I’ll share with you the fastest way to earn a bachelor’s degree online, how I discovered it, and how I did it. Too many people don’t know that this is even an option, that you can test out of a degree. It’s not difficult. You’ll need a drive to do it, though. Bare with me, what I’m about to share will seem like a lot to digest, but read until the end and then you can get started right away.
First, a little bit about how I came to discover how to do this . . .
I had to live in Japan. In six years time, I had 19 passport stamps to the country because I worked a two-week-on-and-off schedule in an Alaska oilfield, perfect for traveling. After each trip to Tokyo it got harder to leave. I badly wanted to quit my job and stay, but for that I needed a visa.
Because I’m American, a working holiday visa wasn’t an option. To get a working visa, I needed a company to sponsor me, and to do that I either needed years of experience in a specialty that Japan needed, or I could get a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree meets the working visa requirement and you can easily get a job teaching English.
I knew a four-year bachelor degree would take forever, and I was already 25, but I decided to get started and enrolled in Baton Rouge community college. However, since I traveled back and forth to Alaska every two weeks, the teachers couldn’t work with my schedule and I soon had to drop out.
I researched fake degrees. I’ve heard people have used them in Thailand. Maybe officials in Japan wouldn’t notice, too. Worst case scenario, I learned, if discovered, Japan might ban me for life. That I couldn’t risk.
I researched cheap schools to spend the next four years of my life as a full-time student. University of Bangkok sounded good. Tuition wasn’t bad, neither the living expenses, and I knew I’d have a hell of a time. But would Japanese officials take a college degree from a non-English speaking country seriously? I didn’t think the degree would carry much weight, so I skipped on that idea. Besides, four years has already passed and I’d just be graduating around the new year (2017), at 30.
My Google research continued. I found the University of London’s distance degree program, the oldest distance learning program, and it can be done in three years; same time as Open University in Australia. Even better, I found online college, WGU (reasonable tuition); their classes are completely self-paced and I’ve heard of students graduating in less than a year, one year, or two years. So I tried to enroll and earn a bachelor’s degree online from there but since I had no prior college experience, they wanted me to take one or two courses first, like math or English at my local community college to prove myself capable.
Then I found American Military University. Tuitions wasn’t bad, as far as online school go. Plus they had a ton of interesting degree programs, including Space Studies. So I enrolled in my first two courses, thinking I could handle that much. There were 16-week and 8-week course options. Of course I chose the eight-week one. Japan was waiting . . .
In the second week of my studies, I dropped out. The coursework was too much. Lots of assigned reading and writing, and some forum participation. The problem was, during my two week oilfield shift, 16 hour work days were common. 18 could be expected, but I tried to tough it out, skipping sleep. But then, I shit you not, I got called out to a drilling rig in the middle of the night and it was 24 hours before my crew and I made it back to camp. As a result, I missed an assignment deadline. That episode, combined with sleep deprivation and a fear I’d screw up at work, made me quit.
So I went back to the drawing board.
Now — The fastest way to earn a bachelor’s degree online
After more internet research I struck gold! Through the site BAin4weeks, I learned about CLEP and DSST exams.
Some of you might have heard of these, especially if you’re military or know someone who is. They can take DSST exams for free, and many take full advantage of these while stationed overseas.
These are subject standardized tests that award college credit. There are 33 CLEPs and 38 DSSTs. Some student’s who fail a class, let’s say U.S. History 1, might have the option, if there school allows it, to sit the U.S. History CLEP exam.
Most of the exams, with the exception of two that I can think of, are multiple choice and timed. They cost about $100 each. Testing centers can be found all over America, even in major cities around the world. In fact, I took one in Tokyo. (At the bottom I’ll link you to where you can find testing centers)
Every college differs in how much credit they will accept from these exams. Some are very flexible, accepting up to 90 credits, and some want you to break the bank for schooling, the reason why we’re probably not told about this.
Luckily for you and me, there are 3 colleges which place no limit on these exams. They are called The Big 3.
- Thomas Edison State University
- Charter Oak University
- Excelsior College
I chose TESU. There are some differences. For example, TESU doesn’t award letter grades for these exams, it’s either pass or fail. So I didn’t receive a GPA because I took no real classes. It’s been three years since I graduated. School policies have changed, so I can’t tell you which is the best but I will point you to a resource that will help you make an informed decision. For now, I’ll just tell you why I chose TESU, but know that all three can provide you with a college degree online fast.
It has a physical campus. It was cheaper than Excelsior. Thomas Edison is a well-known name, even to Japanese people, and it sounded good to them when they read off my resume. Their liberal arts degree only required intermediate algebra. Most importantly, when I enrolled in TESU it didn’t require a capstone course. Currently, from what I understand, all of the Big 3 require one now. But don’t worry, even given that you can still earn a bachelor’s degree online in under a year.
