Crystal G. sits in her uniform while studying

Earning College Credits through CLEP and DSST Exams

Ever wondered how to earn college credits without sitting through traditional classes? Nicole Ywakiem, a seasoned admissions counselor from National University, sheds light on the inside track to college credits via CLEP (College Level Examination Program) and DSST (Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support) exams. With 25 years of experience under her belt, Nicole walks us through the nuances of the two examination programs, discussing how they differ, why you should consider them, and who are ideally suited to take them.

The conversation takes an intriguing turn as we delve into the financial aspects of CLEP and DSST. We talk specifics - from costs, benefits, to different exams offered by CLEP and DSST. We even touch upon how to keep track of pass rates, testing promotions, and prerequisites for these exams. We also discuss Pearson Vue testing, a parallel, albeit more expensive avenue. What's more, Nicole shares invaluable tips on how to ensure these credits are accepted by the school of your choice. If you're a student yearning for a head-start or someone fascinated by educational alternatives, this episode has got you covered. Be prepared to be enlightened!

Show Notes

  • 0:01:36 - Nellis Air Force Base Admissions (41 Seconds)
  • 0:04:46 - Military Benefits (84 Seconds)
  • 0:09:47 - Importance of Pass Rates for Airmen (60 Seconds)
  • 0:14:57 - Exam Testing Locations and Base Access (90 Seconds)

0:00:01 - Announcer

You are listening to the National University Podcast.

0:00:10 - Kimberly King

Hello, I'm Kimberly King. Welcome to the National University Podcast, where we offer a holistic approach to student support, well-being and success the whole human education. We put passion into practice by offering accessible, achievable higher education to lifelong learners. Today we're discussing college credit by exam programs the CLEP, the college level examination program, and the DSST, that's the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education, support Dante's exams. Both help students earn college credits. They also enable students to achieve their goals, whether they want to jumpstart their careers or save money. Both exams contain multiple choice questions and are administered on a computer. Some helpful tips coming up on today's show. On today's episode we're talking about what are the CLEP and the DSST credit by exam programs? Joining us is National University's Nicole Ywakiem. Nicole has been with the university for 25 years and has held various positions with the university. 10 years ago, National University partnered with Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada to bring testing opportunities to the airmen. We welcome Nicole to the podcast. How are you?

0:01:27 - Nicole Ywakiem

Hi Kimberly. Thank you, I'm doing well. How are you doing?

0:01:30 - Kimberly King

Good. Thank you, I'm so interested. This is such a great program. So, before we get to today's show topic, why don't you fill our audience in a little bit on your mission and your work?

0:01:40 - Nicole Ywakiem

Perfect. So I am at Nellis Air Force Base and I actually do have a dual role. Currently I am admissions counselor, so I do admit students into our programs. Our classes are four-week classes so students can take a class per month. I also do testing administration so I offer both CLEP and DSST testing, Pearson Vue Testing, Accuplacer testing and I also proctor exams for those students that are taking courses in another state and need to have an exam proctored.

0:02:15 - Kimberly King

Great, so interesting. Well, we are talking about today the CLEP exam and CLEP credit, also what the DSST credit by exam program is, and so let's talk a little bit about that and really what your role is at Nellis Air Force Base.

0:02:31 - Nicole Ywakiem

Perfect. So CLEP. Let's start with CLEP. CLEP is a college level examination placement, which is what it's short for. Most people call it, CLEPing. And DSST is another form of CLEP. It's just a different company that offers that exam. Now, CLEP exam is basically an exam that you can take and pass and it well, if you pass, then you actually earn the credit for that particular exam. CLEP offers a little bit over 34 different exams that incorporate both composition, math, science, a lot of general education courses that you can take, and if you have that knowledge in that area and you take the exam and you pass it, then you can get the college credit for it. And DSST does the same thing. It's just a different company.

0:03:28 - Kimberly King

Okay, okay. So let's go back and do a little deep dive on the CLEP. Let's talk a little bit like well, we can even talk about the differences between the CLEP and the DSST, even though you just said they're different companies. How else do they differ? Sure.

0:03:44 - Nicole Ywakiem

CLEP exams tend to be a little bit more general, like psychology, composition, us history, and then you have exams in the DSST that tend to be a little bit more specific, like history of Soviet Union or art of the Western world. So they're a little bit more narrowed down to being specific. So you'll see that CLEP most - actually all of the CLEP exams - are generally a 100 or 200 level course and the DSST exams cover a few that are actually 300, 400, or what we would call upper division courses, so you can get that more advanced level, and that's the primary difference between the two of them. Most colleges do accept it, both CLEP or CLEP and DSST, but the best thing to do is always to check with your college just to make sure that they accept it and how much they accept of it.

0:04:46 - Kimberly King

Well, I think it just sounds like for timing purposes, and especially for those that are serving in the military, I think that's what a great benefit, and I do want to ask you about what those benefits are in taking the CLEP.

