So, I’ve been trying to navigate the collegiate world while attempting to pay tuition without student loans and while working full-time, which means I look for shortcuts whenever I can. Because of that, I’ve had some about-to-be-college-students ask me a lot of questions about my academic journey, which I love answering! And I thought, “I wish someone would have given me some tips on college when I started so I could have done things differently and not had to figure it out on my own. So why not publicly post a few of the tricks that have helped me so far?!” I know how it feels to start sinking under all the confusion, stress, and financial pressures that college brings along with it. I don’t have nearly all the answers to college questions and problems, but these are a few of the buoys that God has thrown to me during my time in the collegiate ocean.
I can’t tell you what college or university you should go to; it all depends on your situation. Some degrees require a lot of lab time/intensives/live performances, some demand specialized courses…but I can tell you what I decided on and why I chose that option. Originally, when I graduated high school, I thought I would start college immediately. However, God had different plans for my life, and I didn’t start college until eight years later.
Although I could have my Doctorate by now if I would have started right away, I’m glad God had me wait. I appreciate what I am learning so much more now than I would have at eighteen; I have a stronger drive to keep out of debt; my GPA is more important to me; I have had other learning experiences in between that have prepared and shaped me for what I learn now; I know what direction I want to pursue so I’m not wasting time changing degrees while trying to figure out what I should do; and what I learn I can immediately pass on to my students!
Does this mean you should wait until you’re in your late twenties to start? No, unless that’s what God wants for your life. I just want to stress that each person’s story is unique and different!
Over the past eight years, I have studied into college options so that I knew where I wanted to enroll once the time came. Some of my choices were Millersville University, LBC, HACC, and PCC, but I eventually eliminated all of those because I couldn’t complete their degree programs while working two jobs full-time, writing books and articles, and private teaching twenty+ piano and voice students. There’s not many colleges that offer midnight courses, and who feels like commuting and then sitting in a lecture after a day of teaching?!
I chose Liberty University Online because it allows me to keep working. I then take my courses in the evenings and weekends. There are a few presentations to watch, but it is mostly reading and writing assignments which are submitted through Blackboard. It requires careful planning and a lot of self-regulation, but I find it is worth it. I appreciate their Christian worldview that allows me the freedom to complete assignments within my value and belief system. I also like that they break their semesters into two sub-terms. At most colleges, you take about four-six classes for sixteen weeks. With Liberty, you take two-three condensed classes for eight weeks and then are finished with those. Then you take another two-three classes for the final eight weeks. Personally, this helps me focus and keep track of everything a lot better. They also include Liberty Landing, subscription to Microsoft Suite and Adobe Cloud Suite (if you’re taking art classes), and tutoring and writing assistance if needed for their students. Their online degree also holds as much value as any “campus” degree. Courses are a little more expensive than some colleges, but for me, it is my best option. I believe that is why a lot of Liberty’s students are working mothers, military personnel, and older adults.
But saying all that- your degree may need to be through a traditional college experience, or you may prefer campus learning, or you might decide to take some online courses and then transfer them into a traditional college. If I see a really interesting course offered online or at a local college, I like to take it and transfer it in to Liberty. The possibilities are endless!
You need to know what you can handle. Full-time students usually take 12+ credit hours (4 or more classes) a semester. You can do part-time, but then courses are normally a bit more expensive. I’ve found, for myself, that working a few evenings a week with about two hours on Saturday was the time I needed for taking 12 credits (4 courses). Taking 18 credits (6 classes) fills even more of my evenings and weekend. This coming Fall Semester, I am attempting 33 credits (6 Liberty classes, 1 Berklee School of Music class, and 4 Study.com Proctored Exam classes) while working two jobs full-time, writing, and private teaching. Yes, I know, I’m only going to survive by lots of prayer and little sleep;) BUY A DAYTIMER, DOWNLOAD A SCHEDULING APP, DO SOMETHING TO MANAGE YOUR TIME….I have a careful schedule that accounts for every hour of my day; otherwise, I will forget assignments or commitments. I try to still keep time for doing something “special” with the family or friends once or twice a week so I don’t become a recluse! I wouldn’t suggest taking an insane amount of credits, but I’m trying to shave a four-year degree down to a year and a half…so that’s my personal reason for this choice.
Most degrees require a certain amount of general credits in English, Science, Math, History…so that’s where these shortcuts are really handy! I’m always on the lookout for ways to cut out college courses. These are some of the ways I’ve gained credit that was transferable to Liberty so I could opt out of an eight-week, expensive class. You can pay a third-party to help you sort through some of these shortcuts; I prefer not to, but that is totally up to you. Don’t depend on your Academic Adviser to recommend shortcuts because they are working to keep you enrolled in as many college classes as possible. Each college is different, yours may not accept some of the shortcuts I list—-or they may accept it for fewer credit hours than is the “suggested amount”. Always check your college’s policies and see how these could fit into your degree-completion plan before trying these.