Before I leave this subject, there is one more thing you need to know: You don’t have to enroll in one of the Big 3 yet. Do what I did—bank credits. Each time you take a test, after you finish you can choose to send your score to your school or choose to do so later, both for DSST and CLEPs. Once you’ve banked up enough credits – I waited until I had about 90/120 – you send a “request for transcript form” to both CLEP and DSST and they will forward your transcript (testing record) to the college of your choice. This way you save money, because for schools like TESU you pay for a certain length of enrollment time. However, in order that you don’t take any unnecessary tests, it would be beneficial to confirm your degree plan with your college of choice beforehand. Or at least, with the help of the forum I’ll link you, search the degree plans of those who’ve recently graduated from the same college.
What major do I choose?
Personal choice. I chose liberal arts because I just needed a diploma and I needed it fast. Social science is another that is easy to test out of. In fact, every test that I took also qualified for a social science degree. They are by far the most flexible. The thing is, 120 credit degree requires a certain number of upper level courses, and there are only so many tests available. CLEP doesn’t have upper levels, only DSST.
You can come close to testing out of a business administration degree, history and psychology. There are some other testing options and few self-paced courses, but you might have to take a few online classes at the school of your choice.
How hard are the CLEP and DSST exams?
I never failed an exam, not even close. Many of them I only studied 5 – 10 hours for.
At first, because I was nervous, I overstudied because if you fail an exam you can’t take it again for six months, and that test might not be easily substituted with another subject.
For no exam did I study more than 30 hours, the amount of time I studied for Biology, which is worth six credits; in other words a full school year! That was extreme, and I think I can say for every other test, except math, I never went over 15 hours study time.
As I took more tests, I grew more confident. I didn’t need a high score, I only needed a passing mark.
Some exams, Analyzing and Interpreting Literature CLEP for example, if you’re a native English speaker I think I can say that 90% of you will pass with no study time at all—and that exam is worth 6 credits too.
The exams, on average, are near 100 questions. Every question that I was unsure of I marked “to review later.” After answering the last question, I counted up the number of quests I marked for review; if the total number was not more than half, I new I’d pass.
Towards the last half of my 11 months of testing, sometimes I knocked out three tests a week. I’d study six hours straight for a day or two and then schedule a test. I never did more than two tests a day, and found it better just to stick to one if I could. It will be exhausting, and you will often guess on many question and think you’re failing, but because you studied with the right resources, you’ll know enough to pass.
How to study for the exams?
You need Instant Cert Academy. It’s the sole reason I finished so fast.
Instant Cert provides flash cards for every test and the information is spot on, as if it was taken right from the test. Go through those flash cards enough times and you will pass.
It’s not the most fun way to study, but it’s the most time-efficient. Five or six times through the cards was my sweet spot, less or more depending on test difficulty.
Watch this video to see how it works.
On the actual test all you have to do is recognize the right answer from the four or five choices and, thanks to Instant Cert, you will; not for every question but enough to pass.
Okay, so after you hit the IC cards read the “Specific Exam Feedback” forum, which, along with the flashcards, you gain access to when signing up for Instant Cert.
In that forum you will find a forum thread for each exam. In each thread tons of people from years back to present, including me, who share what they encountered on each test, how and what they studied, and what score they got. Some even post their own self-made study notes for you to print out. Any term or person or thing that you don’t know, because it wasn’t in the IC cards, wiki it.
Also good to know: several CLEP exams overlap in information. I suggest taking Intro Psychology and Sociology, then Educational Psychology. Then take US History 1 & 2, perhaps American Government as well; then, without no further study, you can pass the History & Social Science CLEP, which is worth 6 credits.
If, because you’re nervous or need a flashcard break or just want to study with books, REA guides and Cliff’s Quick Review are good alternative study resources. I’ve used both, especially the REA guide for Biology, along with Khan Academy. The REA guides have tests in the back. I wouldn’t bother too much with them, as I found them to be more difficult than the actual exam. There is one practice source I do recommend, however.
Use Peterson’s to judge how much you know. If you score over 50% you’re probably ready. My Peterson’s tests scores were similar to those on the actual exam. Now, when signing up it says you have to be military, but they don’t confirm whatever login information you enter so you should be able to make a free account.
Good math option
There is a CLEP exam for math but since I’m so bad at the subject, I found an easier, even cheaper, option.
ALEKS offers self-paced math courses. You sign up for $19.95 a month and you can take as many courses as you want during that time. Be aware TESU has a limit to what they’ll accept. I took Intermediate Algebra, the only math requirement I needed.
ALEKS is American Council on Education (ACE) credit-recommended, which some schools like TESU accept. After you finish the course you pay a fee to ACE, $40, and they’ll send your transcript to your college.
Here’s how it works after you sign up with ALEKS: You choose a math level that meet’s your degree requirement. Right at the beginning you take an initial assessment. If you score 70% or more, you’re done, you get credit. Fast! These tests are not proctored. In theory you could have a math wiz friend knock this out quickly for you. And while you’re at it, if that friend is really a math wiz, he can knock out trig, calculus, statistics, etcetera; and some of those credits could even be used to knock out some of the free elective requirement.
