Zero Debt College: Is It Possible?

Zero Debt College: Is It Possible?

Can you graduate college without debt? Is it even possible?

The student loan problem in the United States is bigger than ever. How big? Consider this, in the United States, over 44 million borrowers owe nearly $2 trillion in student loan debt. And debt is more than just a number for the millions of Americans who owe on their loans. Significant student loan debt can seriously stymie your progress in life, with millions putting off buying a home, starting a family, or changing careers due to financial stress.

  • Nearly 34% of adults under 30 report having student loans to pay off.
  • 21% of employed borrowers from the ages of 25 to 39 say they have more than one job. That’s nearly double the rate of their peers who don’t have student loans.
  • Those with student loans spend a good chunk of their salary on repayment instead of saving. Borrowers risk high fees and a lowered credit scores if they cannot make payments. 

As someone looking to complete their degree, you have every incentive to avoid getting into unnecessary debt. Going into debt to achieve your bachelor’s degree doesn’t have to be your reality. In this blog post, we’ll explain to you how you can make that possible. 

How to earn your degree without debt 

Choose a Low-Cost School

The first thing you should do if you’re looking to graduate college with little or no debt is to research low-cost colleges.

One of the things to consider when searching for low-cost colleges is whether or not the school has a fixed tuition rate. A fixed tuition rate means that the school’s tuition rate does not rise during the four years of your program. 

 Now, you may have a shortlist of dream schools you’d like to attend. But if graduating debt-free is your top priority, you should check out more cost-effective options.

What does cost-effective look like?

  • Picking a public university instead of a private college
  • Attending a college in-state instead of out-of-state
  • Living at home instead of on-campus
  • Considering an online college or university
  • Completing your basic education requirements at a two-year college (or testing out of prerequisite courses via CLEP), then transferring

Doing any of the above may mean paying less in tuition, room and board, and other college expenses. 

Look for Financial Aid and Scholarships 

Get the most financial aid possible. Make sure that you fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. You can even fill out your FAFSA before you decide which college to attend. Knowing your eligibility beforehand may help you make the best college choice. 

While each state has a different deadline for FAFSA, your preferred schools may have an entirely different deadline. Try to submit your application as early as possible. 

After you’ve submitted your FAFSA, you’ll receive a document called a student aid report (SAR). This report will tell you if you qualify for a grant, a work-study program, or any other type of federal aid. It won’t tell you the amount of student aid you qualify for, as your college will determine that. 

Some colleges have more funding available than others, and funding is often limited. The sooner you file your FAFSA, the sooner you’ll find out the aid programs available to you. If you wait too late to file your FAFSA, you may miss out on grants and work-story funding. 

Research Scholarships

If you find out you’re not eligible for aid at your school, other scholarship programs may be available to you. Organizations like civic groups, nonprofit clubs, and religious programs may offer scholarships to people meeting specific criteria. Check for scholarships with organizations in the industry you’re interested in studying. You can start with a simple Google, visiting your financial aid officer, or checking on industry websites.

Plan to Graduate Early

Plan to graduate early or at least on time. Studies show that taking longer to finish your degree can significantly increase student loan debt.

Graduating earlier has many benefits. For one, you can save potentially thousands on the cost of your tuition and housing. In addition to money on the cost of college, you can start earning a higher income sooner with your professional degree. By gaining early career experience, you set yourself on a path for a more secure future. You also get a headstart when it comes to interviewing. The fall after graduation, there is a big rush of recent graduates into the job market. If you graduate early and are ready for the job market in winter or spring, you may find less competition. 

How to graduate earlier 

One of the best ways to graduate college sooner is through a process called Credit-by-Exam. Credit-by-Exam allows you to take tests on general education courses, and if you pass your exams, earn college credits toward those subjects. Simply put, instead of taking a 16-week course that costs hundreds or thousands of dollars, you can take one single exam, earn college credits and shave weeks or even years off your program. 

The only problem? Studying for Credit-by-Exam on your own can be extremely difficult. You may not even know where to start, what to study, or if the resources you find online are up-to-date. That’s where Smarter with Achieve can help. 

Smarter with Achieve is a college guidance company. We not only help you study for Credit-by-Exam tests like DSST, CLEP and UEXCEL, we can also help you pick a college that’ll maximize your Credit-by-Exam opportunities.

Every customer with Smarter with Achieve receives:

  • Instructor guidance. Our instructors will help you brush up on your knowledge before the test day and give you insider information on how the exams are structured.
  • A library of study materials. When you register with Smarter, you get practice tests and guidelines, so you’ll be confident when facing your CLEP, DSST, or ECE exam.
  • Exam-specific questions. Get access to exam-specific questions to help you prep for CLEP.