CLEP- There are testing locations all over for these exams. Simply go to www.clep.collegeboard.org to register and buy an exam for $85. You will then contact your closest testing location and set up a date for taking the exam. Once you arrive at your location, you’ll sign in, pay their additional testing fee, and be led to a private room. My location’s testing room is the size of a closet and is windowless, which makes me feel a little claustrophobic after staring at a computer screen for two hours;) You will not be allowed to take anything in to the testing room with you. If you pass, the credit will transfer; if you don’t pass, you can retest in three months.
This offer is good until September! It’s great deal—check it out here
“Get 50% off a second exam or retest
This month we’re celebrating 50 years of helping students earn college credit! Students who take an exam in August receive 50% off when they sign up for a second exam” (CLEP Website).
ICE- I have taken a few of the Bible ICE exams through Liberty which can be applied as general credits! “Institutional Challenge Exams (ICE) are available to students with a satisfactory justification of previous knowledge in a subject area based upon a non-college training program, job experience, or self-learning as an opportunity to earn credit toward a selected degree program” (Liberty University Website).
MOOC- Ask your college if they have this shortcut. MOOCS are free credit courses that some colleges offer.
STUDY.COM- One of my favorite shortcuts comes from Study.com. For a monthly fee, I have unlimited access to countless college courses and CLEP, UExcel, DSSTS study courses. I also am allowed to take two proctored exams each month. This requires watching the movie clips and taking online quizzes that go along with the course before access to the exam is allowed. I then have to have use a room that is silent and contains no notes or people (other than me). I allow the remote proctor access to my computer, show them my driver’s license and a scan of the room to make sure there are no forbidden items around, and take the two-hour exam as they watch. I often catch myself mumbling to myself and making crazy faces while thinking about exam answers and wonder what they must think;D Once the exam is finished, I disconnect the remote proctor and wait for my grade which then can be transferred to Liberty for credit. Of course, I always use their CLEP study courses as well! The cool thing is- their courses are broken into about 90-200 lessons that are 5-8 minute interesting movie clips (great for a visual learner like me).
Prior Learning Credit- It’s a lengthy process, but if you submit resumes, prior learning syllabi, and documentation of past experience and training, you may be granted credit for some of your past education and work experience!
Liberty also accepts these options (which I haven’t personally used yet. I do plan on trying some of these though!).
DANTES Subject Standardized Test Scores (DSSTS)
Excelsior College and UExcel Exams
Technical Training Assessments with NOCTI Business Solutions
University of Cambridge International Exams
Password Book- I write down all my online info or else I would forget it. Some of the things I keep track of in relation to college are Liberty login and student ID number, Livetext, Pearson, Collegeboard, MathLab, MyWSB, Study.com, Focus 2, Bankmobile…. a lot of these were required sites for courses I’ve taken.
Daytimer- I mentioned this earlier. You need something to keep track of schedules and assignments. I personally used a hand daytimer and a Microsoft calendar, but you can also use apps and phone calendars.
Large Folder- I keep all my scholarship information and paperwork that applies to college in this so that it is available if the need ever arises to look back on something.
Professional Portfolio- Keep all your syllabi, dean’s list letters, honor awards… in a little booklet that will be handy for future employers or universities to look at.
Comfy Study Spot- You will want an area that is semi-quiet and comfortable for studying (but not too comfy or you won’t be able to focus and think as clearly and will get sleepy once 1 am. arrives).
Check with your family, employers, and local organizations. Often they will be happy to sponsor part of your tuition. Write up a professional letter stating who you are, what degree you are pursuing, how you are planning to benefit others through your education, what an average semester’s expenses look like…. This shortcut has helped cover quite a bit of tuition for me!
Go through the painful process of applying for scholarships.
Work, work, work!
Buy or rent used textbooks instead of spending precious money on murderously-expensive curriculum. Resell your textbooks that you don’t want to keep.
If commuting, try carpooling with other students.
Use your college’s payment plans. This allows me to pay a small amount each month instead of trying to bite off a huge chunk of tuition at one time.
Take testing such as CLEP, DSSTS, UExcel…. I’ve figured that by graduation, I will have hopefully saved about $20,000.00 and 130 weeks of time through alternate testing!
I’d love to hear about the college hacks and tips that have helped you keep swimming!
All the Best,
MarJanita L. G.