Posted in Common Sense College Planning, Debt Free Degree, financial aid, HS4CC

Parent Question: A college professor told me something about financial aid and my teen’s college credit.

“This professor said that kids coming in with CLEP and DSST exams are using up their course program “electives” and this is affecting financial aid later. Is it something to be concerned about?”

Krista in MN asks this question, and I’m going to post the whole thing so we can go step by step through it carefully.

“Hello! Our kids are working on CLEP or DSST exams, and hoping to do PSEO [dual enrollment], as well, as part of our homeschool plan. I was at a MN college (my alma mater) last week and a college professor (my old advisor) told me something somewhat concerning that I do not quite understand.

Due to something called “Course Program of Study”, implemented in 2020 (I believe), the federal government will no longer give out financial aid to any courses not in the college’s official “program of study.” If there are only three courses offered to take in a student’s program in a semester, a student cannot just add on any elective to add one more course to be considered full-time and get full-time financial aid. They would only get financial aid for the three courses and be considered part-time.

This professor said that kids coming in with CLEP and DSST exams are using up their course program “electives” somewhat, and this is affecting financial aid later. I still don’t quite understand this. Has anyone else researched it? Is it something to be concerned about? Thank you.”


I can see why this is a very scary proposition, and I would never accuse a professor of trying to convince a student to take their classes instead of CLEP (actually, I would), but let’s assume his heart is in the right place and dissect this new aid requirement.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room– a college isn’t going to encourage anyone to bring in prior credit. This is part hubris and part financial, but the bottom line is that they need your student and the dollars they represent. There is an overarching culture that “discourages” prior credit at most colleges and universities, even when these programs are completely legal/ethical/moral/college policy!! Prior credit gets your teen out of college sooner, something that colleges are NOT good at doing when left to their own devices. A college’s revenue opportunity ends with your student graduates, so no one is slapping the hand of advisors when students hang around too long. The data shows that colleges are NOT being efficient with a student’s time or money. Since 2000, the “average” time it takes a student to graduate college is 6 years (not 4!) so this new guideline should “help” the college get students graduated on time or close to it. In other words, this is their punishment- not yours.

One other thing, if your student is paying cash for college, this entire discussion is moot. Any student can still take any class they want in any amount. This rule dictates what our federal government will pay for.

Federal Student Aid Eligibility Guidelines

All financial aid has guidelines, you can read more at the link above. I’m not going to go deep, because I want you to zero in on the big picture: The more you do now, the better. But, let’s talk about whether or not earning college credit in high school hurts your eligibility.

Part 1: Loans

If your student wants to borrow enough money to cover 120 college credits (bachelor’s degree) but they earned 30 credits in high school, then they will only qualify to borrow for the balance (90 credits). They can’t borrow for what they don’t need. (Thankfully) In years past, students were allowed to borrow unlimited amounts for classes they did and didn’t need. If your student plans to take on student loan debt, they will have to take classes in their major and make satisfactory academic progress – they are no longer allowed to linger in college for years on end by padding their transcript with Underwater Basket Weaving each semester. The rule now requires the student take classes that count towards their credential.

Part 2: Pell Grant

The Pell is a need-based award that is gifted to those with financial need (low income). The Pell Grant amount is set at the federal level, and does not vary by school, so if your teen qualifies for the entire award, they will get $6,895 per year. The Pell will likely be a prorated amount based on specific financial need and number of credits your teen takes, so many students get less. Using the same example we used for loans, if your student earned 30 credits in high school, then you will only be up for the Pell toward your remaining 90 credits. You can’t get a Pell for what you don’t need.

For those of you who are wondering if it’s worth it to take extra classes so you can get more Pell money, if you take $6,895 and divide by 30 (the number of credits you’ll take as a full time student in 1 year) you’ll get $230. If a student takes a college class that costs less than their Pell award (less than $230 per credit) then “yes” you are “making money” by taking a class that Pell pays for. Since the average college class is going to be considerably more expensive than the Pell will cover, this strategy usually only works at a low cost community college, and not at a university where you’re pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

Part 3: Exposing College Inefficiency

The entire eligibility requirement is to improve a college’s inefficiency. If colleges were better at getting students graduated, this wouldn’t be an issue.

