Answers to Common Questions about Distance Learning

Today, I am wrapping up the “How to Get Your Bachelor’s in Less, For Less” series with some common questions we are asked. For those of you who have already been through college or aren’t planning to attend, thanks for bearing with me these past six Fridays!

If you’re just joining us, read the first five parts of the series:

Commonly asked questions about distance learning

Does earning a degree through distance learning hurt your chances at grad/law school?

Joshua and I originally earned our degrees because we wanted to go to China to teach. At that time at least, we were told it didn’t matter where we got our degrees (or even what major we chose). However, health complications closed that door and we decided to look into Josh attending law school. He took the LSAT (entrance exam) and then sent out applications to dozens of schools. We honestly had no idea how schools would look on a distance degree.

We were pleasantly surprised that even well-known law schools didn’t bat an eye. In our case, having a distance degree didn’t hurt his chance at being accepted to law school or being offered scholarships. 

If you are planning on obtaining a grad or law degree, I think distance learning is actually a really wise choice in many cases. Distance degrees are so much cheaper and will help avoid student loans. They also allow you more time to focus on preparing for further schooling.

Can high school students take CLEPs?

Yes! It’s a great way to start college with some of the basic courses already behind you. The College Board (official CLEP center] even devotes part of their site to home school and high school students!

Can you get scholarships or grants for distance learning?

Yes! I’m not sure if this is a new development or not (we didn’t know about it!) but when I was researching the three major distance colleges for last week’s post, they all had a financial aid office and offered numerous grants!  (Read that post for links to their financial aid offices.)

You are a homemaker, why did you get a degree (and was it worthwhile)?

Being a homemaker was my dream since I was a little girl. I hoped and prayed that I would get married. I am the oldest of eight and spent countless happy hours learning how to run a home from my mom.

My parents home schooled my siblings and me and placed great value on a good education. They sacrificed their time and money to ensure that we received the best schooling they could provide. Geting a college degree was something my dad highly encouraged. He knew that I wanted to home school someday if I was blessed with children. In our state growing up, there were no educational requirements for parents who wanted to home schooled. But none of us know where God will lead in the future or what laws might be put in place. We agreed that having a bachelor’s degree would be a wise move in case it were ever required for homeschooling.

Plus, if Joshua never did ask to marry me (since *he* is the one I was praying would ask, you know!) I could use that degree to teach in China.

While I wanted to get my degree, I also wanted to be a homemaker someday. I didn’t want to saddle a future marriage with student loans. A distance degree was the perfect answer. It allowed me to learn at my own pace, pay cash and not wind up with loans for a degree I might not need or use!

What about you? If you’ve earned any college credit through distance learning, I’d love to know your experience! 

linked up at Works for Me Wednesday and Frugal Friday

How to Get Your Bachelor’s in Less Time, For Less (Part IV)

photo by Mary Gober

In the past three weeks we’ve defined distance learning (otherwise known as a non-traditional college route); discussed its pros and cons and taken a look at the two most common credit-earning exams: CLEPs and Dantes.

Now it’s time to discuss how to prepare for the exams.

Not only does earning credit-by-examination save considerably on per-credit cost, you also don’t have to purchase highly priced textbooks. I about died when Joshua started law school and we had to fork over $80 for the cheapest used textbook on Amazon. We hardly spent that much for all of our undergrad resources combined.

Most of the resources necessary to prepare for CLEP or Dantes exams we checked out free from the library!

Resources to Prepare for Credit-by-Examination

Get to Know the Exams:

The first step when preparing for any test is to familiarize yourself with the exam.

There are 33 CLEP exams. The Collage Board describes the tests and offers a few sample questions. The Official CLEP Study Guide is published by the creators of the CLEP exams and offers full length practice tests, as well as recommendations for preparing for the exam. We took numerous CLEP exams and found the Official Study Guide to be an invaluable resource for checking our readiness to take the exam.

If you want to take a Dantes, offers a detailed overview of each test with sample questions. The writers of the exam authored the Official Guide to Mastering DSST Exams to prepare students for their eight most popular exams.

Start studying:

Once you know what you need to study, it’s time to get busy!

Teaching Company Lectures: I absolutely LOVE these! The Teaching Company recruits distinguished professors from around the world to lecture on their area of expertise. They are fairly expensive, but we raided our library’s huge collection. The lectures cover everything from Mastering Differential Equations to The Classics of Russian Literature.

The best part? You can listen while you drive, do dishes or fold laundry! 

