Seven Ways You Can Earn College Credits While Still In High School
| TBS Staff
Are you ready to discover your college program?
Is it just me, or has the term “four-year college” lost all meaning. Who graduates in four years anymore? Not too many people, according to the U.S. Department of Education. They say that only 60% of students who enrolled in college in 2008 had graduated by 2014. In other words, after six years—six years in which Breaking Bad premiered, won 16 primetime Emmys, and went off the air—40% of students still hadn't graduated.
Meanwhile, the average of attendance at a private university jumped by 179% between 1995 and 2015. I know. That's impressive, but hold your applause until the end, because public university out-of-state tuition jumped by 226% during the same period. The jump was 296% if you were in-state.
Let this all sink in for a minute because it's just crazy. College isn't just getting more expensive, but it also takes longer to do than ever before. If it's a decade-long educational sojourn you seek, more power to you.
But make no mistake, like an indulgent meal where you only look at the tantalizing description of the food and not at the daunting price, there will be a bill at the end of all this indulgence. And when the waiter brings it over to your table, your eyes will pop out of your head. Perhaps, on second thought, you might have foregone the extra appetizers and the a la carte sides.
Or, maybe you might have prepared a little snack at home before heading out.
Well that's the idea behind earning college credits while you're still in high school. It's a little snack before the big meal, a way to temper how much you order, how long you sit around eating, and how eye—popping a bill you're looking at when all is said and done.
Alright, I'm getting hungry. Let's move on.
Here's the thing about student loans. They seem like this magical windfall of opportunity when you're scarfing dining hall tacos, studying abroad, or building a fort out of the furniture in your dorm's common area. But when you graduate, and you start paying these loans back, and you're considering legally changing your name to escape the debt…well let's just say that the magic is gone.
So plan ahead. Before you commit to a college, before you take on a hefty pile of loans, before you declare a major, Believe it or not that's an opportunity that starts now, while you're still in high school.
If you're the kind of student that likes to read a few pages ahead in the text, just to see what's on the horizon, you might also be the kind of student that would benefit substantially from a glimpse of the college experience.
No, we're not telling you to get a fake I.D.
We're telling you that right now, as you work toward high school graduation, you could also be earning college credits, credits that will reduce the future cost and duration of your college education, while providing a taste of the college experience.
Quick and Disturbing Facts
Before you decide whether one of the options outlined hereafter is for you, let's talk a bit about student borrowing, loan debt, and the skyrocketing cost of college. Here are a few facts that should make you nauseous:
- Roughly 70% of students will graduate college with loan debt.
- In 2016, that debt averaged $37,172 per student.
- In a recent Citizen's Bank survey, 59% percent of millennial grads said they have no idea when they'll be capable of paying off these loans.
- This is probably because, as of 2012, 284,000 college grads were earning at or below minimum wage;
- Which helps to explain why 40% of student loan borrowers are delinquent at some point in their first five years of repayment;
- And why an estimated 7 million Americans were in default on their student loan payments as of 2015;
- And why 27% of millennials move back home after college.
- Collectively, Americans owe $1.2 trillion dollars in student loan debt.
- That number is more than what Americans owe in credit card debt; and
- That number is growing at a rate of $3,000 per second!
- All of this amounts to a 500% increase in student loan debt since 1999;
- Which has been concurrent with a 10% decrease in income for young workers.
- Not pointing any fingers, but the Federal Government made roughly $50 billion on student loan repayment in 2013.
If any of this is compelling to you, we recommend that you read on. Any steps you can take to reduce the time it takes to travel from enrollment to graduation will save you money and put you in a position to enter the workforce sooner. If loan repayment is in your future, both of these outcomes should be extremely appealing to you.
Get Cracking on Credits
If you are approaching your junior or senior year in high school, and you're already itching to get to the next stage in your education, we've got great news for you. You have plenty of options. Now that you're already well on your way to a high school diploma, you can actually get cracking on your college degree.
Right now, as you work toward high school graduation, you could also be earning college credits.
