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Is it possible to obtain a bachelor's degree without attending a university? I'm talking about passing some kind of test or series of tests to prove my knowledge. I'm not asking about buying a fake degree or anything related to that. Is there a name for this type of procedure/way of obtaining a degree? Is it practiced in the US? If yes, is it possible for non-US citizens to pass these tests? If not, are there any countries that practice something like this?

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    I know of a few private schools in Scandinavian countries that provide remote education programs that are accredited to grant up to a master's degree in some fields. Hence, you don't have to attend physically, but you would have to attend classes via some video conference setup and deliver homework via a webpage.
    – Arnfinn
    Aug 6, 2016 at 0:29
  • @Arnfinn I would like to know which one are these programs and are they in English? can you send me any link?
    – SSimon
    Aug 7, 2016 at 7:06
  • @SSimon I don't know much about it. You might want to check out icde.org/institutions
    – Arnfinn
    Aug 7, 2016 at 9:29
  • I imagine most schools would fight tooth and nail against that becoming a legitimate option, no matter how much sense it might make. Jul 24, 2017 at 18:00

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In general, no, it is not possible to get a bachelor's degree from an accredited university in the US purely through examinations.

It is possible to get course credits that can partially satisfy graduation requirements through tests such as those administered as part of the Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate programs. However, these normally tend to be restricted to satisfying general education requirements, rather than the in-depth major requirements.

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    If they say they will award you a degree for your "life experience", it really means they want to collect your money.
    – GEdgar
    Aug 6, 2016 at 0:27
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    ...and the degree will be utterly worthless.
    – JeffE
    Aug 6, 2016 at 19:38
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    Well... You will gain some life experience in return... Hopefully! Aug 6, 2016 at 20:44
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    @RobertColumbia: But then you have an associate's degree, while the question was asking about a bachelor's degree.
    – aeismail
    Sep 25, 2017 at 15:22
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    Very skeptical of @RobertColumbia's hypothesis above. Would need a specific case of that happening to be credible. Sep 19, 2018 at 0:12
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In France, it is possible to graduate from many degrees by proving that you've acquired the necessary skills during at least 3 years of experience. This procedure is called VAE.

The official web site

The way the degree is awarded depends on the organisation that delivers it. The available degrees are listed on the National Registry of Professional Certifications. Each degree has an official description that list the skills that has the degree's holder, and the positions they're expected/prepared to hold. It is the reference against which the applicant will be evaluated. Example of a bachelor in management and control of chemical processes

I've received a Master's degree using this method. I had to write a memoir of around 100 pages describing my professional experience. For each job I had, I described the position, the skills I've applied and how they are related to the degree I wanted. Then, I had to present it in front of a jury. They requested a supplementary work to evaluate some skills that were a bit under-described in the main document. After receiving a positive evaluation, I received the degree. It is the exact same degree as someone who would have graduated traditionally by taking courses. There is no way to tell them apart. The only difference is that I did not receive any grade.

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Many US universities offer online degrees (e.g., ASU), these courses generally require some degree of coursework and often have mandatory online attendance and participation. I would not describe these as simply a series of tests to prove my knowledge.

I am not aware of any reputable university in the US that runs a pure self-study degree program. In the UK, a degree usually consists of fewer classes (modules), fewer exams, and often no course work. The UK also attempts to have consistent marking across universities. This means that it is possible to offer self-study courses where students are evaluated to the same standards as traditional brick-and-mortar students. The University of London has offered a number of self-study courses that lead to BSc and BA degrees for decades. These programs have a self study option where you are only required to take, and pass, the examinations. As I said in this answer the courses are not cheap and can cost more than £4,000 a year.

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The simplest version of what you ask is not really possible, so far as I know. However, a more moderate version is often possible, quite far beyond merely "advanced placement" exams for first-year and second-year undergrad courses, if you are able to make a sufficient case for it. That is, it is sometimes possible to propose to an academic dept "testing out" of upper-division courses they offer... and/or getting credit for a given course by doing well participating in a more advanced course for which the given course is a prerequisite.

