Degree Planning 101 (part 3)

PART 3 of 4

Degree planning, in contrast to high school planning, is when your teen’s courses are selected to meet the requirements for a specific college degree.  In this 4-part series, I’d like to talk more about degree planning, especially the pros and cons.


Start at Part 1

Mise en Place

In Part 2, we gathered our mise en place, which is my favorite phrase. It’s seared in my brain from my years in culinary school.  Having your mise en place is demanded of every cook and chef. It’s a phrase that means having everything in its place or being at a state of perfect readiness BEFORE you begin. I can’t unlearn that approach, so when I degree plan I always gather my mise en place first! When you have your degree planning mise en place in order, you’ll be ready to begin!

Your degree planning mise en place includes:

  1. You know your state’s laws and are complying with them.
  2. You know your state’s graduation requirements and will comply with them.
  3. You have an idea of your teen’s target occupation.
  4. You’ve looked up the educational requirements for that occupation.
  5. You’ve picked a college(s) that offers the credential your teen needs.
  6. You know if your target college(s) has a written transfer agreement in place with another college. You have that agreement bookmarked for easy access.
  7. You have retrieved your college(s) credit acceptance/transfer credit policy.
  8. You have retrieved your college(s) CLEP, AP, DSST, or other exam policy.

Bottom Falling Out

Every now an then, the bottom falls out of an otherwise perfectly planned degree. I want to bring this to your attention to prepare you, not to scare you. In 2015, The College Board changed the value of all CLEP literature exams. Exams that parents planned to use for 6 college credits were downgraded to 3 college credits overnight. It was frustrating, angering, maddening, but there is little you can do when something like that happens. It is simply beyond your control.

Also beyond your control are future college credit policies! If a crystal ball allowed me to give you certainty, I would happily do it, but we have no crystal balls. DIY degree planning is an agressive and non-traditional approach.  It comes with risks!

The farther away from high school graduation your teen is, the higher the risk that a change of college policy could affect your degree plan in some way. Understanding the bigger principles behind degree planning will allow you to adjust and adapt without chaos.

Controlling What You Can

The good news is that you do have control over the college you choose. Not all colleges are easy to work with, transparent, or even nice. I wish they were, but keep in mind they don’t have a big incentive for you to NOT take their classes or NOT pay tuition, so you have to be assertive. In the end, you’ll let them know how you feel when you decide who to give your tuition to.

One more thing within your control is how accurately you map your teen’s credit and how well you stay on top of changes to the college catalog. Colleges typically make catalog changes in July, so it’s important to revisit your plan at least every July when a new catalog is published.

The Big 3

There is a pet name given to the three colleges that stand apart in their transparency, low residency requirements, and credit acceptance of alternative credit. Many people call them “The Big 3” because they are in a class by themselves.

It’s worth pointing out that they are regular colleges!  They are regionally accredited and have regular (non-DIY-degree-planning) students enrolled in normal programs.   In fact, during my time at Thomas Edison, most of my classmates didn’t know they could have used CLEP or other alternative credit earning toward their degree.  Since the tuition at the Big 3 is pretty high, these colleges ONLY make sense if you’re DIY-degree planning. Trust me, you do NOT want to overpay for a degree.

In a nutshell, The Big 3 have a low-residency requirement of only 6 credits.  This means you can transfer in all of your (perfectly planned) credit except for two classes.  Now, there are some degrees that require a bit more planning, but the business and liberal arts degrees are the two that lend themsleves well to this strategy.

The two required classes can be taken online at home, so you can already see the mass appeal of these schools among homeschoolers. With very narrow exception, every type of credit on my list 30 Ways to Earn College Credit as a Homeschooler can be used easily and is eagerly accepted by the Big 3.

  • Thomas Edison State University, Trenton, NJ-  A state college / non-profit offering associate, bachelor, and master’s degrees.
  • Excelsior College, Albany, NY-  A non-profit private college offering associate, bachelor, and master’s degrees.
  • Charter Oak State College, New Britain, CT-  A state college / non-profit offering associate, bachelor, and master’s degrees.

The Problem with “The Big 3”

There’s one small problem with The Big 3. Their rack rate tuition is very high. Rack rate tuition is what you pay when you enroll. As an example, Charter Oak State College charges just over $400 per credit. As such, every course you take with them will cost about $1,200. The only way the math works at The Big 3 is when you degree plan and transfer in your credit. Using The Big 3, you must deliberately and carefully transfer the entire degree (except the Cornerstone and or Capstone when required). In other words, if you’re NOT going to degree plan and carefully match it up DIY style, this is NOT a college to pursue. A full rack rate bachelor’s degree at any of The Big 3 is about $50,000. You can resourcefully plan a bachelor’s degree at any of The Big 3 for under $10,000.  


TIP:  The best DIY degrees to plan are Liberal Arts or Business.

Looking Ahead

Degree planning can be adapted to any college in the country. Some colleges, like those we looked at in this post, are set up to make the process easy. Others, not so much. One thing to remember – when your degree plan includes a transfer from one college to another, it’s essential that you have your mise en place for BOTH colleges and that you make sure you’re lining everything up. If you’re using a community college and a public university, the college may already have checklists and guides you can work from. In preparation for the next session, check out Predicting Credit Placement (link below) to learn a bit more about how experts know where and how credits will transfer. Remember, there is a lot to learn, but colleges are very predictable about how they treat credit transfer, so everything here is learnable!

Free Resource:   HS4CC Degree Planning Facebook group

Degree Planning 101, Part 1 of 4

Degree Planning 101, Part 2 of 4

Degree Planning 101, Part 4 of 4


Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit