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How to Reduce Cost of College With Alternate Credits

Attending college can be a life-changing and rewarding experience, but it can also be very expensive. 

According to the College Board, the average annual cost of tuition and fees for a four-year public college is $10,560 for in-state students, and $26,820 for out-of-state students. 

Additionally, room and board, textbooks, and other associated expenses can add up to thousands more each year. 

However, I have written in detailed about how to reduce cost of college with alternate credits. This article will explore different alternative credit options that can help lower the cost of college.

How to Reduce Cost of College With Alternate Credits? (Multiple Ways Discussed)

Dual Enrollment Programs

Dual enrollment programs allow high school students to take college-level classes while still in high school and earn college credit. These programs are offered through community colleges, public universities, and private colleges. 

One main benefit of dual enrollment programs is that they are often much cheaper than taking the same classes in college. 

Additionally, students who participate in dual enrollment programs may be able to finish college sooner, saving even more money on college costs.

To participate in a dual enrollment program, students must meet certain criteria, such as having a certain GPA or SAT/ACT score. Some states offer free or reduced-cost dual enrollment programs, while others require students to pay for the classes. 

It is also important to ensure that the credits earned through dual enrollment programs are transferable to the college or university of the student’s choice, as transferability policies can vary.

how to reduce cost of college with alternate credits: Advanced Placement (AP) exams

Advanced Placement (AP) Exams

Advanced Placement (AP) exams are college-level exams that are administered in high school. Many high school courses offer AP classes that allow students to prepare for these exams. If a student scores high enough on an AP exam, they can earn college credits that can be applied towards their degree.

One main benefit of AP exams is that the credits earned through these exams are often transferable to almost any college or university. Additionally, these exams are often much cheaper than taking the same course in college, and many high schools offer AP classes at no additional cost to students.

To prepare for AP exams, students can review AP prep books, online resources, and take practice exams. It is also important to note that colleges and universities may have different policies regarding AP credit, so it is recommended to check with the institution beforehand.

College-Level Examination Program (CLEP)

The College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) is a set of exams that allow students to earn college credits for knowledge they have already acquired through their own study, work, or life experience. 

These exams are widely accepted by many colleges and universities, and cover a range of subjects, including history, math, science, and foreign languages.

CLEP exams are typically much cheaper than taking the same courses in college, and can help students graduate sooner, thus saving even more money. 

However, it is important to check the CLEP policy of the college or university of choice, as some institutions may have restrictions on the number of CLEP credits that can be applied towards a degree.

To prepare for CLEP exams, students can use study resources provided by CLEP or use other commercial study materials. It is recommended to take practice tests and consult with an academic advisor before taking CLEP exams.

Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)

Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is a process where colleges and universities award college credits to students for learning gained outside of traditional academic settings. This can include work experience, military training, volunteer work, or other forms of prior learning.

PLA can be an excellent way for adult learners to earn college credits and reduce college costs. However, it is important to note that not all colleges and universities offer PLA, and policies on awarding credit can vary.

To prepare for PLA, students should gather evidence of their prior learning, such as work experience, training records, or certifications. Some colleges and universities may require students to develop a portfolio or take an assessment to demonstrate their knowledge.

work experience programs

Work Experience and Alternative Credits

Another way to earn college credits and reduce college costs is by participating in credit for work experience programs. These programs award credit for life and work experiences that may qualify for college credit. 

There are three types of credit for work experience programs: experiential learning, competency-based education, and prior learning.

Experiential learning programs allow students to earn credit for work and life experiences that have been evaluated by accredited colleges and universities. 

Competency-based education programs are designed around the skills and knowledge that students already have, and these programs focus on the essential competencies required for a degree or certificate. 

Prior learning programs award credit for knowledge acquired outside of traditional academic settings.

Choosing a College That Accepts Alternative Credits

When selecting a college or university to attend, it is important to research which colleges and universities accept alternate credits. Students should review transfer policies and credit acceptance guidelines to ensure that their alternate credits will be honored.

It is also recommended to communicate with college admissions offices to clarify any questions or concerns regarding alternate credit options and policies. 

Some colleges and universities may offer additional resources, such as advising and credit evaluation, to help students navigate the process of earning alternate credits.

Additional Strategies for Reducing College Costs

Research and apply for financial aid programs:

Start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine eligibility for federal grants, loans, and work-study programs. Many states and colleges also use the FAFSA to award their own financial aid.

Research and apply for scholarships and grants from organizations, foundations, and companies that offer funding for education. Scholarships can be based on various criteria such as academic achievement, extracurricular involvement, or personal characteristics.

Consider scholarships specific to your intended field of study, ethnicity, or other factors that may make you eligible for certain awards.

Attend an in-state public university:

In-state tuition is generally lower than out-of-state or private school tuition. If you live in a state with multiple public universities, compare the cost of attendance and available financial aid packages to find the most affordable option.

Some states offer programs that allow students who maintain residency and meet certain requirements to attend public colleges and universities at reduced or free tuition rates. Examples include programs like Tennessee’s Tennessee Promise and New York’s Excelsior Scholarship.

Live off-campus to save on room and board:

On-campus housing can be convenient, but it is often more expensive compared to living off-campus. Look for more affordable housing options in the surrounding community, such as renting an apartment with roommates or commuting from home if feasible.

Calculate the cost of living on-campus versus off-campus, factoring in rent, utilities, transportation, and food expenses. Consider the benefits of sharing costs with roommates or living with family to save money.

part-time jobs

Work while in school to cover living expenses:

Many students work part-time jobs to help cover living expenses and reduce dependence on student loans. Look for flexible job opportunities both on and off-campus that can be balanced with your academic schedule.

Time management is crucial when working while in school to ensure you are able to effectively balance work and study commitments. Prioritize your academic responsibilities and communicate with your employer about your availability.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between scholarships, grants, and work-study programs?

Scholarships and grants typically provide financial aid that does not need to be paid back. Scholarships are often awarded based on merit or academic achievement, while grants are often awarded based on financial need. 

Work-study programs offer students a chance to earn money while in school through part-time jobs on campus.

How can the government lower the cost of college?

The government offers financial aid programs, such as the Federal Pell Grant and the Federal Work-Study Program, to help students afford college. Additionally, some states offer free or reduced-cost community college programs, such as Tennessee’s Tennessee Promise program or New York’s Excelsior Scholarship program.


Earning alternate credits can be an effective way to lower the cost of college. Dual enrollment programs, AP exams, CLEP exams, PLA, and credit for work experience programs can all help students earn college credits while reducing the cost of college. 

It is important to do research, consult with academic advisors, and communicate with college admissions offices to ensure that alternate credits will be honored towards a degree. By being proactive and seeking out alternate credit options, students can significantly reduce the cost of obtaining a college degree.