Unsurprisingly, the latter device is not often invoked, because it's often not clear that it is in many students' best interest to give them the opportunity to hugely screw up... Nevertheless, it may be possible, if you can convince the dept somehow that it is very plausible that you merit very-advanced-placement.

But it is probably unlikely that you could do the whole undergrad curriculum at a U.S. college or university in such fashion, in any case, due to "breadth" requirements (which are actually a very good thing, in my opinion).

Thus, in my own personal experience, I was allowed to take more-or-less grad-level math courses as an undergrad, and get some credits for the prereq undergrad courses, due to my extensive reading ... (in those days, with no internet, math books from the county library were one of the cheapest entertainments! :) This was very helpful, and saved me some money, but this device did not eliminate my need to take many other courses, by being physically present. Physical presence was also (anyway at that time) necessary to make a good case that it was reasonable for me to request such an indulgence.

So, it is probably impossible to get credits/degrees for free by "testing out". But it is probably also possible to generate credits and save money by "testing out" in one way or another, if you can convince the people that it's worth their while, and is plausible, to let you attempt to show them your competence in your major area (in the U.S. sense).

It is also true that some other courses allow "testing out", e.g., language courses, programming courses, maybe basic science courses. But this can get you only half-way through a U.S. degree.

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The Bologna process in the European Union reorganized the higher education and, among other things, fixed a Bachelor's degree to consist of 180 credit points. Each credit point should represent roughly 30 hours of work. Thus, a Bachelor's degree is kind of hard-wired to some time of study and generally, there is no way around this in the European Union. In other words:

A Bachelor's degree in the European Union is not an exam that you have to pass, but a degree that you obtain through successful studies.

This seems to be true in other places of the world as well. The Wikipedia entry starts with

A bachelor's degree [...] is an undergraduate academic degree awarded by colleges and universities upon completion of a course of study lasting three to seven years.

(empahsis mine).

This is different from other certificates, such as language certificates.

As others mentioned, there are universities that do not require that you sit through any courses, but you may study at home, but still, you need to study.

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Yes, it is possible. I had an Associate Degree in Accounting from WJC in Worcester Mass. Some credits from Cal State Fullerton and was in Connectcut, on EMHART corporate staff, and wanted to go further in my education. I found, at that time, there were three states that allowed you to test out your degree. One of the states was Connecticut.

I had to submit my degree and additional courses to a review board. After review I was given a list of courses I would have to pass to receive a bachelor degree. I already had all the core courses needed.

I paid for and tested out the other courses, under supervision, by taking AP, UPI and GRE tests. My degree was awarded to me by The Board for State Academic Awards, State of Connecticut, in 1977. It was handed to me by Ella Grasso, then Governor of the State of Connecticut.

Was the degree any good? Yes. It was accepted by The Hartford Graduate Center, in Hartford Connecticut, in conjunction with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY and in 1979 I received a MS in Management from RPI.

You are all correct that places of higher education are in the business of selling education but some states are enlightened and realize there are different ways to become educated and are willing to work with you to recognize your accomplishments.

Ask your state education board if they are one of them.

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It is possible to attend courses remotely. Most American colleges have at least some degrees that are offered via distance learning. They are regular courses with regular assignments. You will want to use traditional nonprofit or state institutions and not the for profit firms whose reputation is concerning. You can't test out of college because an important element of college is a process of mental maturing. Various fields have a variety of mental disciplines that can't be taught faster than the mind is willing to conform to them.

In addition to acquiring within-field knowledge, students need to learn how to think about problems in an effective manner. Students need to learn how to learn so that when they leave college they can continue to advance within their field. You cannot test the ability to acquire future learning. You can capture this in other types of work such as papers, field work and so on. College isn't well designed to exam out of.

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