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Dual Enrollment: Does it Hurt or Help to Take College Classes in High School?

June 29, 2009 By: Category: Get into College

If you’re looking to graduate from college early, add some edge to your applications, or get a little taste of the college experience before fully diving in, then you might consider dual enrollment programs, where a student takes college courses for both college and high school credit. This could mean anything from literally taking a class on the college campus to a professor coming in to the high school or even having honors high school courses signed off for credit.

Although many state systems are expanding dual enrollment programs as a way to decrease drop-out rates, encourage more students to go on to college, and save on higher education funding, other schools won’t even glance at those credits. Here are some things to consider when deciding whether or not to do dual enrollment.

photo by Robert S. Donovan

Will schools accept your credit? - Don’t be surprised if not all of your credits transfer. At Tulane University, students must be taking the class taught by a college professor on the college campus with other college students. Often, a college may request a syllabus or other information for comparison. In general, it’s easiest to satisfy both high school and college requirements by taking basic requirements like introductory math and college writing, so save your major colleges for later. Even if your dream school won’t take dual enrollment credits at all, there are plenty of other reasons to consider dual enrollment.

Does it actually look better on your application? - Of course taking college-level courses shows the initiative to challenge yourself, particularly if your school’s AP or IB options are limited. However, Leila Lebins, Associate Director of Admissions at Tulane University, notes, “If their high school is known for having an incredibly strong IB program and they haven’t taken any of those IB courses … it is discouraging to see a student leaving a high school with a really good curriculum for community college classes.” Whether it’s dual enrollment, AP, or IB, Lebins recommends students choose the option that is “most challenging while maintaining their GPA.” After all, dual enrollment credits aren’t weighted, in college and often not in high school. These grades stay on both records.

Are finances a factor? - Spending less time in college means paying less tuition, and even if your high school doesn’t cover the cost of dual enrollment courses, courses at the community college might be cheaper than your four-year college’s bill. On the flip side, be prepared to start paying for textbooks. Also, pay special attention when applying for scholarships. If you enter college as a sophomore or junior, that could impact your eligibility for certain scholarships.

Are you ready for college-level work? - Ian Absher, a Seattle University student who will finish college in three years with his credits, was blunt: “I felt like high school was a waste of my time and was glad to go somewhere else for a better education.” College classes move at a faster pace, teaching style is often very different, and professors won’t treat you any differently as a high school student. But this might also be refreshing to you. “Teachers at college … would not spend time babysitting kids and such,” said Absher. Lebins suggests students consider summer community college courses first instead of diving right in during the school year.

How will dual enrollment impact your high school social life? - “A lot of people that go to community college are in their 30’s and 40’s,” says Aja Spencer, a Seattle University student who finished high school with an Associate’s Degree and started college as a junior. “I loved the diversity but some people prefer to be with others that are their own age.” Absher said in high school there might be “less free time to hang out with your friends because of all the school work they give you.” Though both students noted that possibility, both said it wasn’t hard to keep connected to high school life; Absher still took some classes at his high school and played sports, and Spencer was still involved in extracurriculars, serving as class Treasurer for both of the years she was pursuing her Associate’s.

How will dual enrollment impact your college social life? - Spencer noted that she developed two social groups. “This year I lived in the dorms with mostly freshmen and Sophomores, but I had classes with mostly Juniors and Seniors that live off campus.” And while many see college as the beginning of independence, Spencer actually found it somewhat “stifling.” “I had a car and a job and I did almost everything for myself. At the University, everything is taken care of for us, we live on campus, our food is made for us, most of us don’t have jobs.”

How will dual enrollment affect your post-college plans? - “Education has always been important to me but I never liked the thought of spending my whole life in school,” said Spencer, who hopes to finish law school when she’s 22, the age most students get their first degrees. On the other hand, if you choose to graduate early, will you be ready to jump into the job market and start paying student loans a year or two before most of your peers?

Dual enrollment programs can be a great way to get challenge yourself and get a head start on college, whether your courses count for credit or not. The most reliable and important thing to look at now is how it will affect your current high school experience and if you can truly handle it. Take a good look at your own situation and needs, and talk it out with your parents and guidance counselor.

Readers: what are your thoughts on dual enrollment? Is it a good idea for high school students to get a jump on college coursework and credits, or does college start when it starts for a reason?