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. 


Can I take CLEP Exams at Home?

Can I take CLEP Exams at Home?

Can you take CLEP exams online? The answer is yes! The College Board is now making the CLEP exam available from the comfort of your home. But, there are some catches. Read below for more details.

More About At-Home CLEP Exams.

What’s different about taking the CLEP exam from at home? The at-home CLEP exam has the same format, content, timing, and overall on-screen experience as an exam you would take at a test center. And thanks to CLEP’s partnership with Proctortrack, you’ll even still have a human proctor. 

See how Smarter with Achieve can help you prep for your at-home CLEP exam.

What is Proctortrack?

Proctortrack is a virtual proctoring solution that works in two ways. First, the company verifies your identity online. Second, Proctortrack also allows you to take your exam while a human proctor monitors you via video. 

In ordered to get a proctored, at-home CLEP exam, you must have…

  • A PC (not a Mac)
  • Webcam 
  • Speaker 
  • Microphone 
  • Whiteboard or sheet of paper in a transparent sheet protector 
  • Dry eraser marker 
  • A quiet, secure testing environment 

There are also additional technical requirements. You can view them here.

Who Can Take A CLEP Exam Online?

There are a few requirements if you want to take CLEP online: 

  • You have to be at least 13 years old.
  • Your computer and testing environment must meet the technical and Proctortrack requirements
  • You must be located within the U.S. ( or be DANTES-funded).

Not eligible to take the CLEP exam at home? You still have the option of taking your CLEP exam at a test center.

What Are Considerations For Those with Disabilities? 

There are specific accommodations for those with disabilities seeking to take a remote-proctored exam, including…

  • Extended exam time
  • Screen magnification
  • Modifiable screen colors
  • Longer rest breaks

Additionally, you are also allowed food, drink, and medication as long as you stay within the view of the proctor. The College Board recommends submitting your request for accommodation two months in advance. Until the College Board approves your request, you won’t be able to complete your exam remotely with accommodation. 

How to Register to Take Your At-Home CLEP Exam

There are six steps to register to take your CLEP exam at home. 

  1. First, you have to review the requirements. Make sure your equipment and environment meet the standards. You have to be in a private room where no one else is entering. This means coffee shops and bookstores are out. 
  2. Then, register for your exam on the CLEP My Account Registration Portal. The information you use to register should match the ID you’ll be using to take your exam. If it doesn’t, you won’t be allowed to test. 
  3. Select your test center. During the registration process, you’ll be asked where you’ll be taking your exam. Select ‘at home with remote proctoring’ and agree to the remote proctoring requirements. In addition to the CLEP exam fee, you’ll be charged $30 for remote proctoring. If you’re DANTES funded, your remote proctoring fee should be zero. 
  4. Schedule your exam. Within 24 hours, you should receive an email confirmation from CLEP with a Ticket ID and a link to the Proctortrack website. You’ll use your Ticket ID and create a Proctortrack account to schedule your remote-proctored exam appointment. 
  5. Ensure that you have everything you need for the test day. Ensure that your equipment and software are working as they should.
  6. Take Your Exam. Sign in at your scheduled appointment time and have your government-issued ID ready to show your proctor.
Are you ready to get started? Smarter with Achieve can help.

We walk you through the CLEP registration process and help you prep and pass your exams. 

Here’s just a sample of what you’d get if you prep with us: 

  • Dedicated 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 robust library of study materials. With Smarter, you get practice tests and guidelines, so you’ll be confident on exam day. 
  • Access to exam-specific questions. Get access to exam-specific questions to help you prep for CLEP.

Be prepared for your at-home CLEP exam. Prep with Smarter today!

4 Reasons Why You Should Finish Your Degree

4 Reasons Why You Should Finish Your Degree

Are you an adult learner thinking about going back to finish your degree? If so, you’re not alone. 

Adult learners, defined as those over the age of 25, make up about 6.6 million of those enrolled in college. That’s nearly 40% of those people enrolled in higher education. 

Finishing your degree while balancing life can be a challenge. With other obligations like work and kids, finding time for studies can be a learning experience in itself. You may feel tempted to give up at times. Despite the challenges of being an adult learner, there are many reasons to continue working toward your degree. An unfinished degree will lead to regrets years down the line, and you may face more hurdles when advancing your career. 

1) A bachelor’s degree will diversify your skill sets.

You may find that your current skill set is no longer taking you where you want to go, especially if you’re seeking to advance your career. With recent technology changes, it’s nearly impossible to compete unless you diversify your skill sets. 