0:05:02 - Nicole Ywakiem

Perfect. So for well for our military students, one of the biggest benefits for them is that they get to take their first attempt free. CLEP and DSST. They do cost for the average person to come and take it it's $93 for a CLEP and DSST is $100. Plus, the testing center will also have a testing center fee. That will vary from place to place, but for active duty students, they actually can take each exam free for their first attempt. So taking something and being able to pass and get a college credit for free is actually a really amazing benefit. And, as you mentioned, that time saving benefit is just you can cut off a semester just by taking exams, which, from a 90 minute to two hour exam and you've got the credit. Why not?

0:06:03 - Kimberly King

Right! Amazing. So I guess, do all of those credits transfer pretty much anywhere and everywhere, or do you have to do a little bit of research on that?

0:06:11 - Nicole Ywakiem

You do want to check with your school. The exams themselves are accredited through ACE. They set a passing score and then it is up to the school on whether they want to accept it. But most schools that I've seen do accept CLEP and DSST- National does. The airmen here are taking the exams for their community college or the Air Force degree, and that Air Force degree incorporates both their military training and also general education, which the general education part the military doesn't do. So they do seek to take the exams or to take courses.

0:06:53 - Kimberly King

Okay, and you know what, can anyone take a CLEP exam or the DSST?

0:06:58 - Nicole Ywakiem

Yes, anyone can take an exam. In fact I've gotten DOD employees I'll have spouses and dependents of the military come in and even veterans that do have access to the base to come in to take exams. Anybody can take a CLEP or DSST, except for people that may be tutoring in those certain areas. You don't want to be giving information about the exam, so that would be a violation, so you want to stay clear of that. But other than that, anybody can take an exam, including high schoolers. I've had a couple students that are just finishing high school.

0:07:38 - Kimberly King

You know what? And let's talk a little bit about that, because what a way to get into college by bypassing so many if you can just take the exam like we talked about for the time savings effort. But that's good to know that you can even take it out of high school to get into college while you're still in high school.

0:07:55 - Nicole Ywakiem

Yes, it's definitely a good way to stay out of trouble during the summer and get a few college credits under your belt.

0:08:06 - Kimberly King

Every parent's dream. I love it.

0:08:08 - Nicole Ywakiem


0:08:09 - Kimberly King

So you talked a little bit about this as well, and that is the cost. So let's clarify that once again, and that is that it's free for the first round, if I'm not mistaken, for the airman, the first time they take the test, and then there's a fee of just under $100 or something, depending on where they're taking it. Correct, sure, thank you.

0:08:32 - Nicole Ywakiem

Correct. So their first attempt is free. They can basically take each exam that's offered by CLEP and DSST free once. If they do decide to repeat or anybody else out in the outside world wants to take an exam, it is going to be $93 for a CLEP and DSST is going to be $100. Plus you may have that testing center fee, as I mentioned. But still, as opposed to as a compared to taking a college credit, yeah, it's so way cheaper. Right right, I just I love that.

0:09:04 - Kimberly King

Yeah, you can really take care of so many and again depending on if you want the lower division versus the upper division. That's kind of one of the big differences between the CLEP and the DSST as well. And then the general and the specific information that's on there.

This is great information and right now we just need to take a quick break, but we'll be have more in just a moment. Don't go away. We will be right back. And now back to our interview with National University's Nicole Ywakiem, and we're discussing what the CLEP is and then the DSST by exam, and this is really interesting information, especially up here on the fast track, and it's really great for time saving. Do you track pass rates?

0:09:51 - Nicole Ywakiem

Yes, actually we do here at Nellis. Pass rates are a critical part of the airmen deciding on what exam they want to take. We look to see trends on which exams have more higher pass rates, so that we're not having airmen taking exams that they aren't going to pass. So we try to make sure that we at least gear them to exams that tend to be high popularity or more pass rates on them. We do also promote a lot of studying here, so we do make them study up before they actually come in and take that test so that we can have that better pass rate. Okay, I mean it's.

0:10:30 - Kimberly King

So again, it feels like this is a no brainer, that you would have to take a test before you pass, I mean it's so again, it feels like this is a no brainer that you would want to do this, and especially for those that are serving in the military where you are there at Nellis. Are there any events that you want to promote, that you would want to promote testing?

0:10:54 - Nicole Ywakiem

So, yeah, we actually do a couple, a couple different things out here to help promote testing. I do instructional days where I actually help them get ready for the for taking the exam. When you're taking your exam, it's not just a quick I'm going to come in and take my exam. There are things that you have to do. You have to create accounts, you have to get ticket numbers and different things, and we also require them to study. So I sit with them and I walk through with them on how to do each of those things and get them scheduled, so I kind of make sure they're on the right track.

I also have squadron what I call CLEP extravaganza days. So if I have a squadron here on the base that would like their airmen to test, I set a date aside just for them where they can come in and if they want to take multiple exams on one day, they can take two or three exams and knock out a lot in just one day. And it's primarily for their airmen. So they all know each other and they feel comfortable, because testing can be a scary thing sometimes.