Are you ready to get your degree in the fastest way possible? Contact Smarter with Achieve today. 


The Secret to Saving on Student Loans You Probably Aren’t Doing

The Secret to Saving on Student Loans You Probably Aren’t Doing

Want to go to college but worried about student loan debt? 

The student loan crisis is bigger than ever. Recent statistics show that Americans hold over 1.6 trillion in student loan debt, a number that continues to rise. 

Yet, despite the debt that comes with college, more people are choosing to go than not. With advancements in technology and automation, many jobs that did not require a college degree are being phased out. You might find it harder to earn a living wage without having some college education under your belt. After all, college graduates earn, on average, 80% more than those with just a high school diploma. 

So that means that while college is more expensive, it is still more important than ever before. But that puts you in a serious predicament. On one hand, you can risk getting into debt funding a college education. Or, you can miss out on the benefits (and pay) that come with a college degree. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to save on a college education.

Interested in saving money on college? See how Smarter with Achieve can help!

How CLEP exams can save you money on student loans

For many people, taking on part-time jobs and applying for college is one way to offset the cost of college and possible student debt, but there is another method you may not have heard of: CLEP.

CLEP isn’t the most talked-about way to reduce college costs, but it’s one you should seriously consider. CLEP exams can save you or your parents a lot on the cost of college, and thus student loans.

Here’s how it works…

CLEP (the College Level Examination Program) is a program by the College Board. Anyone of any age can study and take CLEP exams on over 30 subjects, and if they pass, receive college credits for that course. 

CLEP exams are a lot like the AP exams you took in high school. The only difference is you can study at your own pace. With CLEP exams, you take your exam when you’re ready, not just at the end of the semester. You can take CLEP tests at over 2,000 testing centers nationwide. Plus, CLEP costs $85, so you can save thousands on college credits. 

Who is CLEP for?
  • CLEP exams are ideal for high schoolers due to their low cost and flexibility. High schoolers who take CLEP can expect to earn college credits before entering a university campus. 
  • Homeschoolers who are used to self-study can adapt incredibly well to CLEP 
  • Working students can take CLEP exams to work college around their busy schedules. 
  • Anyone who wants to save time and money on college. 

Ready to get started with CLEP? See how Smarter with Achieve can help!

How much can I save with CLEP?

To illustrate the savings of taking CLEP exams as part of your college preparation, let’s look at in-state tuition at the Xavier University of Louisiana. 

In-state tuition costs $1219.00 per course. A passing CLEP score can earn you 3-college credits. If you pass CLEP, you would only spend $112 on the exam (including testing site fees). That’s a savings of $1107 per course! Even if you have to retake a few exams, you’d still save tons of money on the cost of college. 

Not only that, you’ll save on textbooks, room and board, and transportation for a whole semester, and maybe more! 

Save on student loans with Smarter with Achieve.

Taking and passing CLEP exams is a great way to earn college credits, save money and avoid student loan debt.

Want to find out how many credits you can earn with CLEP at your specific school? Have our team identify all of the eligible courses, and while they’re at it, tell you how much it will cost to prep for each course using Smarter.

Ready to get started? Know exactly which courses your school will let you CLEP. Get your Prep Course Plan today. 

The Untold Cost of Graduating Late

The Untold Cost of Graduating Late

COVID-19 has brought interesting challenges for many parents with first-year college students. Students must decide whether to take Zoom classes or wait until on-campus classes open in Fall 2021.

As a parent, you may be wondering which route would be best. But, no matter what your child chooses, there are benefits and risks associated with each. Beyond missed classes and taking a bit longer to graduate; there are many opportunity costs to taking an extra year or two to finish college.

The Opportunity Costs of Graduating Late 

Extra Tuition and Debt

Paying for your child to spend an extra year or more in college isn’t cheap.

  • The cost of staying in school for an additional year means an extra $18,598 in tuition and interest on loans.
  • The cost of an additional year at private colleges would be even higher, nearly $26,815 in additional tuition and interest on loans.
  • Taking two extra years to finish college (six years total) racks in added costs of $37,456 at public institutions and $53,760 at private colleges.
Lost Wages

Here’s another thing to consider, not only do students who spend an additional year in college wind up paying more tuition upfront but delaying their career by a year can cost them thousands in future earning potential.

Did you know that taking an extra year to graduate college means missing out on nearly $90,000 in lifetime earnings?

Where does this loss in earnings come from? About half of that is the $43,000 starting salary that new graduates typically earn in their first year of work, and taking two extra years to graduate would result in $94,353 in missed income.

