My name is Jack, and I am an average guy with average intelligence, and certainly no great gift for learning. I received my first F in the fifth grade and it went downhill from there. In junior high I never went a year without having to make up something or other in summer school. My high school years were a disaster. I actually failed freshman Health class four times! I never stepped foot in a high school algebra or pre-algebra class. They put me in something called “Consumer Math”. I guess they figured they should at least show me how to make change so I could get some sort of job. It got to the point that I didn’t even know what grade I was in and frankly didn’t care. I finally gave up and did at least one smart thing — got my GED.
A few years later, after numerous manual labor jobs, I decided I better get some higher education. Through the generosity of my parents, I began attending a community college. I took the usual first year classes: English, Intro to Business and Psychology, typical Humanities, Science, and Social Studies survey courses. I even attempted a prep Algebra class, but dropped it before I got an F. I didn’t do too bad — a couple of As, a few Bs, and a C or two. But after a year I realized that I could not go through, at minimum, three more years of it. So, I quit with 29 credits to my name. I figured at least I could put some college on my employment applications.
Luckily I stumbled into a decent career in the computer support field. Between my wife and I (who had never finished college) we were doing fine financially, but there was always that little voice “You need to finish your degree”. Why? I was doing ok, but I always felt uncomfortable around my peers, who almost all had a degree or were diligently attending night school. It was also a matter of self esteem and personal fulfillment. I knew there was no way I was going to night school. I worked a lot of hours and my wife was expecting our first child at any moment. I searched for alternatives and to my delight there were many opportunities to get a degree without attending class. Or so I thought. A few searches on the Internet and there were schools with very scholarly names that were willing to grant me a degree for my life experience – and a few thousand dollars. Some only wanted a resume, another just wanted me to turn in one book report. More than a few would simply take my word for it. Luckily I was smart enough to know that when something sounds too good to be true it probably is. These types of schools are referred to as “Degree Mills.” As tempting as it was to get that diploma to frame and hang on the wall, minimal research showed me that these were frauds and I would be one too if I went that route.
I knew there had to be a way to get my degree without attending classes. I looked into the local colleges and they offered correspondence courses but there was no way to earn all of the credits I needed in this manner. One day I was reading a national news paper and saw and ad that read “Accredited College Degree without Attending Class”. I called immediately. This was great. They said they were accredited by the National Educational something or another and they actually required me to do work and take exams. I was still skeptical so I decided to research accreditation and what a puzzle that turned out be. There are many different accrediting bodies. Some are legit, most are not. I say this because most Degree Mills that make up a school name certainly have no problem making up an accrediting organization. A bigger obstacle is that there are some schools out there which are state approved, or trying to provide a useful product, but just don’t meet the standards that I required. I wanted a fully accredited degree that could be accepted in employment and future graduate studies. I was finally able to weed my way through the accrediting jungle and determine exactly what to look for and avoid unaccredited programs. This whole process went on for about a year.
I soon discovered college level examinations. I’ve always heard of people “testing out” or “CLEPPING out” of college courses, but I never thought of myself as being knowledgeable enough to take the challenge. You’d have to be a “wiz” at these subjects to be able to skip the courses by taking a test. Even so, I was curious and started digging deeper. I found that most of the courses I had taken my one year of college were available by credit examinations. I then discovered that there were over 100 courses that could be granted credit for through examination. I decided that I should at least try and see if I could catch up a little and get some more credits under my belt.
Always looking for the shortcut, I decided to start with an exam that would earn me six credits. There were many to choose from. I chose the Analyzing and Interpreting Literature CLEP. Why I picked this is beyond me. I knew nothing about analyzing literature. I have seen parts of the Romeo and Juliet movie and that about sums up my literature experience. I registered at the local community college to take the test and purchased one study guide specifically written for this exam. I read the guide and used nothing else. I was very nervous taking the test and felt lost through most of it. It was a timed exam and I didn’t even finish all the sections. At the end of the exam I thought I just blew $75 (the cost of the test and the study guide). The results would be mailed to me in two weeks, but I wasn’t holding my breath. I figured I better find another way to finish my degree. I all but forgot about the exam when in my mailbox arrived an envelope from the College Board. Inside I was informed that I had scored high enough to earn an A! I couldn’t believe it. With less than a week of study, and what I thought was very poor performance, I had just earned 6 credits. The same amount of credit that it took me three months of two courses a day, three days a week to earn while attending classes. Needless to say I was hooked.
I decided to pursue a Liberal Arts degree from Excelsior College since it would give me the broadest choices of exams pick from. Once I found the most flexible program, I set off to determine which exams I could use to fulfill the credit requirements. This was an intensive and time consuming task. I had to find which exams met the criteria for Humanities, Social Sciences, Mathematics, and Natural Sciences. Then I had to choose electives that would meet both lower and upper level credit requirements. Once I had my blueprint in place I started registering for exams. I usually signed up for two at a time, sometimes three. Every exam brought doubts. I would leave every testing session less confident than the last that I had passed. Yet, every two weeks or so my mailbox would have a report with mostly As, but nothing less than a B.
I also learned that I could turn some of my computer certifications into 12 credits. That was almost another semester worth of credits. I continued on this path and five months later I found myself only 15 credits from enough to graduate. I couldn’t believe it. But then I was offered a job with a new dot com and my second child was born. Work and family consumed my life (I’m sorry to say mostly work) and I put my testing on hold. Seven months later the dot com went dot bomb and luckily I got my old job back. I knew I had to finish so I regained my momentum and within two months had completed the rest of my exams. It was unbelievable that in seven months of testing (subtracting my dot com distraction) I had completed three years worth of college credit and was filling out my graduation application.
My wife was very supportive during this time. I tried to convince her that she should finish her degree. She was much closer than I was with 70 credits already earned in traditional college. But she believed that I some kind of freakish gift to absorb information, or photographic memory that allowed me to plow through the exams like I did. I finally bugged her enough to give it a shot. Fast forward three months later and she was filling out her graduation application as well.
A few months after graduation I decided to pursue a masters degree. I took the GRE and did ok except for math (always my week point). I was accepted at every school that I applied which included West Texas A&M, Fort Hayes State University and University of Tx. I finally decided on Capitol College in Laurel, Maryland because they had an online program that was almost exactly parallel to my career. It wasn’t cheap, about $1000 per course, but luckily I had an employer that would pay full tuition. That took a little over a year for me to complete and I graduated in May of 2003. It wasn’t at my own pace. I had to attend online classes and lectures a few times a week. It definitely made me appreciate the opportunity I had to “test out” of my Bachelor Degree.
The reason I give you this story is that almost everyone that I have helped reach their goal of obtaining a college degree thinks that they can’t do it. Well, guess what? YOU can. I did it. A high school drop out with nothing more than determination and a lot of hours of research.
Please take advantage of the research that I put together. You owe it to yourself. If you need help join our forums. It’s all free. If you need some immediate motivation join the email list and get your 7 Day Action Plan to get started. I am here to help. The community is here to help. It is now up to you to take action.