Earning college credits while still in high school has a lot of benefits, making it an important option to look into during the latter half of your high school career. Getting a jump start on earning credits before you even start college can help you finish your degree earlier and save money on college courses. Doing the extra work to earn college credits can also put you farther ahead academically once you start college, and can be a positive addition on your college applications. There are a number of ways to earn college credits while still in high school and each one has its own pros and cons to think about.
Advanced Placement Courses
Most high schools offer a variety of advanced placement, or AP, courses for juniors and seniors. After completing one of these courses, you must take an AP exam. If you earn a certain score on this exam, you can earn credits for college in this subject area. Sometimes earning these AP credits allows you to qualify for higher level classes once you start college because some AP courses count as prerequisite courses. This allows you to take advantage of more challenging and interesting courses in a subject that you are already strong.
Before deciding on AP courses to earn college credits, be sure that you are willing to put in the extra work to prepare yourself for the challenge of the AP exam. If you do not earn a high enough score on the exam, the work you put into the AP course does not get you any college credit. Therefore, make sure to choose a course that you are interested in, and to take into account the challenging nature of these courses before committing to one.
College-Level Examination Program
The College-Level Examination Program, or CLEP, is similar to AP exams without having to take an entire course before sitting for the exam. In order to earn credits, you can complete an exam in over 30 different areas of study to test your knowledge of subject matter usually seen in the first few years of college. If you pass the test, some colleges and universities give you credits that allow you to skip the introductory level course in the subject of the exam you took. Before committing to completing the CLEP exams, make sure that the colleges you are applying to accept these scores as credits.
International Baccalaureate Diploma Program
Some high schools qualify as International Baccalaureate, or IB, schools due to the presence of a rigorous and diverse educational program. If your school is one of these institutions that offers an IB diploma program, this is a good way to earn some college credits. Most colleges or universities provide you with credits if you score high enough on the final exams for IB courses, or for completing the entire IB diploma program. However, if you do not attend a school that is certified by the International Baccalaureate Organization, or cannot transfer to a school with a certification, this program is not an option for you.
Dual Enrollment Programs
High schools sometimes partner with community colleges or universities to allow their students to attend introductory college courses and high school courses at the same time. Some of these partnerships involve the university training high school teachers to plan and implement college level courses that can earn students college credits. Other programs involve students actually attending some classes at the high school and some classes on a college campus. Classes can be taken during the school day, in the evenings, or on the weekend depending on the program and the school. These programs vary by state, and it is important to make sure that the course credits you earn through this program transfer to the college or university you are attending, if it is not the same school that participates in the program.
Summer College Programs
If you think that taking college-level courses or AP courses is too much to balance with the rest of your high school responsibilities, the summer programs offered at most colleges and universities may be a good option for you. During the summer months, you can take courses in a variety of subjects on a college campus. Each course usually lasts for only a few weeks, but the cost of these courses is often high compared to other ways of earning college credits early. These programs usually require you to apply, which means your academic performance in high school is a large factor in whether or not you can take advantage of the summer programs.
Things to Consider Before Earning College Credits in High School
No matter which of the above options you choose to get a head start on college credits, keep in mind that all of these courses of action are challenging. Before signing up for one of these programs, make sure that you are willing to do the extra work and studying required of you in order to make the most of the opportunity. Also, if you do not do well in these programs, this is something that colleges see when they receive your transcript or college application. If you feel like you are up to the challenge, you can also do a variety of these programs at once to maximize your credit-earning potential. For example, you can take AP courses at your high school and attend college classes at a college campus at the same time.
Another thing to consider before starting one of these programs is the credit transfer policies at the colleges or universities you are planning to attend. Make sure that the program you plan to participate in translates into college credits at the institution of your choice. Also, some departments within each school have different policies for accepting these programs as credits. Because of the confusion surrounding these policies, the best course of action may be to call the college to see what programs are acceptable before enrolling in one.
Choosing to participate in one of these programs is a great way to start off your college career on the right foot. Not only will these programs help you skip over introductory courses and save money on tuition costs, but they will also better prepare you for the coursework you will see when you start college.