voluntarily. Trust me, you go take that exam.” Well, he had an MBA and a stunning resume to match it, so maybe he knew what he was talking about. The description of the test is here. A passing score is 50% (averages a C grade in a class final, but passing). Only 35% of students pass the Humanities CLEP. I scored 71 on it. On the other hand, the only CLEP exam I ever failed, missing by two points, was the Math and I deserved to fail that and had to take the actual course.

I decided to enroll at Thomas Edison State College (TESC) in Trenton, New Jersey. For my foreign readers, that’s 2,847 miles from where I lived, but I could attend school online… You have a wide choice of majors. Initially, I chose Political Science, but upon reviewing the catalog, I realized the course requirements would necessitate classes not provided via TESC or through CLEP and DANTES. You would have to take them locally and then have your records transferred to TESC. I sent my old school records from high school and the college courses I’d taken, as well as some emergency management courses that were accredited through FEMA. After discussing it over the phone with my college counselor, I chose a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Sciences / History and I poured over what was required, what I could do via CLEP and DANTES. I began with approximately 30 credits from the old days, meaning I needed a total of 120 credits to graduate, so I had to earn 90 credits either by testing out or taking courses.

To be continued… Part 4, the Conclusion is coming up.

11 thoughts on “Education – How valuable is a college degree? Part 3

  1. Hunt, To say I am surprised at the level of dedication you put into getting your education would just be a lie. Though I have only known you for a short period of time, one thing I have come to know as a fact is, without a doubt, once you make up your mind to tackle something, it doesn’t have a chance. You will stay on task, and completely dedicate yourself to it’s completion, you don’t short sheet it, and while you may take shortcuts, you don’t shortcut yourself.

    I am sure the conclusion will show you victorious. Please take care, have a great day. Bill


    • Bill, you’ve got me grinning here. There’s a great story where I had two bosses. One of them was having a birthday and did not want a fuss, but the staff truly wanted to honor him. I asked what he wanted as a birthday cake and he chose some Spanish sounding cake, deliberately challenging me that I would not find it…. 🙂 Oh, the research and calls to every chef in the city trying to locate that damn cake… He was stunned into silence when I showed up with 20 versions of it. My other boss walked up and the first one said, “Honestly, I never thought she would find it.” The second one looked at him and said, “Have you met HuntMode?” Grin.


    • Big grin on my face, Benze. That Forensics course sounds interesting. This online studying set my brain on fire. I just loved learning. Some teachers are outstanding and some just coast. In this venue, I did not have to listen to either a professor or certain students who would hog class time. We met in discussion forums and you had to have facts on hand to discuss or argue. 🙂


  2. I’ve used cert-prep sites as I needed to get professional computer certs.
    They are great tools. the problem is people who memorize questions for the test and pass, but don’t know the material.


    • Yes, I can see that would be a downfall. I did that with my Ham radio license – essentially, they want you to be able to build a radio… True Ham operators are amazingly dedicated people – some of the kindest people I have ever met.

      Many of the young students I spoke to considered the exams to be unfair. I do not. I was 50 years old when I took them with a lot of learning under my belt that just had not been stamped “approved.”


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