How High School Students Can Prepare for College Now

Prepare for College by Earning College Credits in High School

Making a transition from high school to college can be a daunting task for some students. One method of making this transition easier is to become a dual enrolled student, which means you take college courses while you are still in high school. If you have thought about going to college after high school, this is an option you may want to consider. However, before you begin you should understand what the dual enrollment process involves, the potential challenges, and other methods of preparing for college that may be just as effective.

What is Dual Enrollment?

Dual enrollment allows high school students to take a college course and receive college credit. It is typically offered for junior and senior high school students and the most recent estimate indicates that 83.6% of all high schools offer this option. Courses may be offered at the high school, on a local college campus, or possibly taken online. Each state and high school has its own requirements regarding tuition and eligibility. For example, there may be a minimum GPA requirement to enter this program.

In the following video clip, Matt Lauer discusses the benefits of Dual Enrollment program with former Education Secretary Margaret Spelling and Katherine Cohen, CEO and Founder of Ivywise (an educational counseling and tutoring company).

Lauer indicates that there are many options available for students who are interested in dual enrollment and again, it varies by state. In addition, the number of transfer credits received may also vary so be sure to talk with your guidance counselor for information and advice. What the video does emphasize is that dual enrollment helps students make a transition to a college setting because it helps prepare students by putting them in the environment and giving them direct experience. It was also noted that dual enrollment helps many seniors who may feel bored or lack adequate academic challenges during their final year in high school.

As stated within an Inside Higher Education blog post by Glenn Sharfman, Vice President and Dean for Academic Affairs at Manchester College, “in theory, dual enrollment enables high school students to accrue college credits for very little cost and imbues them with a sense of confidence that they can complete college work.” Sharfman notes that the success experienced by high school students through dual enrollment does not always translate into a successful college experience because they are not required to take many of the introductory college classes. Based upon my experience working with dual enrolled students, by the time they begin their community college program they have already progressed beyond the introductory course level and in effect, they are “ready to get started.”

Is Dual Enrollment Effective?

There have been questions raised about the effectiveness of dual enrollment programs and an Education Week blog post, Report Shows Dual Enrollment Best When on College Campus, stated that “high school students can benefit from dual enrollment in college-level courses, but how much depends on the content of the course and where it takes place.” This statement is based upon a research report released in 2011, conducted by the National Center for Postsecondary Research at Teachers College, Columbia University.

The focus of the research report was on high school seniors in Florida state during the academic school periods from 2000 – 2001 and 2001 – 2002. The report found that “dual enrollment has strong positive effects on college enrollment and completion.” Students who participated in a dual enrollment program were “12 percent more likely to go to college and 7 percent more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than similar students who did not participate.” There were no increases or gains made by students who took dual-enrollment classes at their high school and there was “no effect on marginal students whose GPA was just above the minimum necessary to participate.” This report further indicated that students become more prepared for college when they are provided with an opportunity to attend an actual college campus.

How Else Can High School Students Prepare for College?

Another option that is available for high school students is the Advanced Placement (AP) program, which is sponsored by the College Board – a non-profit member organization that promotes educational opportunities for students in middle schools, high schools, and colleges. The AP program consists of college-level courses offered at a high school through which exam scores result in college credit, advanced placement, or both at “most four-year colleges in the United States and colleges in more than 60 other countries.”

Another Education Week blog post, New AP Courses to Emphasize Critical Thinking and Research, announced that the College Board “is piloting two new Advanced Placement courses designed to focus on research skills that admissions counselors say are too often missing in high school graduates.” When implemented, the “AP/Cambridge Interdisciplinary Investigations and Critical Reasoning Seminar will be offered in 11th grade.” Students will be required to participate in teamwork and write papers that are based upon topics or disciplines chosen by their school. This is a positive development as critical thinking is one of the skills that educators emphasize as being necessary for successful participation in college-level work.

An additional recent development concerning AP courses is that some high schools may reduce the number of AP classes students can take each year. There are concerns by educators that students may become too focused on their class work and not devote enough time to other activities, which includes hobbies.

Some companies also offer AP courses online. For example, Apex Learning® High School offers 13 College Board approved online courses for students who do not have this option available at their high school. It seems that this would be an ideal option for students who may want to pursue an online degree program as it would provide them with the same real-world experience that going to a campus would provide for students who are interested in attending a traditional college.

Another learning option that is available for students is to take an online course through MIT OpenCourseWare, which has courses specifically designed for high school students. These courses are focused on preparing students for the AP exams, while providing them with an opportunity to discover what the college experience will be like – from course subjects to the online classroom. Through MIT courses, students will have an ability to participate in labs, view demonstration videos, and take introductory classes in a variety of subjects, from biology to writing. The primary disadvantage of MIT courses is that you will not earn college credits when you enroll in these courses.

Of course another option for high school students to consider is internships, which are often unpaid assignments that will allow you to explore career fields you are interested in – while gaining experience working for companies or organizations of all sizes. If you decide upon a particular job or career, you can then develop your educational goals to align with those interests. While this option will not allow you to earn college credits or gain experience working with college-level courses, you will receive real-world, hands on experience that can help to inform the decisions made about going to college and the degree programs that may be best suited to your goals.

If you are a junior or senior in high school, and you are beginning to develop ideas and plans for going to college, now is the time to explore options that may help you prepare for the transition. Ask your school’s guidance counselor for more details and find out what programs are available for you. If you choose an option that allows you to take classes at a college campus, you will likely find that going to college is much easier because you have become acclimated to the new (and often challenging) environment and perhaps know more about what to expect.

Have you considered going to college after high school? What steps are you taking to prepare? Share your experience via Twitter @DrBruceJ.

Photo © Don Hammond/Design Pics/Corbis

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