This post won’t be a technical one, but I recently went back and completed my bachelor’s degree, 29 years after I first entered college. I wanted to put together a write up of the path I took to complete, in case this information was useful to anyone else trying to complete their degree.
My Educational Background
Out of high school, I attended two different schools for 2 years each, so I had plenty of credits built up. I studied political science at the first school and philosophy at the second. I also had some accounting classes from a local tech school as well. To be honest, I was looking for the shortest route to completion, as I was working full time and was already deep into my career. Most schools have a residency requirement, meaning that you need to complete the last 1-2 years or so of your education at that school in order to graduate.
Selecting A School
Reputable US schools will have a regional accreditation. Georgia is covered by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Most schools will require a school to be regionally accredited in order to accept transfer credits from them, or to enter a graduate program. So I was looking for a school with regional accreditation.
I also hoped to find a school that didn’t have a residency requirement, so that I would be able to use as many of my previously earned credits as possible, as well as shorten that amount of time I would spend in completion.
I ended up finding two schools that met these requirements and applied to both of those:
Thomas Edison State University (TESU)
When I applied, the schools gave me a rough idea of which classes would be accepted as transfer, as well as which category they would be credited as. Once I enrolled at the school, I got an official evaluation of my credits.
Thomas Edison offered to transfer more credits so I enrolled with them.
I later learned of a third school that only requires two classes to be taken at their institution: Charter Oak State College
Once I enrolled at TESU, I met with a guidance counselor to go over my requirements. Everything laid out in my initial evaluation was approved. I had to pay an enrollment fee good for one year, as well as a fee for each class taken.
Selecting A Major
My credits were spread across several areas in the liberal arts, so after checking Thomas Edison’s requirements, I was the closest to earning a Liberal Studies degree.
There was one Capstone class that I had to take at TESU, but I was free to earn the rest of the credits any way that I could, I didn’t necessarily have to take them from the school.
I had most of my pre-requisites completed, but one good resource for these classes is Georgia’s ECore site.
I ended up taking several classes from a third party company, Straighterline. Here you pay a monthly subscription fee ($99 when I took classes) plus a fee per class($50 or so). You take classes at your own pace, taking as long as you want or working through as quickly as you like. Each class used a textbook, which were easily bought used online. Readings in the text were assigned, and each module had a quiz that was administered online. Most classes had a midterm as well. Each class had a final exam, which was proctored by a third party company. You would take a final exam at home, but the proctor would monitor you via webcam as you tested, as well as monitor your desktop while you tested. You would schedule a time with the proctor, setup with your assigned proctor, and then take the test. Everything was graded immediately. Their site posted a list of all of their classes that TESU would accept, along with the class that it would be credited as, which was very useful in planning. Once you pass a class, you can have StraighterLine send a transcript to the school. Even though you are given a letter grade for the class, the credits will be transferred in as pass/fail. I found this the easiest and cheapest way to earn credits.
There are also several ways to earn credits by exam. For these, you’ll travel to a testing center to take the exam. The testing centers are mostly colleges that open their testing center to outside students (not all schools allow that). I took exams from two agencies:
DSST(formerly known as DANTES)
Both sets of exams were under $100 an exam. As long as you receive a passing grade, you will receive credit. Since the exams are pass/fail you don’t get a letter grade, it will just show up as credit on your transcript.
TESU publishes lists of the exams that they accepted for credit, and the class that you would get credit for.
To study for the exams, I used a site Instacert to prepare for the exams. They are a subscription site ($20 a month when I used them) that have practice questions with answers, I found them very useful. The site Free CLEP Prep also had links to other resources as well.
The exams were tough, but with a good bit of studying I was able to pass every attempt. I stuck to areas that I already knew very well, like history.
TESU and Exclesior also offer their own sets of exams for credit, but I didn’t take any of those.
Most exams are credited for lower level (100 or 200 level) classes. I did find a few that would transfer in for upper level credit. The History of the Vietnam War DSST exam was one, as well as the Introduction to Religion StraighterLine class.
After filling in my requirements, I was left with one class to take at TESU, their capstone class. Here, the sole activity of the class was to write a research paper, kind of a mini-thesis. We were free to select any topic in our major area. Computer Science fell under the Liberal Studies umbrella here, so I was free to select a programming-related topic. Each class has a professor assigned, who will help to formulate a topic. Every two weeks I would submit a chapter and would receive feedback on it. At the end of the class we would submit the full paper. It wasn’t a typical research paper, a lot of the writing was about my research methods as well. The paper had to be at least 25 pages, not including the bibliography and other supporting writings. A minimum grade of ‘C’ was needed.
Before the class was over, I was eligible to go ahead and apply for graduation, of course pending on getting a high enough grade. Once I completed the class, I was eligible to graduate in September of 2016.