Because you are now an “educated consumer of higher education”, it is time to begin thinking about which college or university will best fit your needs for a degree-granting school. You have learned about the Plans, you have learned the college rules, you have discovered all the strategies for earning college credit, and now you are ready to begin the process of picking the school that will be issuing your diploma. You don’t have to know for sure at this point, because the accumulating of credits at the beginning will transfer to the vast majority of schools, but you may want to start narrowing your options.

In the past, students chose where they wanted to go to college and then followed the rules of that school. Since you now know how colleges work, and understand the innovations working their way through the system, you have the luxury of designing how you want your college path to go, and then picking a school that fits your needs.

It is an exciting new paradigm. Back in 2000, the President of the Teacher’s College of Columbia University stated that, “higher education is becoming more individualized; students, not institutions, will set the educational agenda.” Eleven years later, this is exactly where the system has evolved. Students have choices like never before and they are setting the agenda. And student demand for flexibility and cost savings is what is driving the change.

Pick Your Plan – Then Pick Your College

Your choice of a graduating college should be prescribed by the Plan you have chosen to a very significant degree. If you would like to work independently for one or more years, you will want to make sure your graduating school will work with that. Most colleges will put some limits on the amount of credit you can accumulate outside their school, but the amount varies greatly. If you want flexibility and significant savings through Credit by Examination, Dual Enrollment, inexpensive Online courses, ACE-approved training, Prior Learning Assessments, StraighterLine, and more, you will want to use your newly-gained knowledge of the education marketplace to find a school that accommodates your needs.

Traditional Path

All colleges are set up to accept students graduating from high school. These students will have no problem finding colleges that accept Entering Freshman and the search for schools will consist of simply finding a college that offers a particular degree program and has a tuition and fees package that fits their expectations.

Independent Freshman Plan

Almost every college allows students to enroll as Transfer Students, with a year of credit already earned. When they are ready to enroll as a Degree-Seeking Student, there will be no shortage of colleges to chose from and the admission’s qualifications and process will be much less onerous and formal as those for Entering Freshman.

Independent Sophomore Plan

Students earning two years of credit before enrolling in the college where they intend to graduate will still have very little problem finding a college that will accommodate their strategy. Thousands of colleges and universities have policies in place for making enrollment systematic and orderly for The Independent Sophomore. Many Local Colleges, as well as Online Colleges, are eager to enroll students who want to seek their degrees from that institution even though they are halfway done.



It is important to note that some students will not be able to go past The Independent Sophomore Plan if their design is to earn a degree in certain programs such as Nursing that require internships or clinicals. Most schools require students in these programs to take courses together in blocks and progress at a very prescribed pace. Those pursuing this type of degree, however, will still have the advantage of earning the first two years independently, before enrolling in their graduating college, to help control costs.

Independent Junior Plan

More and more colleges are offering students the ability to transfer ninety-plus hours. Students should look at local colleges to see which may allow this level of transfer credit, but they may also want to consider an online college. Online degrees can prove to be very flexible and affordable, and they are known for their generous transfer policies.

The following higher education institutions offer affordable online degrees and allow students to transfer in ninety or more credits. They generally require students to take at least 24-30 credits from their school with at least twelve in upper-level courses in the student’s major before granting a degree. These required credits are often referred to as the college’s “Residency Requirement”. The residency requirement may be satisfied by either on-campus or online courses. These colleges understand and recruit students seeking a degree knowing they intend to earn only one year of credit from their school. Colleges in this category currently begin tuition at less than $150 per credit hour.

Independent Senior Plan

There are three fully-accredited state colleges granting degrees even without a single credit being earned through one of their courses. Some exceptions will apply for certain majors, but the original missions of these schools were for the adult learner to accumulate credits elsewhere and transfer them into the college for consideration and the awarding of a degree. And the coursework needed for graduation is very well defined in their handbooks, so there is little chance of work not being accepted.

The three schools, often referred to as The Big Three, are:

Depending on how credits are accumulated, an entire bachelors degree can be obtained for around $10,000 from either of these institutions. It is an incredible option for the student with limited financial resources not wanting to accumulate much debt, or the student looking for maximum flexibility.

As a single example of how a student could satisfy the degree requirements for one of these colleges, a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in General Management from Thomas Edison State College could be satisfied using only six hours of on-campus or online courses, 108 hours of CLEP and DSST exams, and six hours of TECEP exams. Total cost, before study materials, would be approximately $5,000 for the exams and courses, study materials might add another $2,000, and the fees for non-New Jersey residents to graduate from Thomas Edison are just over $3,000.

The best way to evaluate the degrees for these schools is to search through the academic programs listed on their websites looking for your major, and comparing the course requirements to what can be earned through Credit by Examination programs such as CLEP, DSST, ECE, TECEP and AP, and what can be done through the other low cost strategies like Dual Enrollment, inexpensive Online Colleges, ACE-recommended courses, Licenses & Certifications, Prior Learning Assessment, StraighterLine, ALEKS, and FEMA.


Criteria for Choosing a College

The four main criteria for picking the right college will be explored on the following pages:





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