My very favorite professor is Timothy Taylor who teaches on Economics. I listened to these while still living at home with my family. The lectures were like a magnet. My siblings inched their way into the kitchen so they could listen too. Timothy Taylor even got an 8-year-old to beg to dry dishes, just so she could listen to the history of economics. Impressive, huh?

Instant Cert: Instant Cert is great for areas in which you need a lot of work. It uses a series of multiple choice questions with detailed answers to quickly help you grasp the pertinent information.

I was delighted with how quickly it helped me prepare for my most dreaded CLEP: College Mathematics. In fact, rather than this CLEP taking the most time to prepare for, I was ready to take the exam in only a couple of weeks.

 Membership is $20 a month and they offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee: if you decide you don’t like it during the first month, just cancel and your money will be refunded (no questions asked!)

Instant Cert also hosts a forum, which you can access for free, that is full of great information about schools, tests, etc…

Dummies or Complete Idiot Guides: If you prefer an actual book, these series have guides to almost every subject imaginable. Sometimes if you’ve listened to a lecture on a subject, it’s useful to follow-up with a glance through one of these guides. I spent an couple hours reading over the The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Economics after listening to Timothy Taylor’s lectures and together they covered all I needed to know for the two Economic CLEP exams.


Thanks to a wonderful library system, we spent about the same on all four years of college credit than we did on just one of Joshua’s law books. (We purchased one month of Instant Cert flashcards and The Official CLEP Study Guide, and wouldn’t have needed to purchase it, but checked it out from the library SO many times we eventually decided it would be worth it! We also ordered a few other books that are no longer necessary.) Even if your library isn’t as extensive as ours was, preparing for a CLEP or Dantes exam is considerably less expensive than a regular college course!

Even if you’re going to a traditional college, I highly recommend that you consider testing out of some of your general education courses. It will save you time and money.

If you, like us, want to get your entire degree through examination, join me next week when we’ll cover the three major colleges that offer degrees non-traditionally and the pros and cons of each.

Have a question? Email or comment and I’ll do my best to answer it!  

linked up at Works for Me Wednesday and Frugal Friday

(Full disclosure: The links to products in this post are my referral links.)

How to Get Your Bachelor’s in Less Time, For Less (Part III)

photo by Mary Gober

Now that we’ve defined distance learning (otherwise known as a non-traditional college route) and discussed its pros and cons, it’s time to get practical.

Distance learning operates under the assumption that you don’t have to sit in a classroom in order to learn. You can study anywhere, anytime and then test your knowledge using standardized tests. If you score well enough, you “pass” and earn credit.

Some students may want to complete their entire degree through distance learning. (I’ll share how in coming weeks.) However, you don’t have to take an all-or-nothing approach. Many colleges allow you to test out of at least some courses and have credit applied.

For example, here is a list from OTC (a local college where I grew up) of the tests OTC considers equivalents of their courses and what score you need to have the test count towards your credit. Search your school’s database or talk to an advisor to find what tests they accept.

Two Major Types of Credit-Earning Tests


College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams:

CLEP exams are the most popular way to test out of entry-level college courses. For a 90 minute test that costs just $77*, you can earn between 3 and 12 credit hours! Nearly 3000 accredited colleges nation-wide award credit for at least some CLEP exams. (Check here to see if your college accepts CLEPs.)

CLEP exams cover 33 subjects including biology, Spanish, calculus and American literature. With the exception of foreign language and composition CLEP exams, the exams are made up of multiple choice questions.

Taking a CLEP exam allows you to choose your course material, save money, and gain your degree more quickly.

There are limitations to CLEPs: they don’t cover all areas and colleges generally only award lower-level credit for them.

Dantes Subject Standardized Tests (DSST/Dantes):

These tests were originally designed for the military, but civilians can now take them. Like CLEPs, Dantes exams cost a fraction of earning credit traditionally. Dantes exams are $80* for a 3 credit-hour exam and many of the test are even awarded upper-level credit! Nearly 2000 colleges across the country accept some Dantes exams for credit. (Search here to see if your college awards credit.)

Dantes exams cover 38 subjects including “Human Resource Management,” “Principle of Statistics,” and “The Rise and Fall of Soviet Russia.”

These exams are more difficult than CLEPs, but are multiple choice. Though Dantes require studious preparation, you can study at your own pace with the materials you choose.

(* Most testing facilities charge a $15-20 fee for administering the test.)