I’m not recommending you do that, just saying what’s possible. I battled and cursed for 20 hours before completing intermediate algebra. After the initial assessment you’re given problem after problem and review tests until you know 70% of everything, and can prove so on a test that you can self-administer at anytime. After passing, mark complete and forward the transcript.
My Liberal Arts Degree Plan
You can use this is a guide. Remember, I graduated almost four years ago and school policies change. I can’t guarantee you the exact courses I took below will 100% fulfill a liberal arts degree at TESU anymore. First of all, they now require that Capstone course I mentioned earlier. And you may noticed that I filled 22 elective credits with FEMA courses; pretty sure those aren’t accepted anymore, but you can satisfy elective requirements with random CLEPs or DSSTs.
Another thing, search in Google: “(liberal arts, social science, business administration, psychology, etc) degree plan degree forum” to find other’s personalized degree plans. Degreeforum.net is an essential resource (will explain more later).
Note: some exams are worth 6 credits instead of the normal 3
I. General Education Requirements 60
A. English Composition 6
CLEP College Composition General (6)
B. Humanities 12
CLEP Humanities (6)
CLEP Analyzing and Interpreting Literature (6)
C. Social Sciences (2 subject areas) 12
CLEP Social Sciences and History (6)
CLEP Introductory Psychology (3)
CLEP History of the United States I (3)
D. Natural Sciences and Mathematics 12
CLEP Biology (6)
DSST Environment and Humanity: Race to Save the Planet (3)
ALEKS Intermediate Algebra (3)
E. General Education Electives 18
DSST Astronomy (3)
DSST Introduction to Computing (3)
CLEP Western Civilization I: Ancient Near East to 1648 (3)
CLEP Western Civilization II: 1648 to the Present (3)
CLEP Introductory Sociology (3)
CLEP History of the United States II (3)
II. Area of Study: Liberal Studies 33
A. Maximum 6 credits at 100 level
CLEP American Government (3)
CLEP Human Growth and Development (3)
B. Between 9 and 15 credits at 200 level
CLEP The Civil War and Reconstruction (3)
CLEP Introduction to Educational Psychology (3)
DSST Here’s to Your Health (3)
C. Minimum 18 credits at 300 & 400 level
DSST Introduction to World Religions (3)
DSST Introduction to the Modern Middle East (3)
DSST A History of the Vietnam War (3)
DSST Rise and Fall of the Soviet Union (3)
DSST Drug & Alcohol / Substance Abuse (3)
DSST Organizational Behavior (3)
III. Free Electives 27
A. FEMA courses…………………….(22)
B. CLEP Principles of Marketing (3)
CLEP Principles of Management (3)
This is my estimated TESU tuition costs, not including study resources. Tuition and fees change yearly. The capstone wasn’t required when I enrolled.
School Application Fee = $75
Annual Out-of-State Tuition = $3,062 (New Jersey school)
Capstone $236 per credit hour = $708
Course Registration Fee = $58
Technology Services Fee = $125
Graduation Fee = $225
CLEP and DSST exams (27 x 100) = $2,700
ALEKS Math = $60 (20$ a month for ALEKS + $40 for ACE sign up and transcript)
Total = $7,013
It took me 11 months to finish while working full-time. I did nothing but study obsessively, even stopped drinking in favor of more study hours.
When you pass a test, print out the final page with your score. Stack those papers. 3 credits, 6 credits, and 3 more. It feels good. Time will pass anyway and before you know it you’ll have all 120 credits. And then you’ll get that piece of paper that’s holding you back from whatever you want. For me, that was a life in Japan and it all worked out.
I know this is a lot to digest, but you can get started right now. You can sign up for a test next week. No matter what, even if you haven’t decided on a major, you can start knocking out the general social science and general elective requirements. As you move along, build your degree plan with the help of the kind people on the degree forum. Be sure to confirm your plan with your school, as I actually ended up unnecessarily taking a CLEP or two.
If you’re motivated and don’t have too many other obligations, you can earn a bachelor’s degree online within a year. Six or less months for an associate’s degree. And if you already have some college credit, then you’re well on your way.
Many have contacted me about this. Feel free to do so. For those wanting to teach abroad but don’t have a degree, this is the answer to a college degree online fast. I’m happy to answer any questions, though the forum I’m going to link to below is probably of better help and more up to date than I can be.
I wish you luck and shared your enthusiasm when finding out this was possible.
Resources and more resources and credit options
Instant Cert Academy — Your bread & butter. Sign up, use the cards and start taking tests.
Degree Forum — Join the friendly community. Tons of others have done exactly what I’ve outlined. And they can answer your questions and share more up to date information than I can. It’s the number one research resource. Remember, if you sign up with Instant Cert you can access the exam specific feedback forum.
There are other exams that award college credit; TECEP for example. Read here.
Straighterline — Self-paced courses. Like ALEKS, approved by ACE for credit and accepted at TESU and perhaps the other two. I’ve never taken these but I’ve heard good things. They offer several subjects that can’t be tested out of.
ALEKS — Good math option
Find a CLEP testing center near you
Find a DSST testing center near you