Finishing your degree helps you learn new skills that you can parlay into more career opportunities. As a person with work experience under your belt, you have an added advantage over your more traditional degree-seeking peers. Since you know where your career path is taking you, you can choose to learn specific skills you know you will need to advance. You don’t have to study more general subjects that may not apply to your line of work. 

Our economy is becoming more global, and your skills will become outdated if they aren’t already. You will find this is especially true if you’re in the technology industry, where younger, more skilled workers are plenty. To continue to progress in your field, you must add to your knowledge base and skillset. Acquiring new certifications or degrees helps you make yourself more competitive.

 Want to get your degree faster than ever? Test out of your general education courses with Smarter with Achieve. 

2) A degree offers a good return on investment. 

Many people didn’t finish college when they were younger due to financial issues. It’s pretty standard for adults to hold off college until they can save to afford it. The choice isn’t one without merit. Americans are currently $1 trillion in the hole due to student loan debt. And many cannot afford to pay it back. Additionally, younger undergrads also tend not to know what they want to study. Meaning they could waste thousands of dollars on a major only to discover their passions lay elsewhere. 

Want to save money on student loans? Find out how Smarter with Achieve and Credit-by-Exam can help.

This and more pushes many individuals into putting off college until 3-5 years later. Adult learners have an advantage. More often than not, they have figured out what they want to do. They’ve had time to think about their passions, plus they have a little life experience under their belt too. Adding a bachelor’s degree to their years of experience can be a game-changer for these individuals. 

It’s proven that workers who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher earn considerably more throughout their lifetimes than those who don’t. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people who have at least a bachelor’s degree earn an average weekly paycheck of $1,053, versus $638 for those with only a high school diploma. Not only that, you’re less likely to experience prolonged bouts of unemployment.

3) A bachelor’s degree offers new career opportunities.

It’s not uncommon for adults to feel a little burnt out after years in their industry. You may want to start a new business or switch careers. If you’re thinking about starting something new or going on a different career path, a bachelor’s degree may be just what you need. 

Today’s generation is all about the idea of pursuing your passion. Much unlike the message of previous generations to just find a practical job, young adults these days are picking careers they can get excited about. And older adults are getting the message too. Many are turning away from stagnant jobs to vibrant careers that align with their lives’ calling. 

Usually, making such a huge switch requires training. Going into a new career in a different industry is no easy feat. Many adults are choosing to get a degree to make the transition that much easier. 

Ready to make a career switch? Earn your degree faster with Smarter with Achieve!

4) Your degree journey will boost your personal growth. 

Maybe for you getting your degree is more about finishing what you started than it is about money. There are many reasons people have had to put off college and enter the workforce early. Maybe academic issues, a growing family, or health issues halted your studies previously. Whatever the reason, you left with a handful of credits and no degree. 

For you, going back and finishing your degree can be highly satisfying. It can help you feel confident at work, increase your self-worth, and set an example for your children. Not the mention the number of doors a degree will open for you as far as career opportunities.

Wrapping Up 

The bottom line is that education offers adult learners opportunities that have never before existed. Online education makes getting your degree 100% over the internet possible. Since you can finish your degree from the comfort of your home, you no longer have to remain dissatisfied with a stagnant career. There is a bevy of options available to adult learners, including the testing out of general education courses. Using test-out options, you can finish your degree in half of the time! And Smarter with Achieve can help.

Finish Your Degree with Smarter with Achieve

What’s your reason for finishing your degree? Whatever your motivations, Smarter with Achieve will walk you through every step of the way. 

Smarter with Achieve is an exam guidance company that offers adult learners a faster and more convenient way to finish their degree. We offer flexible day, evening, and night courses. Plus, no term papers, quizzes, or assignments. We prep you to pass CLEP exams for college credits so you can finish faster and get on with the rest of your life and career.

Are you interested in learning more? Contact the experts at Smarter with Achieve today. We’ll find the best program that fits your needs and schedule. 

Three Tips for Adjusting to Online Learning

Three Tips for Adjusting to Online Learning

Online learning has become somewhat of the norm, but that does not mean that there still isn’t some adjusting to do. Many people may find themselves struggling to get used to the new normal. And with many of us both working and schooling kids from home, finding the time to devote to studying can be challenging. 

Despite all of this, there’s a lot you can do to ensure your success. In this blog post, we’ve shared three top tips used by some of our most successful customers that’ll help you master the challenge of online learning. 

Prepare to become a lot more tech-savvy. 