The path you take to do so will depend on a number of factors, including your academic abilities, your areas of interest, your economic situation, your career aspirations, your geographical location, and your ability to engage, connect and leverage the options before you. Whether you're looking to get an early jump on your advancement through college or you're looking to skip the end of high school altogether, there is a corresponding program out there. Whether you can access this program and whether or not it meets your needs are different matters altogether.
Hereafter, we outline Seven Ways to Earn College Credits in High School, including a brief explanation of each program and a consideration of its benefits and drawbacks. We hope this helps you to take a leap forward, one that can ultimately make your college experience more affordable, efficient, and enriching.
One of your best options for getting a jump on college is the College Board's Advanced Placement (AP) program. As a high school upperclassman, you have the opportunity to explore a number of college-level courses on a wide range of subjects. Your study in these subjects is followed by an AP exam. Should you score high enough on this exam, you can earn college credits in a given subject.
The College Board offers high school students access to more than 30 distinct Advanced Placement courses in English, Science, Mathematics, History, World Languages and the Arts. Students have the opportunity to take these courses in the comfortable confines of their own high school classrooms. More than 2600 colleges around the world except these courses for college credits.
Depending on the subject and your chosen university, an AP course may also qualify as a prerequisite for more advanced college level classes. A prerequisite (for those of you who are new to university parlance) is a course that you must have completed in order to move on to the next level of study in your chosen discipline. So for instance, many schools will require you to have completed an English 100 level course before you can move into any of the more advanced literature or creative writing courses.
Advanced Placement courses and tests provide a great opportunity, but this is not a risk-free environment.
This means that an AP exam can help spare you the tedium of introductory level study in an area where you feel you already have the skill, knowledge, background, and enthusiasm to jump to the next level. And successful completion of such a course also suggests that you are well-prepared for the rigors of higher education. This is something of which colleges take notice. As you go through the admissions process, your AP test scores can help you stand out from the crowd. They tell admissions officers that you have both the academic wherewithal and the work ethic to complete college-level courses and perform well on exams. This is a nice reassurance for a college that might be preparing to add you to its roster.
There is, of course, one major caveat here. The word “Advanced” isn't just there for show. The courses are challenging and the exams rigorous. Before you invest in an AP course or test, be sure that you are up to the challenge. Choose subjects that truly matter to you and take preparation seriously. The College Board notes that you don't need to be valedictorian to succeed in an AP course, but you do need to choose wisely. Seek the support of your guidance counselor or a teacher in the subject that interests you. Ask for recommendations and explore all of your options first.
Advanced Placement courses and tests provide a great opportunity, but this is not a risk-free environment. When you sit down to take your test, you will be given the option to identify one college as a recipient of your scores. This is a free service provided by the College Board. And it bears noting that you can't just walk into an admissions office brandishing your test scores (or brandishing anything really. Getting dragged out by security will not improve your chances of admission). Colleges and universities will only grant credits for AP scores submitted directly by the College Board.
So in this sense, it behooves you to choose a college to receive your scores. That college will receive a cumulative score comprised of any AP exam scores you've earned during high school. Obviously, this provides a pretty strong deterrent against taking a test that you're likely to tank. On the other hand, if things go really well, you can pay the College Board a fee of $15 after the fact for each additional college you'd like to impress with your awesome scores.
One cool thing about AP testing is that you can do it without even taking an AP class. If you feel that you are particularly skilled in one academic area or another, and that you are capable of undertaking the necessary preparations to succeed, you could simply pay the entry fee and try your luck. You could very well earn college credits, or at least the ability to bypass certain introductory courses, with a single day's worth of testing.
Again though, all the inherent risks still apply. If you plan to take a test, or tests, and have your score(s) sent to the college(s) of your choice, it is advisable to take on only those subjects in which you feel you have a realistic chance of performing well.
Check here for specifics on the nature of AP exams, how to apply, and what you can anticipate from the experience of taking them.
This is just a basic primer. There's a lot more to the Advanced Placement Program. We recommend exploring the College Board's website. Ultimately, if you plan on enrolling in an AP course, this will be your starting point.
