There are a few schools of thought when it comes to choosing subjects/exams for your student. I’ve read articles full of “shoulds” but that’s short-sided advice. The real “should” is based on your assessment of your overall high school program, your teen’s academic ability, your budget, their target school, and many other very individual factors. Remember that if they earn even ONE college credit in high school, that they are ahead!
(1) Choose the course/exam based on what they are already working on in high school.
This is a great, casual way to inject college credit naturally when your teen is younger (9th-10th grade), doesn’t have a target career or college in mind, or when planning feels overwhelming for the parent. In most cases, this is an excellent strategy and the one I suggest as the “default” way to choose a CLEP exam or course. For example, after studying high school Spanish for several years, it makes perfect sense to attempt the Spanish CLEP exam!
If you have a 4-year high school plan in mind, this will certainly be a logical approach for you. You’ll simply choose AP, CLEP, or DSST exams that match your 4-year plan. You’ll find exams for almost every slot, so this approach doesn’t require a lot of extra planning or stress.
(2) Choose the courses/exams based on a target college.
This strategy sounds like good advice, and people who recommend it mean well, but I only like this strategy when your teen is in 12th grade or already graduated. Now, if your teen is already enrolled somewhere, it’s the ONLY strategy you should consider! But our homeschooling community consists of high school families, and that’s a different ballgame.
The reason this isn’t the best strategy is that you can’t predict the future! Colleges can and do change their exam policy from year to year, and even CLEP/AP/DSST exams are constantly being revised and reevaluated. When you’re planning 2-3-4+ years in the future, this strategy will leave you frustrated and overwhelmed, if (when) your teen changes their mind about their career, their target college, if the college changes their policy, or if College Board’s exam value changes. As you can see, for future planning, this is the riskiest strategy.
An example of significant change came in October 2015 when The College Board’s literature exams were “devalued” by American Council on Education (they’re the ones who decide the number of credits any exam is worth.) Previously, literature exams were worth 6 credits each, but after the ACE evaluation, they came out worth only 3. For teens that completed the entire literature series, they went from 18 college credits down to 9! While this was upsetting for everyone, this can happen at any time.
(3) Choose the course/exams based on subject bundling.
This is a great strategy when your homeschool uses robust unit studies, follows a timeline curriculum, year-long immersions, or multi-disciplinary curriculum. For instance, if you spend the entire school year studying all of the American subjects (American History, American Government, American Literature) then it makes sense for your teen to collect credit for all of the American exams, even if you don’t have a real target in mind. People think of all kinds of creative ways to bundle exam subjects together to match 1 year of high school study. Here are a couple ideas you can try:
American Bundle (yields 15 college credits)
- US History I CLEP
- Civil War and Reconstruction DSST
- US History II CLEP
- American Literature CLEP
- American Government CLEP
Business Bundle (yields 15 college credits)
- Personal Finance DSST
- Introduction to Business DSST
- Information Systems Computers CLEP
- Principles of Management CLEP
- Principles of Marketing CLEP
Psychology Bundle (yields 9 college credits)
- Introduction to Psychology CLEP
- Educational Psychology CLEP
- Human Growth and Development CLEP or Lifespan Psychology DSST. Choose one, not both. These are the same exam and your teen won’t receive credit for duplicate exams.