0:12:05 - Kimberly King

Absolutely, and we all know that. You know we are all different types of test makers, and I guess that kind of leads to my next question too Are there any requirements that people need to have to take these tests or any information they would need to bring along with them?

0:12:24 - Nicole Ywakiem

So for CLEP exams they actually do need to go to College Board. They need to create an account. They have to actually order the exam itself. DSST is a little bit different. All they're doing is creating a username and password and when they come in to test that day, they do need to remember that username and password. Most of them forget, but because they do log in with it that day that they test, they also need to bring in IDs with them to verify who they are. And yeah, those are some of the things that they need to do before they actually come in.

0:13:00 - Kimberly King

Okay, that's good. That's good to know ahead of time what you mentioned this in the very beginning. What is Pearson Vue Testing?

0:13:09 - Nicole Ywakiem

So Pearson Vue Testing a little bit different than CLEP and DSST. Pearson Vue testing is more of certification exams. So I won't say all of them because I have a little bit over 4,000 exams that I can administer through Pearson Vue. But they do cover areas like you know CompTIA, real estate, EMT, just to name a few of the different types of exams that are covered in there. But they are more of that certification type as opposed to college level credit, and I do administer those exams. Those are not necessarily free exams. A lot of those exams are going to be pay for exams and the cost of that is going to vary depending on the company.

0:14:03 - Kimberly King

Okay, and that was my next question, is this free? But okay, very, again, depending upon the company. So, yeah, let me hear what they cost.

0:14:14 - Nicole Ywakiem

Yeah. So it's hard to say. I know some of them offhand because they'll tell me, like real estate is $100 for the exam, but I've seen them go into $400, $500 for the exam. It really depends. That type of exam is very specific to certain needs and sometimes also job dependent. I've had people come in to take like CompTIA exams because their job requires it, so a lot of times they'll even get vouchers from their job to take that particular exam. But that is again will vary. It will vary so much depending on the exam itself.

0:14:57 - Kimberly King

Okay, and then is this particular Pearson Vue exam. Can anyone come to the Nellis Air Force Base to test?

0:15:06 - Nicole Ywakiem

So, because we are a base, we do require base access. So you do need to be either active duty dependent or retired veteran or know someone that will vouch for you to get you onto the base. But, yeah, if you are able to get on the base, then yes, you can come and take a Pearson Vue exam here.

0:15:31 - Kimberly King

Okay, and that makes sense. We live here in San Diego by Camp Pendleton, so I know it's tough to get on that base. Okay, so are there other places they can test? I know you've mentioned them, but where I mean is this how do you find out?

0:15:46 - Nicole Ywakiem

So, just depending on the exam that you're taking for, like CLEP and DSST tests, you can go directly to their website. For Pearson Vue, you could go to and you can search for other locations. Some of those will depend on the exam itself. Not all locations offer all the exams, including my center. I know NCLEX, which is a nursing exam. I can't administer that exam here, but if you go to your, if you go to Pearson Vue, put in your exam that you're trying to take and you'll you're able to search the location in which testing centers offer your particular exam.

0:16:25 - Kimberly King

Oh, that's good. That sounds very organized. And then the very beginning, you mentioned that you have a dual role. Is there anything else that you do besides this testing, and can you talk about that?

0:16:36 - Nicole Ywakiem

Sure, yes, the other part is being an admission advisor, so I do enroll students into programs and courses. A lot of the airmen here that are trying to finish up their CCAF degree and if they're unable to pass a CLEP or a DSST, they will try to take a class and, being that our classes are four weeks long, it makes it quite convenient to be able to get into a class either before deployment or even sometimes while they're deployed, because a lot of these courses you can take online, you can take anywhere, and, being that it's four weeks, you'll be able to get through that class pretty quickly.

0:17:21 - Kimberly King

Wow. I love that. So this is great information We've been talking about. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

0:17:28 - Nicole Ywakiem

The CLEP and the DSST is a great program, and not only for airmen to take advantage of all active duty. You have Marines, you have Navy, you have Army and I think that the more knowledge that they have about these programs that are free for them they just need to get out there and take them. That's great. I love that.

0:17:53 - Kimberly King

It's again. It's just very concise and if you pass then you go on to the next level there. So I loved all that. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and if you want more information, you can visit National University's website And again, Nicole, thank you very much for your time today.

0:18:12 - Nicole Ywakiem

Thank you very much for having me here, Kimberly.

0:18:17 - Kimberly King

You've been listening to the National University podcast. For updates on future or past guests, visit us at You can also follow us on social media. Thanks for listening.

Show Quotables

"For active duty students, they actually can take each exam free for their first attempt. So taking something and being able to pass and get a college credit for free is actually a really amazing benefit [that NU offers]. - Nicole Ywakiem" Click to Tweet
"Anyone can take [a CLEP or DSST] exam. In fact I've gotten DOD employees I'll have spouses and dependents of the military come in and even veterans that do have access to the base to come in to take exams. - Nicole Ywakiem" Click to Tweet