Michael Bull, Contributing Writer

A relatively jobless economic recovery and stagnant growth across most industries does not bode well for any college student. Whichever the position, it is clear that a larger amount of students will have to work harder to achieve more, both academically and professionally, to fill a smaller amount of vacancies in an increasingly competitive workforce.

In short, many students will thus have to attend school longer.  Rising tuition costs are not helping the problem and many college graduates are already drowning in debt. For many, paying for college is an untenable prospect.

However, there are in fact many ways to save time and money while still obtaining a high quality education. One of the most potentially integral and useful to BCC students is the College Level Examination Program, better known as the CLEP.

The CLEP is a credit by examination program administered by College Board that lets you test out of courses and in turn receive transfer credit. Most students are familiar with the Advanced Placement (AP) Exams, and may have taken a few in high school. The CLEP works the same way, only the tests are significantly easier, and can be taken at any time by a  college student.

Taking the CLEP tests are a great way to supplement going to more affordable schools. BCC alone accepts 45 transfer credits towards an associate’s degree. In theory, a student can have all of their transfer credits come in from a bunch of CLEP tests.

When I was a full-time BCC student, I personally earned 39 CLEP credits, which allowed me to graduate the college a year early. With me taking 10 tests at a rate of $77 a pop (not including study material costs and test center fees), the CLEP’s cost benefit was tremendous compared to even BCC’s relatively low tuition rates.

CLEP tests are additionally great in getting out of general education requirements, especially for courses you do not find very useful or interesting. Most CLEP tests are introductory material, so there is a wealth of manageable tests to choose from.

While the benefits of the CLEP seem obvious, there are a few words of warning as well. If you are not entirely sound with the material on a certain test, you may benefit from taking the actual course. At the end of the day, no one test can replace what you can learn in a lecture. This is true especially if the course material is a key base component of later coursework.

You will also have to make sure your tests and credits will transfer if you plan on continuing at a four year university. Every school is different in this regard ; some are very liberal and will accept all credits. Many universities are very strict and do not accept any CLEP credits. Before you take any CLEP tests, you should have a reasonable range of schools you want to transfer to and contact the appropriate personnel to determine their CLEP policy.

All things considered, CLEP tests may be one of the best kept secrets of the college world. It is true over six million people have taken at least one since the program’s inception in 1967. Even then it is still only a drop in the bucket compared to those who can, especially when compared to AP test figures.