Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Real Alternative: Degree AND Credentials Without College

Guest post by Alexandria Potter

Is college easy? 

I have heard that it is not and I can believe that. So you may be interested to know why I refer to going to college as “the easy way out."

Let's start with a Q&A.

How many people do we know that go to college and don’t know
  • What they want to major in
  • What they want to do in life
  • What other options are available


Way too many!

They’re just there because that’s what they’ve been told people do after high school.

Unfortunately we live in a society where too many people take the easy way out. Which is to say, follow the herd rather than forging their own path.

But to give people the benefit of the doubt, some people do this:

Go to college because that is the next step.

  • They want to be successful in life.
  • They want to have a good job.
  • They need good credentials.
  • Because college is the only option they’ve been presented to achieve this!

I too was like that.


Well, I want to change the world. As you can imagine, that's a big goal that involves a great deal of education! I graduated high school over two years ago. I took one semester in college. My experience in college wasn’t bad at all. But I felt like I just didn’t want to go. 

Here's why. 

There are two parts of learning:
  1. Book work
    You have to learn the facts. Read the books. Listen to “lectures”. There’s just a certain level of book knowledge that you really do have to have.  
  2. Experience You have to have hands on training. If you want to be a social worker or a teacher - you have to read the books and learn the facts but really no matter how much curriculum organization you learn and no matter how much techniques for helping people cope with depression you read - you’re going to have to actually experience these things first hand before you can actually say you know these things.  

The problem
  1. Book work
    College focuses too much on book work and not enough on experience.  
  2. Directing my learning I really like to do things on my own time and my own way - when I am able.

College really doesn't promote experience or self-directed learning. So with that, I decided to search for an alternative approach.  

I am a huge fan of alternative education. But like many others, I had started to feel like college was the only way.


Over the past few months, I found out that I was wrong!

I wanted to share this discovery with you.

The first thing that sparked my interest was this post which I read on the Powell Books website. It wasn’t too impressive, because the things he mentions will not give you the credentials to become a social worker or a teacher or anything like that but it gave me hope and inspiration that there was something out there and I just had to find it.


For the next few weeks I Googled as many ways that I could think of “alternative routes to college education without going to college.”

No progress.

A few weeks later I stumbled upon the youtube videos of a man named Scott Young of the MIT 4 yr degree program in only one year project. I watched many of his videos. And I read his blog. I was getting closer. But I still wasn’t there. I would have the education. But I wouldn’t have the credentials I wanted.

A couple days later, I stumbled upon the CLEP exams on the college board website. And from there... it just kept getting better and better. I had never heard of the CLEP exams before. Nor the DSST, or the ECEP or any other such credit by exam options. I was so happy.

Credit by exam allows you to study at your own pace, using whatever resources you can find, for however long it takes you - you take an exam at one of many testing centers and you get college credit. There are so many classes available this way. It cuts the time, the cost and allows you so much flexibility. It allows you to actually take the time to learn in a way that suites you. And once you are comfortable that you know your stuff, you take the exam.

You may still have to take a class or three or five. But for the most part, you can earn a bachelors degree this way - by just using open education resources and taking credit by exam - exams. Unfortunately, there are only few accredited colleges and universities that do not have a limit on how many credits you can transfer - however there are two places I have found so far that are accredited and they not only allow you, they support you in taking alternative routes to earn credit. They are Excelsior and Charter Oak. Check their websites out and be sure to support them so that they are able to continue supporting us.

You can also check out credit by portfolio of prior education - a concept that I am currently looking into starting here.

Before I go, here are a few of these resources that I found most useful:

And the final one:

If you're interested in this, feel free to comment below or join the conversation on the School Free Teens group on Facebook here where you'll learn the five ways in which people pursuing this path should be cautious.

About the author:  
I wanted to take a minute and introduce myself to all of you, so here it goes:
My name is Alexandria Potter and it is a great pleasure to meet you... even though I guess I haven't actually met you yet.. its still a pleasure... I think...

Anyways, as I said, my name is Alexandria (Potter). I am 17 years old. I was homeschooled from kindergarten through High school, graduating just two years ago - right before I turned 16. I am a big fan of alternative education. I think it really inspires growing a good heart and a great mind instead of just a great mind. Great actions stem from a great heart and I believe action is indeed the great aim of education.

I love writing. I love helping people. I love being outdoors. I love trying new things... I love learning new things... In fact, I love a lot of things...

Aside from writing for Mariam Poppins Blog and Magazine, I also keep up with my own facebook page, Anonymous Poet. I am also working on writing a novel - 'Sand in my eyebrow'. I am currently studying the Islamic Sciences (through Qibla: Academy for Islamic Sciences). I intend to begin pursuing a degree in psychology - through alternative education that is.
Right now I teach Sunday School and I love volunteering at all different kinds of summer camps - well I've actually only volunteered at two camps - but for several years - and I loved it. And eventually I intend to open a youth center. 

Nice to meet you all.


  1. I tested out of 47 semester hours and only studied for 1 of the tests. This works!

  2. This is an amazing story! I thought that my family had an exceptional ability to think outside the box but we never even thought of this idea! Congratulations Alexandria!