“If there are only three courses offered to take in a student’s program in a semester, a student cannot just add on any elective to add one more course to be considered full-time and get full-time financial aid.”

This is true, and who sets which courses are offered each semester? The college!! Their poor planning has been a leading reason students can’t get the classes they need in a timely manner. This has been going on for decades, and part of this financial aid rule is to “encourage” colleges to do better at planning. Whether or not your teen has dual enrollment, CLEP, or AP credit has nothing to do with the schedule the college is writing.

“This professor said that kids coming in with CLEP and DSST exams are using up their course program “electives” somewhat, and this is affecting financial aid later.”

I’m sorry but this is hilarious. Sit with this for just a minute. He’s saying that the elective slots are normally used by college employees to cover their rear when they can’t get a teen’s schedule right. The are blaming their own inefficiency on the student. In years past, this is exactly why they put students in classes they didn’t need! To maintain full time status! Now they are saying they won’t have the same wiggle room if your teen “takes” away their buffer. Take it away. Take away the ENTIRE buffer. Be deliberate and skillful- get your teen GRADUATED in as little time as humanly possible.

Regarding electives, the number of electives will vary quite a bit from college to college and major to major, but resourceful high school planning (earning college credit in high school) usurps the need for your teen’s dual enrollment and CLEP credit to actually fill elective slots. You can plan EXACTLY where you want these classes to go! CLEP and DSST do not have to fill electives- they can (and should) fill courses that make up the student’s degree plan. If your teen will need College Algebra, the College Algebra CLEP checks that box at a college that accepts the College Algebra CLEP, it doesn’t go into an elective slot. I’m going to be a little harsh, but advisors don’t think that students or parents have the skills needed to plan a teen’s classes. There are a number of ways any person can accurately and efficiently plan classes, but even if one of your dual enrollment or CLEP exams fell into an elective slot, remember that the college would still charge you full price for tuition for electives! You’re still checking a box!

Finally, the average Homeschooling for College Credit family earns about 30 lower level college credits, and many earn these credits for FREE or significantly less than rack rate tuition. If you’re in the early stages, you’re lining up classes that your teen is interested in or that match up with the high school subjects they were going to take anyway. This kind of general planning is encouraged and will set their foundation for future college success. When your student becomes more focused on a specific target college, and maybe even a specific major, you can get more precise and deliberate with their college credit plan. If you really want to be in control of the costs and timeline, make sure your kids earn MORE college credit, not LESS.

Always take every opportunity to bring the goal post closer!

Your advanced planning, your access to free tuition, your access to free credit by exam, and your teen’s motivation to earn college credit are all SIGNIFICANTLY more important in bringing down the cost of college and increasing their likelihood of graduating without debt. You’ll affect the cost of their degree by 25% – 50% -or even 75% when you Homeschool for College Credit. In fact, you may end up being so incredibly GOOD AT THIS that your teen’s tiny remaining balance can be cash flowed and funded with scholarships and a part time job instead of loans.

Other blog posts you might like…

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Starbucks College Achievement Plan

Yes, your teen can go to college for free. Seriously. Let me show you how to extract the most out of what they’re offering so your teen can grab this deal.

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Site Owner, Homeschooling for College Credit

One thought on “Parent Question: A college professor told me something about financial aid and my teen’s college credit.

  1. This situation sorta happened to my son at his technical school. He went in with CLEP credits and had to find other electives to take in order to be consider a full-time student. He HAD to take 12 hours in order to utilize his scholarship money. Because it is a technical school, he couldn’t “work ahead” because each course is a pre-requisite to another course. So he had to find more electives to fill the void where his CLEP credits completed that course (US History). Ultimately I didn’t see this as a bad thing in his situation because he is getting an Associates Degree. If he ever decides to pursue a Bachelors degree, he’ll be that much close with using his CLEP credits.

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