5 Alternative Methods for Earning Community College Credits

5 Alternative Methods for Earning Community College Credits
Not all community college students spend their winter and summer break on vacation. Some utilize that time to take a few extra classes and earn credits that can help them graduate early. Other students test out of courses and receive credit for work experiences in order to get ahead. In this article, learn about the various methods you can use to pursue extra college credits.

Most college students want to spend their winter, spring, and summer breaks relaxing and having fun with their friends and family. The grind of going to class, doing homework, and studying for tests can take its toll as the semester goes on. However, for students who wish to get ahead, for those that need to make up some credits because of a bad grade here and there, or for students that have work or family obligations, taking courses during these breaks is a smart choice.

Many community colleges recognize the appeal of taking courses while regular classes are not in session. Summer courses are obviously the most popular, with many community colleges offering just as many courses during the summer session as they do during the regular school year. In fact, some community colleges have seen double-digit increases in summer enrollment over the last few years, fueling an ongoing expansion of course schedules to accommodate increasing demand. But many colleges are also offering courses during shorter breaks, particularly those that occur during the spring and winter.

In recent years, colleges across the country have begun to offer alternative options for earning college credit as well. Some schools have opened pathways for students to receive credit for experiences they’ve had at work or in life in general. Other institutions allow students to test out of certain courses in favor of enrolling in higher-level courses instead. Still other colleges offer college credit to students that perform community service or who study abroad. In short, community colleges offer their students a broad array of possibilities when it comes to earning credits and earning them quickly.

Summer School

Summer school used to be only for students that needed time to make up courses they flunked during the regular school year. This is no longer the case, however. Chances are your community college offers a wide variety of classes during the summer session because it has become a popular time for students to earn extra credits to accelerate their pursuit of a degree, reduce the number of courses they need to take during the regular school year, or to just explore additional areas of study.

Many schools, like Lorain County Community College (LCCC), offer a number of summer scheduling options. Students at LCCC can enroll in short five-week courses, take full ten-week courses, or opt for seven, eight, or 12-week courses as well. This sort of scheduling flexibility is offered at many community colleges during the summer session. The primary advantage of these summer options is that students can work around other summer obligations, such as work, travel, or family needs.

Winter Break

Many community colleges offer what are commonly called “January Term” or “Intersession” courses during the month or so that regular classes are on winter break. Classes offered during this time period are condensed, and may meet for as little as one week or may last the duration of the break. These courses offer students a great opportunity to earn extra college credits, make up missing credits, or explore a subject area that they couldn’t squeeze into their regular semester schedule.

At Lone Star College in Texas, students can choose from a wide variety of intersession courses, including three-week courses in December or four-week courses in January. With classes available in art, English, math, and psychology, Lone Star students have a chance to complete some of their general education requirements in a short amount of time. Similar opportunities to catch up or get ahead on general requirements are available at Monroe Community College in New York. Students at that institution can earn credits during intersession in history, biology, computer science, and numerous other core subject areas.

Many highly specialized courses that professors like to offer but don’t have the time to do so during regular semesters are offered during winter break. These courses allow professors and students to engage in more focused studies in their area of interest. Bucks County Community College in Pennsylvania offers a number of special courses during intersession. Students can take courses on digital literacy, short fiction, history of jazz, and modern social problems. Courses like these are offered during breaks at many community colleges, either on campus or online.

An excellent benefit of taking a course during winter break is that you can focus on that one class, rather than having four, five, or six classes to juggle. The immersive format of intersession classes is helpful for many students who have struggled with a course in the past. For example, if math is not your strong suit, consider re-taking the course over winter break. Although each class session is longer (usually at least three or four hours per class), the truncated timetable for finishing the course means that you will have an easier time retaining the information. Better retention usually translates into better performance in class and a more satisfactory grade when the course ends.

Additionally, intersession courses are typically limited in the number of students allowed into the class. Where a fall or spring semester math class might have upwards of 20-30 students, an intersession math class might only have 10-15 students. Fewer students in the class means more time for your professor to attend to your individual needs, making intersession courses particularly attractive for students that need to re-take a class.

Many community colleges offer alternative learning experiences over winter break as well. At Massachusetts Bay Community College, students can enroll in a hybrid Spanish and service learning course during their winter intersession. Students take part in community service activities over the course of winter break, and in this case, utilize their Spanish skills to help members of the Spanish-speaking community.

