Once upon a time, the idea of earning college credit in high school was one reserved only for the most ambitious and highest achieving students—the cream of the crop, if you will. In recent years, this idea has become much more widespread, though. Today, students of all achievement levels have access to top colleges with programs for high schoolers. Perhaps that’s because parents, educators, and high school students themselves are realizing the many benefits of earning college credit before high school graduation. Here are our top ten:
1. You’ll Save Money in Tuition Expenses
The fact that college is an expensive academic endeavor is no surprise to anyone. Thus, the prospect of saving money on tuition is enticing, to say the least. That’s why one of the biggest advantages of earning college credit while still in high school is the money you’ll save by doing so. The cost of dual enrollment programs is significantly less than typical undergraduate tuition, even if you attend the same college and take the same courses. In some cases, concurrent enrollment classes are offered at no charge to secondary school students. Tuition-free college? Yes, please!
Plus, research confirms that even the most expensive early college programs end up paying for themselves in the long run. From a financial perspective, there’s just no reason not to begin your college studies early.
2. You Can Work Smarter, Not Harder
At first glance, the idea of beginning your college studies while still in high school may seem like more work, but in reality, it doesn’t have to be. Thanks to concurrent enrollment programs, sometimes called dual enrollment programs, high school students can enroll in select classes that count for both high school and college credit. When you take advantage of these programs, you get double the benefit from the effort you put into your coursework. In this way, concurrent enrollment programs represent the most efficient and foolproof way of chipping away at your college degree requirements before you even graduate high school.
3. You’ll Gain Valuable Experience
In case you haven’t heard, college is kind of a big deal. Ask any freshman enrolled in university classes anywhere in the country, and he or she will probably tell you that college courses are like high school classes on steroids. That’s why, unfortunately, millions of students enter college unprepared each year, according to the Center for American Progress. You don’t have to be one of them, though, thanks to collegiate programs for high school students like dual enrollment and early college experiences. By enrolling in one of these programs, you’ll not only be earning credit toward your degree, but you’ll also be getting your feet wet and learning about what college life is really like. For many students, this route provides a much smoother transition into college-level academics instead of jumping in with both feet freshman year.
4. You Can Earn Your Degree Sooner
Want to get on the fast track towards college graduation? Are you already dreaming of what it’s going to be like to start your career? Earning college credit during high school can help you finish your degree sooner and get started on your real life. In some cases, it’s possible to complete up to two years of required coursework toward your academic credential before you’re even officially enrolled in college. Imagine finishing all of the general education courses required for your degree before you have your high school diploma! This can put you on the fast-track to starting your career or beginning graduate studies.
5. You Can Jumpstart Your Career
Four-year universities aren’t the only types of postsecondary institutions of higher learning that offer college credit opportunities for high school students. Two-year community colleges have jumped on the early college bandwagon as well. These schools often offer additional credit-earning opportunities for students who want to earn an associate’s degree in a vocational or technical field rather than pursue a four-year degree. In some cases, career-minded students can earn enough credits during their secondary school years to transition seamlessly into the workforce upon high school graduation.
Research supports the idea that early college high school programs can jumpstart your career. According to a recent study by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), these programs enable students to “fully enter the workforce more quickly and…increase their lifetime earnings potential.”
6. You’ll Improve Your Chances of Admission
Looking to get into a top college or university after high school? Earning credits during your last years of secondary school can give you a competitive edge. These days, college admissions counselors don’t just consider GPAs and college entrance exam scores; they’re also looking at how you spent your high school years. In other words, these school officials want to know whether you just skated by or if you went above and beyond what was required of you. A schedule full of Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and/or dual enrollment classes are usually looked upon favorably. This type of high school transcript shows that you are, in fact, a serious student with big goals who has been thinking about college for a while—precisely the type of postsecondary candidate that the most competitive colleges and universities are looking to attract.
7. You’ll Learn How to Juggle Things On Your Own
Time management is a skill you’ll need throughout college and well into your career. Taking college-level classes while still enrolled in high school can help you gain this important skill before the stakes are too high, or your college course load is too heavy. During your high school years, you may have additional support services from your parents or high school teachers and counselors that may not be accessible once you’re officially enrolled in college. By taking advantage of chances to earn college credit in high school, you can use this opportunity to hone your time management skills and learn how to be more independent before your freshman year. As a result, you’ll feel more confident during your first year of “real” college and much less overwhelmed by the demands of your undergraduate classes.
8. You’ll Gain an Appreciation for Academic Rigor
You may think some of your high school classes are difficult, but when you dip your toes in the water of college academics, you’ll gain a whole new appreciation for the term “academic rigor.” No matter how challenged you felt by your high school teachers, you’ll find that college courses are on a different level altogether. While your professors may not hover over you as your high school teachers did, you’ll find that the material is much more complex, and you may be required to do more research and writing than you did as a high school student. The good news is that early college programs give you the opportunity to experience this type of rigor in small doses so that you’re not completely overwhelmed once you have a full schedule of these challenging college classes.
9. You’ll Get A Better Idea of What to Study
Many students enter their freshmen years of college with little concept of what they’re actually trying to accomplish. They know they want a degree in something, but they are often at a loss when identifying exactly what academic discipline they desire to major in. According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics’ Institute of Education Sciences, roughly 30% of college students change their major at least once before graduation. Often, these students end up taking courses that aren’t necessary for the degree they end up earning, which wastes precious time and money, not to mention a lot of effort. With early college programs, high school students can begin exploring their academic interests before they even graduate from secondary school, allowing them to make an informed decision about the type of degree they eventually want to work towards.
10. You’ll Have More Opportunities to Specialize Your Studies With a Minor or Second Major
Not only will you have a better idea of the major you want to pursue after earning college credits in high school, but your schedule may be open such that you can add a second major or minor to your degree plan. Ultimately, doing so can help you hone your skills in a specific subfield of your chosen academic discipline, thereby becoming more knowledgeable and employable in your industry. Double majors for the win!
Some of the advantages of earning college credit prior to high school graduation are fairly obvious even from a surface-level perspective. Saving money on tuition and getting ahead on your degree plan are well-known benefits of enrolling in an early college program or concurrent enrollment courses. If you dig deeper, though, you’ll find even more advantages to exploring college academics during your high school years. The bottom line? If you’re waiting to have a diploma in hand before starting on your college courses, you may be missing out on some serious perks of early college programs.
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