International Baccalaureate Diploma Program
If you are between the ages of 16 and 19, excel in your studies, and enjoy multisyllabic French words, the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program might be right for you. The International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) notes that this program aims to create students “who have excellent breadth and depth of knowledge—students who flourish physically, intellectually, emotionally and ethically.”
The Diploma Program centers around six subject groups: studies in language and literature; language acquisition; individuals and societies; sciences; mathematics; and The Arts. Within the scope of these subjects, the Diploma Program is guided by three core elements:
- Theory of knowledge, in which students reflect on the nature of knowledge and on how we know what we claim to know.
- The extended essay, which is an independent, self-directed piece of research, finishing with a 4,000-word paper.
- Creativity, activity, service, in which students complete a project related to those three concepts.
The program ultimately aims to broaden the educational experience of each participating student. Within the scope of each subject, a student will have the option of selecting between Higher Level (HL) and Standard Level (SL) courses. These tiers will differ in scope but outcomes will be measured using the same grading scale and criteria. Each International Baccalaureate participant will take three or four HL subjects, amounting to 240 teaching hours, as well as an additional 150 teaching hours at the Standard Level.
According to the IBO, there are roughly 4,000 schools worldwide that teach International Baccalaureate programs, working through more than 70,000 teachers to reach more than one million students.
If all of this sounds a bit abstract, check out this video of the IB Degree Program in action at the Curtis High School in Staten Island.
Here, we can see that students are motivated both by the intellectual rigor of open debate and discourse with their peers and by the opportunity to accrue college credits. With respect to the latter benefit, the IBO observes that the Diploma Program correlates directly to heightened post-secondary opportunities. For instance, the national rate of immediate postsecondary enrollment for high school graduates was 69% in 2008, as compared to 92% among Diploma Program graduates. Likewise, among those, 95% enrolled in four-year institutions, as compared to 60% of college enrollees nationwide.
The IB Diploma Program doesn't just improve your ability to get into the college of your choice. Evidence also suggests that it could also improve your academic experience and performance at the university level. According to a study conducted by a participating Canadian University, graduates from the IB Diploma program fared better in critical areas such as reading, composition, analytic skills, and advanced organization, largely by virtue of the ‘extended essay' portion of the IB curriculum.
In the U.S., says one investigation, the use of discussions, debates, presentations, writing assignments and teamwork also helps to make IB students more prone to civic engagement. In comparison to a nationally representative sample of high school seniors, Diploma Program participants scored higher on 9 of 10 items testing for knowledge of U.S. history and government.
And according to the IBO, the national first-year retention rate among students enrolled in four-year colleges was 77% between 2008 and 2014, whereas IB Diploma holders enjoyed a sterling 98% first-year retention rate.
As the graphs below demonstrated, even more compelling patterns emerge when it comes to graduation rates:
Pretty strong evidence emerges that the honors program gives its participants a good jump both on preparation for success in college and on earning applicable college credits, with 79% graduating from college in four-years. This fairly dwarfs the national rate of 39%. The same is true of the IB Diploma Program's 83% six-year graduation rate, relative to national average of 56%.
So that's the good news. The bad news is that not every high school has the capability or authorization to provide this advanced level of study to its student body. For the most part, the only way to take IB courses or participate in the IB Diploma Program is to attend an IBO World School. Only schools designated as such have the capacity to offer courses that will ultimately be recognized by universities.
Successful completion of such a program could significantly enhance your chances of going to the college of your choice.
In order to become an IB World School, a school must be authorized by the IBO. There are implementation costs and annual fees associated with becoming an IB World School as well. But participation comes with direct support from the IB program, as well as access to the Online Curriculum Content and the legal right to display the highly-regarded IB logo.
At the time of writing, there are 1744 IB World Schools offering from among the IB's four age-based programs—Primary Years; Middle Years; Diploma; and Career-related. For our purposes, note that a mere 892 schools in the U.S. currently offer an International Baccalaureate Diploma Program to high school upperclassmen.
But presuming that one of these 892 schools is both accessible and desirable to you, here's the part that is most pertinent to our discussion. 1669 universities, worldwide, currently recognize the IB and have officially-stated policies for allowing you to transfer credits and test out of prerequisites. The IBO says that you should contact your regional Global Centre (Africa, Europe; Middle East, Asia-Pacific; or the Americas) for more specific information on participating U.S. colleges.