Maybe you’ve just used your computer to surf the web before, but you have to become more well-versed on the technical side of the web. Familiarize yourself with any portals, message boards, libraries, video conferencing software, or file-sharing programs that you’d have to use for your courses. Make sure that any computer you use is up-to-date with both software and hardware. Freezing video screens and lost audio can happen to you if your computer, video conferencing software, or internet connection is not up to speed. You should also know the phone number and email address of the technical support for your course’s online platform. Technical issues can quickly get in the way of your learning experience. Ensure everything is up to date and working and that you know who to reach out to for help. 

Treat your online sessions as if they were a regular college course. 

At Smarter with Achieve, our primary goal is to prep you to pass CLEP tests, so you can bypass college courses and receive credits in half the time. Still, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take your prep courses seriously, especially since you have to wait 90 days to retake a failed CLEP exam. 

Learning online takes a certain amount of discipline as well as dedication to follow through. You should be attending all of your prep sessions and registering for your exam as soon as possible. Although learning online offers some flexibility, you can’t procrastinate indefinitely.

Just as you would for a traditional, in-person college course, you must “show up” to get the full value of your prep sessions. Treat your prep courses the same way you would regular face-to-face courses. 

The good news is that our prep courses offer some accountability, as we use live instructors in a virtual, classroom-like environment. You’ll find it a lot easier to keep on track and get support than more traditional options. 

Remove any distractions.

It can be easy to become sidetracked during your studies. If you’re not careful, these distractions can quickly derail your studies. Make sure to set aside time where you can be 100% focused on your studies. 

We know learning from home can be challenging, especially when everybody else is home too. Find what works for you and set aside personal time to review topics covered in your prep sessions. You may find listening to white noise while you study to be effective. Maybe going out to a coffee shop or library can provide a quiet space for you. Perhaps, you struggle with juggling too many tasks at once and need to reshift your priorities to include study time. Do whatever you need to to create a quiet study space.

Consider turning your cell phone to ‘Do Not Disturb’ to avoid losing focus on your studies. Tune out distracting social media sites by installing a timed website blocker to your browser. These apps will help you block specific swaths of time for studying. 

Start Learning Online with Smarter

Are you ready to face the challenge of learning online?

Smarter with Achieve offers prep courses that’ll help you prepare to pass exams like CLEP, DSST, and ECE, so that you can earn college credits faster. Our online prep sessions feature live instructors in a friendly, classroom-like environment. We provide the accountability and support you need to succeed in an online learning setting. 

Sign up today. See how we can help you earn your degree faster.  


The Easiest and Hardest CLEP Exams

The Easiest and Hardest CLEP Exams

What is CLEP?

CLEP or the College Board’s College-Level Examination Program is a Credit-by-Exam program trusted for over 50 years. CLEP allows anyone of any age to demonstrate their mastery of general education, college-level subjects and earn credits for them. You can earn college credits by taking and passing tests on over 30 subjects.   

Nearly 3,000 colleges and universities accept CLEP credits, and you can sit for CLEP exams at more than 2,000 test centers nationwide. 

How does CLEP work?

While the College Board sponsors CLEP, only colleges may grant credit toward a degree. Not all colleges have the same CLEP policies. 

Some factors to consider:

  • The College Board has a recommended credit-granting score guide, but your school may decide a different score.
  • Some colleges accept credit for all CLEP exams. Other colleges accept a few CLEP exams and may require you to sit for an actual class on some subjects. 
  • If you take and pass a CLEP exam, your college will grant you the same amount of credits you would get if you took a traditional class. 

Since you don’t have to sit for 16 weeks in a class, you can finish college a lot faster with CLEP. 

Our Prep Course Plan lets you know exactly how many credits you can CLEP. Find out how.

What subjects does CLEP cover?

Business, Composition and Literature, History, Mathematics, Science, Social Sciences, and World Languages are just a few of CLEP’s exam topics. And this is just a broad list. The tests become more specific under each subject. 

Now that you know more about CLEP, you may be wondering where to start? Which exams should you choose first? Which CLEP exams are the easiest? We based this easiest and hardest list of CLEP exams on the passing rates of students in 2017. 

Easiest Exams 

Exam Pass Rate (%)
Spanish Language 91%
College Composition Modular 83%
College Composition 81%
Introductory Sociology 80%
Principles of Marketing 79%
French Language 78%
College Mathematics 76%
Human Growth and Development 75%
Analyzing and Interpreting Lit 75%
Principles of Macroeconomics 72%

Hardest Exams

Exam Pass Rate (%)
Chemistry 39%
Western Civilization II 48%
American Literature 51%
Introductory Business Law 51%
American Government 52%
College Algebra 52%
Calculus 53%
Financial Accounting 55%
History of United States II 56%
Natural Sciences 57%


Facing a difficult CLEP exam? Pass with Smarter with Achieve.

