Success for Independent Learners: Getting out of College Faster

There are many students out there who excel in a traditional school environment. However, it’s a struggle for independent learners to sit and endure the structure of a classroom day after day in high school and then repeat the same thing in college for another 4 to 5 years. Independent learners are often creative learners and good problem solvers, but they’re sometimes unaware of potentially beneficial avenues that can help them get their college degree faster and more effectively.


1. Take AP tests (without taking the course)

The vast majority of students will only achieve a 3 or higher on their AP exams (AP exams are scored from 1 to 5 and a 3, 4 or 5 is considered a passing score) if they take the full year AP course, however, a few students can study for these exams on their own or with a private Irvine tutor and still receive a passing score. It’s a little-known fact that students are not required to take the AP course to take the exam. Students who are either highly independent learners or those who wish to take an AP exam other than what is offered at school may be able to get several credits out of the way before entering college (READ: “Ask a Nerd! Taking the AP Exam”).

2. CLEP tests

Independent learners may also do well on CLEP tests, also offered by the College Board. CLEP stands for College-Level Examination Program and offers independent learners a chance to demonstrate their mastery of college-level material by taking an exam rather than the course. Although the CLEP tests were originally designed to aid nontraditional students, such as those who were homeschooled or had a nontraditional high school education, members of the military entering college after their service, or adult students returning to school later in life, traditional high school students can also take advantage of the CLEP exams as well. Independent learners can potentially take multiple exams and avoid several months sitting in a classroom reviewing material they already know.

3. Community college credit

Although most students are unaware, many universities allow enrolled students to take a certain number of credits at a community college. This can benefit students who will be living back at home during the summer and want to get a few credits out of the way. This is an especially good option for students who were locked out of the class they wanted to take for their major or who would like to save a lot of money by paying community college fees instead of university fees. Community college credit is a great option for independent and determined students (READ: “Staying Focused at Community College”).

4. Independent study within the university

Independent learners can often earn several credits towards graduation by signing up for an independent study course. It’s recommended that students sign up for an independent study with a professor they already have a good professional relationship with and one who is willing to meet with them once every two weeks or so to check on progress. Although independent study courses are self-led by the student, and the professor serves primarily as a guide, it’s a great option for an independent learner who doesn’t want any more time in the classroom. This type of class can also demonstrate the ability to complete tasks, meet deadlines, and develop leadership skills that are valuable to future employers (READ: “Choosing a Major in College”).

In short

Although the traditional educational system works for many students, there are some highly independent learners who simply cannot stand to sit in a classroom any longer than they already have. Such students can take advantage of multiple exams and little-known avenues of opportunity that can help them get out of college in less than four years and save them a bundle of money. However, students should do research ahead of time to ensure that the university they attend (or want to attend) will except all of these CLEP, AP, and independent study credits prior to putting in the time to take these exams and courses.

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