Coming up…

Next week I’ll share the wonderful resources we used to prepare for these exams. Then, we’ll take a look at three colleges that let you obtain a degree entirely through examination. I’ll wrap it up with answers to common questions.
Have a question? Email or comment and I’ll do my best to answer it!  

linked up at Works for Me Wednesday and Frugal Friday

How to Get Your Bachelor’s in Less Time, For Less (Part II)

photo by Mary Gober

Last week we talked about making sure college is the right choice. Today we’re going to talk about the pros and cons of a non-traditional education.

Pros of non-traditional college:

A non-traditional degree saves money:

The cost of college has skyrocketed in the past decades. After you adjust for inflation, the total cost per year of attending a Public College was $6,320 in 1981. Last year it was $14,870. (See U.S. Department of Education stats)

That’s just shy of $60,000 over the course of four years.

It cost us under $3,000 each for our Bachelor’s degrees.

A non-traditional degree saves time:

No more sitting through long lectures (while chatting on Facebook, like so many students do.) Instead you can listen to lectures while jogging, driving or doing the dishes. Then take tests that you’ve scheduled.

Want to finish sooner than four years? It’s much easier this way. You can test out of multiple classes in a single day.

A non-traditional degree is flexible:

You can study at your own pace, on your own time. Work or family obligations prevent many people from going to school full time. This allows you to earn credit when you have time. You can jam it all in to a year, like Josh. Or, you can work on it a bit here and there, like me.

Cons of a non-traditional college:

It requires self-motivation:

Unlike a college classroom, you’re the one setting the pace. You have to be proactive and study a subject and then schedule the exam.

You miss out on possible connections:

Studying on your own cuts down on distractions, but limits your circle of acquaintances. You also miss out on Career Services or other career placement programs that a brick-n-mortar college offers.

Traditional scholarships aren’t available:

Most scholarships are for traditional colleges and can’t be applied towards CLEP credit (unless things have changed since we got ours.)


Whether or not you want to get your degree the traditional way, I think all students could benefit from obtaining at least some of their Gen Ed classes non-traditionally, through examination.

Up next: CLEP and Dantes exams (and how to use them!) 

linked up at Works for Me Wednesday and Frugal Friday

How to Get Your Bachelor’s in Less Time, For Less (Part 1)

Note: After posting I realized I should have included a better introduction. College is probably not on the radar for most of you. Many of you, like me, are full time homemakers. However, so many people have asked us how we obtained our degrees for less than $3000 in a relatively short period, I thought it may be of interest to some of you. I’ve decided to make Fridays the day for posting mini-series. After this college series, I have other series in the works.  

photo by Mary Gober

Joshua finished his Bachelor’s degree in a year. I dragged mine out over several. We both spent less than $3000.

“How?” many people have asked.

Today I’m going to start a series on the non-traditional college route we took and that worked well for us. In the series I will cover:

  • what a non-traditional, or distance, degree is
  • the pros and cons of a non-traditional degree
  • how to get a distance degree
  • various ways of earning credit
  • how to integrate non-traditional ways of earning credit into a traditional college career
  • resources to help prepare for exams

Maybe college is not on your agenda. Chances are, it is for someone you know. If you find the information useful, I’d be so grateful if you passed it on.

Before getting into the pros and cons of a non-traditional degree, it is important to get three preliminary questions out of the way.

“What is a non-traditional distance degree?”

A non-traditional degree is one obtained outside a brick-and-mortar classroom, particularly one earned through exams and online classes. It challenges the belief that the education required to succeed can only be obtained by sitting in a classroom for four years.

“Is a college degree necessary?”

Traditional wisdom says “Go to college. Get good grades. Get a good job.” That worked in our parent’s era, but more and more often these days, students are graduating college with a boatload of debt and few job prospects (unless McDonalds counts.)

One recent study showed that only 56% of 2010 college graduates had found a job by spring. Those jobs paid 10% less than starter jobs in 2006.

Meanwhile, the cost of college and the associated debt load is rising. Tuition is six times more expensive than 20 years ago. The average college senior graduates with $24,000 in student loans.

Will the sacrifice be worth it? Many careers require the letters B.A. stamped on a piece of paper. Some don’t.

“Is a traditional college campus necessary?”

So you need a degree. But do you need to go to a brick and mortar college?

Many degrees can be obtained without ever stepping foot inside a college classroom, including English literature, psychology or political science.

For other degrees like nursing or engineering, at least part of the coursework can be done outside the classroom. Some schools will even allow pre-med students to test out of general education courses.

Earning at least some credit through examination is a wise option for most students.

Next up: the pros and cons of an outside-the-box education.

Linked up at Frugal Fridays