Could You Earn Your College Degree in One Year? Part One

The Truth about Degree-By-Examination Programs and Taking Online College Courses for Credit: Part One

By Beth Dumbauld

Degree-by-examination is a misnomer – you can’t actually earn your college degree by taking a single exam. A better way to understand the possibility of earning your college degree rapidly is through the lens of transfer credit or credit-by-examination (CBE).

It’s important enough to repeat: There is no single exam through which, upon successful completion, you can instantly be conferred a college degree. Such an exam simply does not exist. Any institution implying it offers such an exam is a scam. Do not give degree mills conferring bogus degrees your hard earned cash.

However, earning your degree in a year (or more) through a series of exams leading to legitimate transfer of college credit to an accredited college or university is a real mathematical possibility. To understand this better, let’s break down a college degree into its building blocks.

The Building Blocks of a College Degree: Credits and Credit Hours

At its most basic level, your typical college degree is an ordered mastery of increasingly more in-depth subject matter. A college degree infers a basic understanding of some subject areas (prerequisites), and a more in-depth understanding of others (majors).

For every credit-bearing college course you successfully complete, you are given a grade and college credit. Generally most college courses, whether taken online or on-campus, are worth 3- or 4-credit hours. On-campus and online college science classes with labs, like General Chemistry with Lab or Introductory Biology with Lab , or Physics with Lab , generally fit in the 4-credit class category. Classes like Statistics , Precalculus , College Algebra , or English Composition I fit in the 3-credit class category. At the end of the day, however, each college sets its own formula for the college credit value of a course. This is what can cause problems when it comes time for credit transfer.

The independent determination by each college about the value of a course – what it’s “worth” in terms of college credit – has made it difficult, until recently, for transfer students to maximize their efforts outside the traditional college system. Without any accepted “standard” or learning outcome equivalency, it can be a challenge to compare a college course taken at one institution with a course taken at different institution. How can the transfer office at College A be completely sure that General Calculus I taken at College Course Provider B is the same, or equivalent, to College A’s General Calculus course? How can a college transfer office be confident that both courses are worth equal amounts of college credit? Enter the American Council on Education (ACE CREDIT) and The College Board (which administers both CLEP and AP exams).