Even when late graduates do finish, they’ll always be a year behind, and those differences add up, and while the gap closes, those graduating late never catch up to those who graduated on time. Those costs add up and amount to $90,000 over a working lifetime.

Less Retirement Savings

College students who take five years to finish college will miss out on $82,074 in retirement savings compounded over 45 years, based on directing 7.1% of their income (the average contribution rate for people under 25, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) with standard 7% annual returns. If you take six years to graduate, then you’ll miss out on $150,882 in compounded savings.

Graduate on Time with Credit-by-Exam

A better alternative? Using Credit-by-Exam with Smarter with Achieve.

Credit-by-Exam allows your child to earn college credits toward their degree by taking one standardized exam. With Credit-by-Exam, your child can knock out their general education courses quicker without sitting through a Zoom class or waiting until campuses reopen.

Since your child will be taking the exams instead of sitting for a class, you get to save on the cost of tuition, room, board, and other college expenses. According to the College Board, if your child earns 15 test-out credits towards a college degree, you can save up to $17,000 on the cost of schooling!

Smarter with Achieve Can Help

Although Credit-by-Exam is the fastest way to earn college credits, it is certainly not the easiest. Traditionally, students who take Credit-by-Exam tests have to study and acquire knowledge of the test independently. Credit-by-Exam tests can be more challenging than traditional college courses for this reason. But, this is where Smarter with Achieve can help.
At Smarter with Achieve, we offer exam guidance to help your child study for Credit-by-Exam tests. Every learner at Smarter with Achieve gets…

  • Expert exam guidance. Our live courses and dedicated instructors will ensure your child is ready for test day.
  • A library of study materials. After you register your child with Smarter, they’ll get practice tests and guidelines, so your child will be confident when facing their CLEP, DSST, or ECE exam.
  • Exam-specific questions. Get access to exam-specific questions to help your child ace CLEP exams.

Ready to prep? Chat with us today and see how we can help.

The $85 College Secret That’ll Save You Thousands

The $85 College Secret That’ll Save You Thousands

Would you rather pay $1,000 for a general education course or $85 for a 90-minute test?
The cost of college tuition just seems to be rising every year. But, if you’re proactive, you can save money on college and avoid crippling student loan debt. How? Through a little known college secret called Credit-by-Exam.

How Does Credit-by-Exam Work?

Credit-by-Exam tests like CLEP, DSST, and UExcel are all college-level replacement exams that allow you to knock out prerequisites fast, and it works in two easy steps…

  • You pass one exam for each college prerequisite.
  • Then, accredited colleges accept the passed exam as transfer credits.

With Credit-by-Exam, you can rack up enough credits to skip the first two years of college without sitting for a single class. Credit-by-Exam test credits are accepted at over 3,000 colleges and offer 30 exams that allow you to earn three or more college credits each.

Top 3 Credit-by-Exam Benefits

  • You get to save time. For example, taking just one exam can save you more than 100 hours of class and study time.
  • You save thousands of dollars. If you earn just 15 CLEP credits, you can save an average of $5,000 at a public 4-year college.
  • Speed up your degree and graduate faster. Credit-by-Exam allows you to complete your introductory requirements and move on to significant courses faster.

How Much Does Credit-by-Exam Cost?

The most popular Credit-by-Exam test is the College-Level Equivalency Program or CLEP tests. CLEP exams cost $85 each. Other Credit-by-Exam tests can cost between $85- $100. Military personnel and veterans may be eligible for free CLEP tests through the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) program. Some colleges run occasional promotions that discount the price of the exam.

What Courses Can I Test Out Of?

You can test out of 30 college courses using CLEP, including…

  • Financial Accounting
  • Introductory Business Law
  • American Literature
  • College Composition
  • Spanish I
  • Spanish II
  • American Government
  • History of the United States
  • Introductory Psychology
  • Introductory Sociology
  • Principles of Macroeconomics
  • Principles of Microeconomics
  • Biology
  • Calculus
  • Chemistry
  • College Algebra
  • College Mathematics
  • Natural Sciences
  • Precalculus

…And much, much more. Be sure to check the College Board’s website for a complete list of subjects you can test out of at your college.

Does Credit-by-Exam Work At My School?

Before pursuing Credit-by-Exam, you want to confirm with your college three things. First, you must find out if your school accepts Credit-by-Exam test credits and for which subjects, and also, what counts as a passing score. You don’t want to register for exams that your college won’t recognize. In general, you’ll need to score a 50 out of 80 for a passing CLEP exam, but what your school counts as a passing CLEP score may vary. Be sure to double-check.