This underscores the single biggest drawback to the IB Diploma Program: it's accessibility. The limited number of schools offering the Diploma Program denotes the somewhat exclusive and elite nature of the International Baccalaureate program. Of course, this is a double-edged sword. While this limits access to a two-year IB Diploma Program, successful completion of such a program could significantly enhance your chances of going to the college of your choice.
Because many colleges recognize the IB program as academically more rigorous than the traditional high school education, this diploma may improve your standing with an admissions board. But choose your college wisely. In recognition of the extra vigor with which you completed your studies, some colleges will allow you to bypass certain prerequisite or introductory course requirements. And depending on the test scores yielded from your IB experience, you could qualify for a transfer of credits. Obviously, you'll want to select a university that does both.
The IBO does not offer many specifics on exactly how many college credits you could earn through the Diploma Program, largely because the range is particularly variant. The IBO points out that participation in the program is generally highly regarded by most universities but also acknowledges that the application of credits will differ from one institution to the next.
With respect to earning said credits, the IBO notes that scores are not granted for performance in individual subject areas but that a score between 1 and 7 is given for program-wide performance. Universities will generally look for a minimum score of 4 or 5 before granting accelerated placement or accrued credits.
So all of this is to note that you can begin to earn college credits while still in high school through your IB Diploma Program. However, the opportunity to do so will depend first on your ability to gain entry into an IB World School, next on your performance in the program, and finally on your ability to match up with a university that both meets your criteria and grants credits for high IB test marks.
Another obstacle to accessibility, the IB program is offered only in English, French and Spanish. The IBO notes that varied levels of support may be available for those seeking to implement the program (or at least select courses) in other languages. However, the availability of that support exists on a case-by-case basis. In order to determine if such support exists, schools are advised to reach out to their nearest of the three aforementioned IB Global Centres.
On a positive note, over just the last few years, the Diploma Program has begun to offer access to some of its courses online. At present though, these remain accessible only to those who have already gained admission into an IB World School. The IBO has discussed its intention to eventually offer an online curriculum accessible to any admitted student without geographical limitation. However, as of the time of writing, this level of access has not yet become a reality.
If you, as a student, would like to locate an IB World School and explore the process and criteria for gaining admission, check here. The IBO website offers a portal in which you can enter basic geographical information in order to locate the schools closest to you. Begin your search by finding schools in your region and reaching out to the corresponding contact listed on the IBO website.
College-Level Examination Program (CLEP)
Like Advanced Placement, the College-Level Examination Program is overseen by the College Board. Unlike the AP program, the test is the program. If you feel that you possess a certain level of mastery over a subject that you might otherwise have to rehash at an introductory level during your freshman year of college, the CLEP may be for you.
In this case, literally all you have to do is show up for the test. Ok. That's not literally all. You have to pay for it. You have to actually complete the test. There are a few bureaucratic boxes to check off as well. But the point it, there is no coursework connected to this. This program allows you to show up and take one or several tests from among 33 distinct exams spanning five subject areas.
These various exams test in knowledge on material typically taught during the first two years of college, though more than 60% of CLEP test takers reported that knowledge gained in high school was sufficient for handling the tested material.
This is good news if you're a decent test-taker and if you like saving time and money. The idea behind the CLEP exam is to demonstrate that you have already achieved sufficient competency to justify skipping certain introductory college-level subjects. Colleges and universities that acknowledge the CLEP may grant you up to three credits for each passing examination grade you earn. With 2,900 colleges and universities accepting the CLEP, there is considerable opportunity here to get a quick jump on your college credits if you think you might be able to pass a few tests.
Though there are no affiliated classes or curricula for the 33 CLEP-administered exams, the Open Education Database advises that you can find relevant study materials online. The OED specifically identifies Khan Academy and iTunes as two outlets offering free online classes for CLEP Prep (that was fun to say).
At $80 a test, you are unlikely to ever find a cheaper way to earn three college credits. Of course, it must be noted that policies vary from university to university. As with any of these methods, you are advised to speak directly to personnel from the schools on your list before presuming that a passing CLEP grade will help you fast-forward freshman year.