Students in the California Community College system are able to participate a study abroad experience called CalAbroad that earns them college credit. Students can choose to spend an entire semester abroad, or, if unable to commit to such a lengthy time away from home, students can participate in short-term summer studies or 1-2 week stints during spring break or winter break. Students in these study abroad programs can earn credit in a number of areas, from foreign language to history to the arts.

Internships and Work Experience

Community colleges often award credit to students who take part in an internship. Internships can be completed during summer or winter break, as well as during the regular school year. If, like most college students, you have a job, you might be able to get college credit while earning money at the same time. At Los Angeles Valley College, students are encouraged to join the school’s Cooperative Education Program, which handles all the particulars of internship placements. Students can get valuable hands-on experience, as well as make important connections with people in their career field of interest.

Students at Glendale Community College in Arizona can also earn college credit through internship experiences. The school’s Job Placement Center offers a variety of internship placements for students. Internships can be completed at any time during the year. Summer internships generally last 10-12 weeks, while quarter or semester length internships can last up to 16 weeks. Glendale Community College also offers 5-6 week intersession internship placements, so students can get work experience during winter break, or between semesters in May and August.

At Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, students can earn credit for courses as part of the Prior Learning Assessment Program. Students with military service, technical training service in the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, or other specialized work experience may be able to get college credit for those experiences. The amount of credits earned is determined by one of several methods, one of which is a student portfolio that illustrates what was learned as part of the work experience.

Weekend Classes

As more and more students have returned to community college campuses to get a new degree, certificate, or job training in recent years, institutions have begun offering classes during expanded time periods to accommodate students that have demanding work or family schedules. One popular option for students is weekend classes. At Nassau Community College in New York, students can earn their associate’s degree by attending weekend-only courses. Classes meet on Friday nights, throughout the day on Saturday, and on Sundays as well. The college offers over 150 courses on the weekends, which allows students to work towards one of five associate’s degree options. More and more community colleges are taking Nassau’s lead and expanding their course offerings to the weekends.

Testing Out

Some community colleges also offer students the opportunity to earn credits for what they already know. Hundreds of community colleges are partners in the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP), which was developed by the College Board. CLEP offers 33 subject area tests in history, social science, composition and literature, science, math, business, and world languages. Test-takers just pay a fee, take the test, and if they pass, earn college credit. Before taking a CLEP test, however, ensure that your institution will accept credits earned through examination.

Some schools offer alternative methods for testing out of courses as well. At Pima Community College in Arizona, students can take challenge or proficiency exams in order to earn credit. For example, a student that is proficient in French might be able to test out of an introductory French course and still earn credit for taking the course. Generally speaking, this type of credit-by-testing is rare and is usually left up to the discretion of the professor. Students at Pima who wish to accelerate their learning can also bypass introductory courses by testing out of them. Bypass exams only allow students to proceed on to a higher-level course, however. No credit is earned if a student passes the exam, but it does allow students to proceed with other coursework without taking the time to complete a class in which they can already demonstrate proficiency.

If you took Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses in high school, you may be eligible for college credit if you passed the end-of-course exam with a satisfactory score. Generally speaking, most colleges accept AP and IB coursework. But be sure to meet with your academic advisor to determine if your school will confer credit for AP or IB classes.

These alternative methods of earning credit can be an excellent way to earn credits quickly and save a lot of money at the same time. CLEP exams cost just $80 each. Considering some community colleges charge several hundred dollars in tuition and fees per class, the testing fee is a great deal. When factoring in the expense of books, supplies, and the in-class time students will save, testing out becomes an even more attractive option. Some community colleges allow students to accrue a large number of credits through testing as well. At Elgin Community College in Illinois, students can earn as much as half of their required credits through testing, making it an easy way to earn credits quickly and do so on the cheap.


Community colleges are known for their adaptability to the current job market, and for offering innovative approaches to education. This adaptability and innovation are what allows students at community colleges to take courses at virtually all hours of the day, on weekends, and throughout the year, even on breaks. Students that can take advantage of these various scheduling options can quickly get ahead in their studies and graduate early. Meanwhile, for the many community college students that juggle school and other life responsibilities, having the option to earn credit through alternative means can be the difference in whether or not they are able stay in school and graduate.

If you’re interested in testing out of a course, taking an intersession class, or want to inquire about one of the other options discussed in this article, contact your school today. Your academic advisor can help answer your questions about the programs offered at your school. And if your school doesn’t offer one of these programs, inquire at other community colleges in your area as they may have a transfer credit agreement with your home institution.

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