Parent Question: How do you start a CLEP plan when you don’t know where your child will be going to college yet?

There are two schools of thought on how to do this. I’ll explain both and give my recommendation as to which is the better option.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to racking up a lot of CLEP credit. I have to preface my answer by saying I’ve paid close attention to CLEP acceptance policy for over 20 years. The first 10 years as CLEP applied to adults, and the last 10 as CLEP applies to teens. I’ve personally taken 20 CLEP exams, my kids have taken CLEP, and I’ve reviewed CLEP policy for over 1,000 colleges. I have observed some bad CLEP planning advice over that time, mostly by people with very limited understanding of the college process, but in this post I want to spell out the two primary approaches people take, give you some context as to why one is the better plan, and leave you feeling confident about your plan.

Option (1) Confirm CLEP Policy of Target Colleges

Compile a list of possible target colleges (a spreadsheet works well) and look for overlap between them. For example, if *all* your teen’s target schools will accept the CLEP College Algebra exam to meet their math degree requirement, then that’s a solid exam choice. If, on the other hand, only one of the colleges accepted that exam, you might want to rethink that option.

This is almost always the recommended advice when people ask about CLEP planning. It creates a feeling of certainty for the family, allows the parent to do advance planning, and is intended to maximize efficiency and have no wasted (unused) exams.

The problem with this popular approach as as soon as the college’s CLEP policy changes (it will change), it creates panic. Every year, hundreds of colleges reevaluate their CLEP policy, and in years that they don’t, College Board may revise their exams or the credit awarded. We saw this in 2015 when all of the literature exams were revised and their credit values went from 6 to 3 overnight. This threw a lot of people’s degree plans into a tailspin, leaving them unable to fill those slots as planned.

If you’re an adult, this option is clearly the best option. Adults have already finished high school and can quickly rack up a lot of CLEP credit. I finished 2 years of college in 6 months using CLEP, but that’s because I already had a foundation! I wasn’t “learning” US History for the first time. I knew my target college and with a sense of urgency I knocked out as many CLEP exams as possible so I could earn my degree. Adults can generally enroll as soon as they pick their target college, so they do not risk LOSING THEIR CATALOG.

Losing the catalog, or locking in a catalog, refers to a student “locking” in the current college’s policy at the time of enrollment. This is a technique used colleges to assure that once you enroll, new requirements don’t impact your plan. This policy almost always goes unnoticed by students, but understanding it is very important for homeschool families.

A student who enrolls as a degree-seeking student today will be subject to a college’s policy of the current catalog. This assures the student that even if the college makes changes to their degree or classes, it has zero impact on the student. In other words, they guarantee you that you can finish the program as it was when you enrolled. (Trivia Tidbit: When a college cancels a major, they must perform a “teach out” to allow those students to finish their degree).

Adults who plan on using maximum CLEP always hedge their position by locking the catalog. “How” they do that is off topic for our post today, but in essence they apply and enroll to the length that they are officially a degree seeking student and can now sit back and relax knowing their CLEP exams will be accepted according to the current CLEP policy.

Clearly, teens who are 2+ years away from high school graduation do NOT have this option, and are completely at the mercy of yearly catalog revisions. Teens can not lock in a catalog until they graduate high school, so trying to predict a college’s policy is a fool’s errand. It can’t be done. For what it’s worth, college usually revise their academic catalogs in the summer (June-July) so when using this strategy, you’d want to enroll before any revisions happen.

Option (2) Bring CLEP into your Homeschool Based on High School Plan

This option allows you to plan your CLEP exams based on the subjects you’re teaching in your high school plan. This is the option I promote for high school students for a number of solid reasons. First, it keeps you in control of your homeschool and keeps you focused on providing the best education separate and apart from earning college credit. It removes the “distraction” of focusing on college credit at the exclusion of all else. For example, a family might have planned for their student to study subjects like Bible, art, first aid, driver’s education, and a host of others that don’t have CLEP options. It is my opinion that dropping these subjects since they don’t yield college credit is detracting from the quality of your homeschool program.