Do More with Smarter

That wraps up our list! Which test you find the easiest or hardest will ultimately come down to your educational background and history. Before choosing a CLEP exam to take, make sure you’re knowledgeable about the subject and that your school accepts CLEP credits.

CLEP exams are one of the best ways to gain college credits and get your degree faster — but not the easiest. 

CLEP exams require a lot of self-discipline, accountability, and study, but that’s where Smarter with Achieve can help. 

 Smarter with Achieve offers expert exam guidance to ensure that you pass your CLEP exam on the first try, whether easy or hard. We offer live, virtual courses with dedicated instructors in a collaborative learning environment. You’ll review exam-specific questions and have access to a library of material, so you can feel confident on test day. 

Ready to prep? Get in contact with one of our Smarter Advisors today!

6 Tips for Passing Your CLEP Exam (on the First Try)

6 Tips for Passing Your CLEP Exam (on the First Try)

Want to finish college fast?

With the College-Level Examination Program (or CLEP), you can save both time and money while pursuing your degree.

CLEP is a Credit-by-Exam program that allows you to earn college credits by testing out of subjects you already know. All you need to do is receive a passing score on one standardized exam. You can save up to $1,700 per college course and (in some cases) save two years of sitting in a classroom. And with CLEP credits accepted at over 3,000 schools, it’s a great way to speed up your degree.

But before you run out to register for a CLEP exam, there are a few things you should keep in mind to help you test with confidence and get the best score possible.

Become familiar with what’s on the test.

Don’t take for granted that most CLEP exams are multiple-choice! Some exams, like the CLEP exam for English Composition, include a written portion. Be prepared for every possible question on the exam. The College Board’s website has outlines of what to expect on each exam. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the structure of the exam you plan to take.

Take advantage of test prep.

You can never be too prepared for a CLEP exam. One of the best ways to prepare for test day is to take advantage of test prep. Smarter with Achieve offers expert test guidance, including letting you know which exams your school will accept. Smarter offers live instructor-led virtual prep courses. You can participate in live Q&A discussions, ask exam-specific questions, and correct knowledge gaps before taking the official exam. With Smarter with Achieve, you can increase your exam readiness and have a higher chance of passing your test.

Quell your test anxiety

While prepping for the exam is essential, you’ll probably have trouble focusing on the exam if you experience test anxiety. Try to quell your test anxiety right before the night of the exam. If you want to review a little bit, you can, but resist the urge to cram the night before. Instead, try to relax. Review any major points of the exam and then stop and try to a good night’s sleep. Practice relaxation strategies the night before, such as breathing exercises, and again during the exam if you feel stressed out.

Test-out of subjects you know well, first.

From Spanish and Sociology to College Math and Biology, with 30 exams to choose from, there is sure to be some subjects you find easier than others. When you’re first starting CLEP, choose exams that cover subjects you’re most knowledgeable on first. Then, use Smarter with Achieve prep to review that material and learn new subjects to pass other exams.

Take regular study breaks.

Be sure to take plenty of breaks between studying for your CLEP exam. Breaks work as energy boosters. When you take regular breaks, it helps you focus and retain knowledge.

Besides taking regular study breaks, what you do during each break can matter too. It’s essential to choose the right type of activity for your study breaks so that you can return to your books refreshed and focused, ready to get back into studying.

Eliminate answers to make educated guesses

You may run into a few questions you can’t answer. Use the process of elimination to make educated guesses.

  • Look for context clues throughout the exam that can help you with tricky problems.
  • Generally, pick answers that seem familiar.
  • For true or false questions, and choose false if a question uses words like “all” or “none.”
  • If you’re making guesses on multiple-choice questions, look for grammatical clues and, when in doubt, go with the most detailed choice.

The more choices you can eliminate, the better your chances of answering the question correctly.

Go Farther with Smarter

CLEP is a great way to save money on college and graduate faster. Be sure that you’re ready on exam day by becoming familiar with what’s on the test, conquering test anxiety, and taking advantage of CLEP test prep with Smarter with Achieve.

Are you preparing for a CLEP exam or another Credit-by-Exam test? Talk with one of our advisors at Smarter with Achieve and see how we can help!