Other things you may want to discuss with your admissions advisor about include…

Transfer credits: Ask your admissions counselor if your school limits the number of credits you can transfer to a degree program. If you have a lot of credits to transfer, you may be limited in how many credits you can transfer with Credit-by-Exam.

Caps on test-out credits: With Credit-by-Exam, you may be able to test out of your first two years of college and enroll as a junior. However, some colleges limit the total number of Credit-by-Exam credits you can earn. Many schools will not allow you to CLEP a subject in which you have failed previously.

You can check if your school accepts Credit-by-Exam test using the College Board’s search tool. On the College Board website, you will find a list of school that accepts CLEP credits and how many credits they accept.

How Smarter with Achieve Can Help

Don’t underestimate the value of Credit-by-Exam test for your education. The money and time savings are a bonus to anyone who wants to finish their degree a little sooner and with a little more money in their pocket.
Ready to test-out using Credit-by-Exam? Smarter with Achieve can help you prep for your CLEP, DSST, and UExcel with expert exam guidance.

The Parent Plus Loan Trap

The Parent Plus Loan Trap

If you’re a middle-income parent, putting your child through college may mean taking on substantial debt. How much debt? In many cases, nearly twice the amount you’d make in a year.

In fact, according to a study from the Wall Street Journal, many parents are borrowing up to six-figures to fund their kid’s post-secondary dreams.

The cost of a college education has grown exponentially in the last ten years, but so has the financial reward one gets from earning a college degree. So, where does that leave parents who want to help fund their child’s college education? Figuring out how to pay for college is one of the biggest sources of stress for parents. Thankfully, there are many ways you can fund your kid’s college education that doesn’t include draining your finances. And it’s through a little known program called Credit-by-Exam (CBE).

The Parent Plus Loan Trap

Why are parents taking on over $100,000 in student loans? The answer can be found in a program called Parent Plus. The Parent Plus program is a federal loan program parents can use to help their children pay for college. It’s important to note that Parent Plus loans come at a higher interest rate than standard student loans and has a higher limit you can borrow. That can spell trouble for the uninformed borrower that wants to pay for all or most of their kid’s college costs. Some schools are more expensive than others, and you can quickly find yourself under a mountain of debt if you’re not careful with the amount you borrow. Parent Plus loans can put a severe strain on your finances.

And the schools carrying the highest amount of Parent Plus debt may surprise you: art schools, HBCUs, and small private colleges typically carry the most Parent Plus loan debt.

At Spelman College, a historically black school in Atlanta, parents borrowed an average of $112,000. That’s much more than any school in the country! Paying back a loan of that amount can mean payments of over $1,200 a month, which rivals most mortgage payments.

parent plus loans

At other colleges, parents typically took on loans worth $50,000 or more. Some colleges required amounts between $25,000 and $50,000. This information, collected by the U.S. Education Department, paints a complete picture of the financial strain many parents undertake in helping their kids pursue their post-secondary dreams.

Helping finance your kid’s college can quickly become burdensome, but it does not have to be if you know your options. Enter Credit-by-Exam.

Save on your child’s college expenses with Credit-by-Exam.

There’s a lot of opinions on how to save money on your kid’s college tuition, but one you probably haven’t heard of yet is Credit-by-Exam.

Credit-by-Exam is a program that allows students to receive college credit by taking – and passing – exams on core subjects. Since students can take these college-level replacement exams instead of sitting for a class, it can save parents thousands of dollars on college tuition.

Different Credit-by-Exam tests include…

  • CLEP (the most common exam)
  • DSST (for military members and their families)
  • UExcel (for nursing students).

One of the most popular Credit-by-Exam tests among college students is the College Level Examination Program or CLEP.
The College Board runs CLEP exams. Any person of any age can sit for an exam and, if they pass, receive college credits for that course.

The CLEP exams are like high-school AP exams; only your child can take it at their own pace without sitting for a class. That means they can take CLEP exams whenever they’re ready, not just at the end of the semester.

Currently, CLEP offers exams on 30 subjects at more than 1,800 testing centers, and they cost just $85 each. Not only that, CLEP credits are accepted at over 3,000 accredited colleges and universities.

And you don’t have to wait until your child is enrolled in college to start saving with CLEP exams. The low cost and flexible timing make the tests perfect for high schoolers. With Credit-by-Exam, your child can earn both high school and college credits and graduate earlier for less money. If your child plans to work while attending college, they can earn credits for their prerequisites and take tests around their busy work schedules.

The College Board reported that students who earn 15 CLEP credits toward a degree could save between $5,000 and $17,000 on tuition, depending on their college. Not only does Credit-by-Exam help you save thousands on your child’s college expenses, but your child will also have the opportunity to graduate quicker, start their career earlier, and start earning money sooner.