In this approach, you match CLEP exams up next to the subjects you’re already planning to study. For instance, if your teen is studying Spanish for 3 years, it makes good sense to follow those years of study with a CLEP exam regardless of what your teen’s target colleges award. That CLEP exam is good for 20 years, and while you might feel confident today that it won’t yield college credit, you can’t predict that at no time over 20 years will your teen be able to use it! Since CLEP exams are good for 20 years, and they don’t cost anything, my advice is to absolutely take every exam your teen is qualified for!

Parents following this plan don’t worry about locking the catalog until their teen is about to graduate from high school. If you research CLEP policy during your teen’s senior year of high school, and they apply prior to graduation, you can send in your teen’s transcripts for evaluation prior to the new catalog. This requires some strategic timing, but it’s your best bet that you can predict, with accuracy, how your teen’s CLEP will be used toward their degree. Everything you do prior to that time is just wheel-spinning.

Example of a Solid CLEP High School Plan

Note that this plan is explained in greater detail in this post

9th Grade
Subject AreaSemester 1Semester 2CLEP Exam
ENGLISH9th Grade English9th Grade English(N/A)
MATHAlgebra 1Algebra 1(N/A)
SCIENCESurvey ScienceSurvey Science(N/A)
HISTORYUnited States HistoryUnited States HistoryU.S. History 1
U.S. History 2
FOREIGN LANGUAGESpanish 1Spanish 1(N/A)
10th Grade
Subject AreaSemester 1Semester 2CLEP Exam
ENGLISH10th Grade English10th Grade English(N/A)
MATHAlgebra 2Algebra 2(N/A)
SCIENCEBiologyBiologyBiology CLEP
HISTORYWorld HistoryWorld History(N/A)
FOREIGN LANGUAGESpanish 2Spanish 2Spanish -maybe?
ELECTIVEPhysical EducationHealth(N/A)
11th Grade
Subject AreaSemester 1Semester 2CLEP Exam
ENGLISH11th Grade English11th Grade English(N/A)
MATHCollege Algebra with PreCalculusCollege Algebra with PreCalculusCollege Math
College Algebra
SCIENCEChemistryChemistryNatural Sciences
HISTORYWestern Civ. IWestern Civ. IIWestern Civ. I
Western Civ. II
ELECTIVEAmerican LiteratureAmerican LiteratureAmerican Literature
Analyzing & Interpreting Lit.
ELECTIVEMusic AppreciationArt AppreciationHumanities


At this point, my advice is that you’ll select remaining courses and exams that align with a target college.  College policy, awarding of credit, and accepted exams should all make their way into the conversation when selecting a college. It’s reasonable that a college might not take all your teen’s hard work, but if a college doesn’t accept most of it, you may want to reconsider!  An encouragement to choose wisely comes from my friend Carol. She allowed me to share her story with you.  We just saved $96,780

And by the way, were you keeping count?  How many potential college credits does the 11th grader in the sample have?


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Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit

2 thoughts on “Parent Question: How do you start a CLEP plan when you don’t know where your child will be going to college yet?

  1. Thank you, thank you for this post. It brings much clarity. For the second way to incorporate clep exams into HS, do you have recommendations for the classes that would cover the material so my son would feel confident in taking the clep? For example, I am wanting him to take Western Civilization this year and saw on your recent post that Hillsdale has that course. In your opinion, would that be enough study to understand the information in the clep. Thank you for all you are doing to help parents like me.

    1. Hi Sarah, any high school curriculum (especially the tried-and-true ones that have been around) are fine. I stop short of recommending specific curriculum for high school because it’s not super-important. If you need ideas for Western Civ, I’ll link you to Cathy Duffy’s site- she has really good and detailed explanations of every curriculum under the sun! Hillsdale is a conservative Christian course, if that lines up with your family’s perspective, I would suggest giving it a try! Keep in mind that the Western Civ CLEP (I & II) will each cover a LOT of information- especially dates and maps, etc. So, once you’re finished with the high school portion, you’ll want to start CLEP prep, and *that’s* where I can really offer some great suggestions! I like to “layer” a combination of test prep and practice test materials, REA and Peterson’s are both excellent. If you have a copy of Homeschooling for College Credit, you can read a longer explanation in chapter 5.

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