That said, should you make a match between a passing grade and a roster spot at a university, you could place out of introductory level courses in certain subjects, begin amassing credits, and find yourself well on the way to early graduation. According to the College Board, CLEP students will cut their time to earning a bachelor's degree by an average of 2.5 to 10 months.
Begin the process of registering for your CLEP tests here.
Dual Enrollment programs allow high school students to take introductory college-level courses while simultaneously advancing toward high school graduation. Through partnerships with area community colleges, state universities and, in some instances, private universities, your high school may be in a position to grant you access to college courses, the credits that go with them, and perhaps even a window into the campus experience that you can expect. In other cases, you may be able to balance your high school workload with a set of flexible online college courses.
Indeed, Dual Enrollment exists in a variety of formats. In the model also sometimes referred to as Concurrent Enrollment, you would attend college-level courses and earn college credits within the confines of your high school and under the instruction of a qualified high school teacher. This approach allows you to balance the objectives of high school graduation and college advancement.
The Syracuse University Project Advance (SUPA) is a prime example of this approach. SUPA was founded in 1972 and, funny enough, began as a cure for senioritis, a condition which commonly afflicts upperclassmen who have already submitted their bonafides to a selection of carefully-screened universities. The idea was to provide these students with a meaningful motivation to remain diligent and committed to their studies in the waning days of high school.
Though it began by serving only public schools in the Syracuse region, today the program is active in more than 200 high schools across New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Rhode Island, reaching roughly 9,000 students a year.
Participating high school teachers are trained and supervised by Syracuse University faculty members. The course selection includes over 40 courses from across 22 disciplines. One of the biggest advantages to this in-school approach is the deep discount it allows on cost per credit. As of the 2012-2013 academic year, Project Advance credits at Syracuse were going for $110 apiece.
For those students who need more assistance than just a discount, the impact of Early College High School (ECHS) has been considerable. The Early College program, launchd by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2002, is another prominent example of dual enrollment. The goal of the program is to provide support and access to underserved students as they work to seize higher learning opportunities. Such programs are distinct among credit-building opportunities. As we have seen, access to programs like Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate may hinge to a degree on school funding and district affluence.
By contrast, ECHS aims to provide support and access to those who might not otherwise enjoy either. A study on the impact of the Early College program reports that roughly 23% of students who earn college credits while still in high school will go on to earn an associate degree within the scope of two years. This is a stark contrast to the 2% rate of two-year graduation for non-participating students from Early College high schools. The same study reports that 81% of participating students will enroll in college, as opposed to 72% of non-participating students.
To this extent, the ECHS program instills the desire for a college education and consequently shaves considerable time and money off of the final cost.
There are also dual enrollment programs that center not just around access to courses and credit, but to the campus itself. For instance, the Running Start program, which is specific only to the states of Washington and Hawaii, gives high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to simultaneously earn high school and college credits while attending classes at a local institution of higher learning. This means that in Washington, for instance, all upperclassman are eligible to apply for access to classes in Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Washington State University, Northwestern Indian College, and any community or technical college throughout the state.
This experience is available tuition free, though participants are responsible for college fees and the cost of their own books. As access to college-applicable credits go, these are fairly minimal costs.
Contact information for Running Start is available here if you'd like to learn more.
Other states have begun to adopt or expand similar programs. For instance, the state of Kentucky just this past summer approved $7.5 million in funding for the Kentucky Dual Credit Scholarship Program, which allows high school aged students to attend courses at colleges and universities statewide.
Dual enrollment could prove the incentive that some young students need to continue with their education beyond high school graduation.
Once again, however, this is a state-specific program. You are advised to research dual enrollment opportunities specific to your own state of residence. If such opportunities do exist, and if you feel you are up to the academic challenge, take advantage. Again, such programs may be a more accessible route to accruing college credits than AP or IB courses. In many cases, the ability to meet the stringent academic, instructional, and material demands of such AP and IB programs will depend on funding and resources. This means that such opportunities may be largely limited to those schools and students already in a position of advantage.