The Smart Way to avoid college debt

In most cases, CLEP test-takers would have to study on their own to make sure they have the required knowledge to pass the exams. CLEP exams can be more difficult than sitting for a regular college course for this reason. That’s where Smarter with Achieve can help.

Smarter with Achieve helps Credit-by-Exam test-takers study to pass CLEP, ECE, and DSST exams. We offer expert exam guidance that prepares your child to take and pass college-level replacement exams.

Our Prep Course Plan ensures that your child’s school of choice accepts Credit-by-Exam and verifies how many credits the school will accept. Then, our online prep courses help your child prepare and pass CLEP exams and earn college credits.

Chat with an advisor today. We’ll walk you through the smart way to pay for college and avoid the Parent Plus Loan trap.


Is Smarter with Achieve a School?

Is Smarter with Achieve a School?

Graduating from college in four years may sound easy, but it isn’t for most students. Only 41 percent of all college students will graduate within four years. For those who work while pursuing their degree, the numbers drop to just 20%.

Not only is the graduation success rate low, but the costs of pursuing a degree can add up. The longer it takes you to complete your college courses, the less likely you will graduate — and the more debt you’ll rack up. One out of four students drop out before finishing college, and most say the biggest hurdle is money. For those who stick it out and finish in five or six years, many either have unnecessarily drained their parents’ bank accounts or ended up with loads more student loan debt.

Graduating on time and saving money is probably your biggest concern as a college student, and that’s where testing out of classes through Credit by Exam can come in handy.

What is Credit by Exam?

Probably one of the best-kept secrets, Credit by Exam, is a process that allows you to earn credits for a college course by passing one exam on the subject. But it’s not like a regular exam you’ll take in a classroom. With Credit by Examination (CBE), you must demonstrate prior knowledge of a subject by taking—and passing—the course exam(s).

There are different types of Credit by Exam examinations, including CLEP, ECE (Excelsior College Exams), and DSST. These college-level course replacement exams typically run between $80 – $100 each. Considering that the average 3-credit college course costs more than $1,700, testing out of exams can save you a lot of money.

With Credit by Exam, you’ll reduce how much in total you pay for college, and keep more money in your pocket. Plus, you get the added benefit of reducing the time it takes to graduate. Studying for these exams isn’t the easiest task and requires discipline, but that’s where test prep can help. Folks have used test prep for decades. LSAT, MCAT, SAT, ACT… few if any students just take these exams without leveraging test prep guidance from a trusted source. So if you’re looking for guidance on how to prepare for a Credit by Exam test, look no further than Smarter with Achieve. We help you prepare for these exams by offering guidance, support, and accountability through live instruction.

What is Smarter with Achieve?

Let’s start with what we’re not. We’re not another school asking you for an unrealistic time commitment. Instead, we work with you to find the best plan possible to test out of college courses, so that you can earn your degree sooner. Smarter with Achieve is an exam guidance company, which means we help you study to pass CLEP, ECE, and DSST exams. Although we’re not a school, we can help you pass exams for college credits that are accepted at over 3,000 accredited college institutions.
In the same way that people rely on test prep solutions for LSAT, MCAT, or SAT, you can do the same for Credit by Exam. Smarter is the test prep company that provides turn key guidance on how to pass college-level replacement exams.

Why do I need test prep? Can’t I just study at home?

While some students can successfully study for their exams at home and pass the first time, that’s not the case for most. Did you know that students who do not pass their Credit by Exam test have to wait six (6) months before retaking it? Why take that chance? You want to be as prepared as possible for each exam.
There is also the issue of not knowing what to study. How can you be sure the material you’re using is the right one? Just because you found a textbook with the same name as the CLEP exam or an online course that claims to prepare you doesn’t mean that the material will match the questions on your CLEP test.
And that’s what’s so cool about Smarter. We help you pass your exams with confidence with trained instructors, live classes, and up-to-date material.

What’s in it for me?

What could you possibly gain by testing out of college courses? Well, a lot.

  • You get to save thousands of dollars.
  • You can test out of boring general ed courses.
  • You can use the extra time to focus on the subjects you care about.
  • You get more time for yourself.
  • You graduate faster.
  • You can start your career earlier.
  • You can start earning money sooner.
  • Less debt = less stress after graduation plus more time during college to focus on the fun stuff.

Go Farther with Smarter

Smarter with Achieve provides a smart way to finish college faster through our credit by exam test prep solutions. Chat with us today. We’ll walk you through the smart way to earn college credits.