Are you a high school student looking to start your college education early? Or are you a parent looking to save money on your child’s tuition?

One option is to simply start taking classes early. As a high schooler, you can take general education courses at your local community college, either during the school year or over the summer! Many academic summer camps also offer college credits when they are hosted by a university.

There are also a couple of courses and tests that are available to get college credit or advanced placement upon going to the college of your choice. These tests are the AP (Advanced Placement) and the IB (International Baccalaureate) Diploma Program. Most colleges will give college credits for these programs if you have a high enough score, but some will only allow you to skip the lower level course for a higher level one with no credits offered. If you feel that you have already accomplished a mastery of college studies in one subject, you might even want to take the CLEP (College Level Examination Program). We will exam all three tests and you should be able to decide which you need or prefer at the end of this paper.

What is the AP (Advanced Placement) course and exams?

This is an advanced program for high school students who want to earn college credit while still in high school that is regulated by the College Board. These are very desired on the college application and most colleges are familiar with the curriculum for the AP course. 90% of colleges will honor a high AP exam score in exchange for college credits, advanced placement or both. These exams are taken in May and the scores are received in July. These exams are given and graded by the College Board.

You do not have to take the course to be eligible for the exam but it sure helps. The scoring is from 1 to 5 with 1 being "no recommendation" and 5 being "very well qualified". These courses and exams are much more rigorous than high school classes and if you are not doing well in a particular course, you should not take these classes. Review books for these classes and exams are commercially available.

What are the IB (International Baccalaureate) courses and exams?

This course is mandated by the International Baccalaureate Organization in Cardiff, Wales. These courses include papers as well as exams that are graded by the B-CC external assessors. These tests are given in May and scores are received in July. Grades are from 1 to 7. Students may earn a certificate for grades of 4 or better.

If you opt to be an "IB diploma student" it is a 2-year specific set of courses, the Theory of Knowledge course, a 4,000-word Extended Essay, and 150 hours of creativity, action, and service hours. Courses can either be standard level (one or two years followed by the IB exam) or higher-level courses. A student may take either a standard level or high-level class but not both.

Only juniors and seniors are eligible for the IB classes and exam and must complete 3 higher level courses to receive the IB certificate. You must also have at least 24 credits, based on the test scores of 1-7, to be eligible for the certificate. Students must prepare for this course in the 9th and 10th grades because they need to take certain classes in order to take the IB courses in the junior and senior years.

Although colleges look favorably upon IB students due to the rigor of the program, most schools do not offer credit for standard level course exams, only high-level. Just like the AP exams, you need to score well.

What is the CLEP (College Level Examination Program)?

This is a widely recognized examination for credit program that has been around for over 40 years and is accepted by most colleges. This stringent program is to let students of all ages and backgrounds show their mastery of introductory college level material on any of the 33 exams. Most colleges will accept a few of the courses but it is up to the college to grant points toward a degree program. Not all colleges have CLEP policies however, there are some that offer a grant for a student who earns a good score on the exam. These exams are administered by the same College Board as the AP courses above.

The CLEP is great for students who are self-motivated. There are also many online review courses that you can take to prepare. You should do your research before purchasing one of them. All review courses are not created equally. There are also exam review books available.

Everything comes at a price and these courses and exams are no exceptions. Below are some of the costs associated with each exam or certificate. You should speak to your school's college counselor for further information as prices may vary in your situation. However, all three of these exams are considerably less than a college course.

The AP courses and exam cost $94 each. Your particular school may charge a proctoring fee, in addition, the regular fee. If you have to take an exam during the late-testing period you will have to pay an extra $45. Sometimes students take the course do not take the exams and there is a $15 fee for that. If you have a significant financial need, you may be eligible for a $32 reduction in the costs.

The IB Diploma or Certification fees are as follows and may be higher due to the school charging a proctoring fee. For the Subject Certification Courses and Exams, the fees include and e-assessment candidate $53, an individual subject registration fee of $76, and a discounted subject fee package of 7 assessments $456. For the diploma program, the fees include assessment fees of $172 candidate registration fee, $119 candidate subject fee. The core assessment fees are $91 for the Extended Essay $46 for the Theory of Knowledge, and finally, Creative Action and Service is $10. The Career Related Program fees include a Candidate Registration Fee of $172 and the Candidate Subject Registration Fee of $119.

The CLEP Tests are around $77 for each exam with an administration fee from the school of $15 or more depending on the school. You should check with them before budgeting for this test. These are not the only fees associated with the CLEP tests, you should purchase study material and should think about this like buying books for a traditional class. Now, you take the test on a computer, however, if you feel more comfortable with a paper and pencil, there is a $120 administration charge for that. If you are in the military, your costs will be paid for you.

As you can see, there are many ways to get college credit before going to college. Whether you take prep courses and exams while in high school or you work for a while and then take the CLEP, it is totally up to you and your budget for education. This being said, there is no substitute for a good education and your salary in your chosen profession will reflect that choice. According to the US Department of Education, the difference in 2015 was degree holders earned $48,500 in salary while the non-degree holder only made $23,900. It's your choice, make the right one!