Dual enrollment may be an excellent antidote to this condition. This is particularly true in cases where high school students from disadvantaged communities get the chance to take courses on nearby campuses, receive instruction from university-level professors, and gain access to campus resources. For many students from underfunded and resource-strapped high schools, this is not only a first point of access for higher education. It also provides a glimpse of what education could be. It could prove the incentive that some young students need to continue with their education beyond high school graduation.
As with every early credit-building strategy, this one comes with a major caveat. Be sure that your top college choices are likely to accept credits from this or any other program. SUPA offers some useful advice that underscores this challenge. The program advises “It is important that you refer to the SU courses you took in high school as ‘SU courses,' not as ‘Project Advance courses'; there is no such thing as a Project Advance course. You should bring your course syllabi or manuals, course descriptions and, if appropriate, your student portfolios from the SU courses you took, when you meet with the faculty member or college official who will make the decision about your SU credits.”
Such is to say that your ability to transfer credits may be challenged by some colleges or universities. Some institutions simply won't award credits for courses listed on a high school transcript. Before you commit either to a dual enrollment program or a selection of colleges, due diligence is advised. Reach out to the appropriate personnel at your chosen college (which may vary from Admissions, to Registrar, to Student Services depending upon the bureaucratic structure of a given school). Find out if the program in which you are about to enroll will help advance your goals at any given institution. This process can also help you to prioritize your intended destination.
Also note that the programs and models outlined here are but a small sampling. Your state, your region, or a community college in your vicinity may well offer its own program. Sit down with your guidance counselor and see what your options are.
If you don't feel like you have sufficient support at school, start Googling. Search for Dual Enrollment or Concurrent Enrollment opportunities in your state or locality. Make contact and learn more.
One of the biggest obstacles to earning early college credits is the challenge of balancing your responsibilities as a full time high school student with your college-level work. Programs that center around a Summer College experience are a great workaround.
A great many universities—public and private alike—offer access to such opportunities. Sessions will typically last for the duration of just a few weeks. Through this duration, high school juniors and seniors will be granted varying degrees of access to campus life in all its structured but unsupervised glory. This is truly among the most immersive and thorough ways to get a taste of college life and education.
As such, it is also often among the most expensive of such options. Students who are admitted to participate in such programs are often both well-funded and well-credentialed. That said, the expense could actually prove a wise investment relative to, say, taking on a summer job. Whatever your summer program costs, there is a strong likelihood the cost would be significantly higher to earn the same number of credits at the actual college level. Over a few summers, this discount could easily eclipse your likely earnings from punching tickets at the movie theatre or soaking suds at the carwash.
Summer programs are an especially great fit for students who already have a sense of the disciplines on which they plan to focus during their future college studies or activities. This is because many of the leading summer college programs revolve around specific areas of interest.
A resource called FastWeb! offers an index of Summer College programs targeting high school students. This index is a useful point of entry for exploring an array of summer programs, some with specific foci and others with more general emphases on immersive introductory college experiences.
For instance, the National Youth Science Camp (NYSC) provides a month-long camping experience targeting students with a vested academic interest in science. The program combines math and science instruction wth outdoor adventure.
Summer programs are an especially great fit for students who already have a sense of the disciplines on which they plan to focus
More generally, Miami University of Ohio sponsors a two-week program geared toward academically gifted juniors and seniors. This program welcomes participating high school students to take part in an immersive on-campus experience with a focus on personally selected areas of interest. Here, students will live in residence halls, eat in the dining hall, gain access to all campus facilities, and receive instruction from college-level educators.
Cornell Summer College provides participants with access to both three- and six-week programs. Here, sophomores, juniors, and seniors gain access to the facilities, courses, and educators at the Ivy League institution as well as the opportunity to obtain between three and six transferrable college credits.
Again, accessibility to such opportunities may be limited both by academic performance and cost. With respect to the latter, programs like Upward Bound are designed to provide scholarships for students who might be interested in otherwise costly summer college opportunities. Upward Bound specifically serves high school students from low-income families or those whose parents do not hold at least a bachelor's degree. The program's aim is to improve the prospects of graduation for its participants as well as their continued studies at the post-secondary level.
Many universities have partnered directly with Upward Bound in order to expand access to existing summer programs. For instance, the University of New Hampshire Upward Bound Summer Program helps provide free, federally funded access to a six-week summer residential program. Here, students can take courses, participate in campus activities, attend career workshops, and receive critical support in navigating both the application and financial aid processes.
Programs like Upward Bound are designed to offset the costs that can otherwise make Summer College experiences prohibitively expensive and largely inaccessible. If this is something you're interested in, you are advised to explore options in your region as well as support, assistance, and scholarship programs affiliated with each of these options.
This is the option for you if you've had enough of high school altogether. If you feel that your time could just generally be better spent at this point in the pursuit of a college degree instead of a mere diploma, there may actually be a path forward for you.
Early enrollment is for those particularly accelerated students who are simply ready to bypass high school graduation and move on to the next level without delay. Typically reserved for juniors or seniors in high school, early enrollment is almost certainly the most straightforward way to take a flying leap forward.
Wikipedia links to 26 distinct Early Enrollment programs, each connected with a specific college or university. Located throughout the United States, programs vary in their modeling and approach. Some invite gifted high school upperclassmen to participate in early entrance programs alongside others of their age and ability. Other programs simply immerse their young scholars into the mainstream college population.
This approach can come with tremendous benefits for those who have the strongest sense of where they'd like to attend college. In some instance, your enrollment in an early entrance program can predicate automatic admission into the larger university. For instance, Boston University Academy is a college preparatory experience open to high-performing juniors and seniors.
Technically, this is a private high school. However, it is owned and operated by Boston University. Here, you may begin to take college courses and earn credits as early as junior year. Should you maintain a 3.0 GPA or better, you are guaranteed a spot at BU. Important to note, however, is the fact that a year at this prep Academy will run you about as much as a year at a prestigious private university. Financial Aid is available but with an annual cost per student somewhere closer to $40K than 30K, Boston University Academy illustrates the typically high cost of access for early enrollment.
Bard College At Simon's Rock actually offers a four-year college experience specifically designed entirely for younger students. The average age of student entry to Simon's Rock is 16, the average class size, 11 students. The ambition, generally, is to provide students who are ready with immediate access to the rigor and enrichment of a college level education. Though affiliated with Bard College, Simon's Rock is, in essence, its own unique institution, one in which students engage their college education from start to finish. For all intents and purposes, this is a college for students from the ages of 16 to 20.
Once again though, that kind of an experience will cost you. In this case, the combined price tag for tuition and housing is upwards of $65,000 per year. Though 80% of students are granted access to some form of scholarship or financial aid, that is a prohibitive initial cost.
And if you're truly advanced for your age—and we mean like, Doogie Howser-advanced—the California State University's Early Entrance Program (EEP) actually permits students as young as 11 years of age. At any given time, there are roughly 150 “EEPsters" roaming campus, engaged as full-time, mainstream population students. Whether you're 11 or in the 11th grade, if you think you can rock the SAT, ace your ACTs, blow some minds during a face to face admissions interview, and succeed during an intensive trial period called the Provisional Quarter, you could be an EEPster. Piece of cake, right?
Of course, this path is not for everybody. For starters, this path is for those of a certain academic capability. If you excel in your studies, have successfully bested most of the academic challenges that high school can throw at your, and are gifted not just in your performance but in your management of time, stress, and expectation, this could be a good way to go.
In addition to the inherent academic challenges, you should consider how prepared you are to leap to the next level both socially and culturally. Depending on the early entrance program you choose, you may find yourself a very small fish in a giant pond. In other words, as long as you're cool bypassing the glory of being a high school senior in favor of once again being a lowly freshman, go for it!
Unfortunately, academic ability and cultural interest are not the only factors to consider. Simply stated, early enrollment programs can be expensive. If this is something that you're interested in, there are always scholarship and financial aid opportunities worth considering. However, be warned that access to such programs is often fiercely competitive. In order to receive financial aid or scholarship, you should be a truly ideal candidate for entry.
In the event that you are an ideal candidate, that you've breezed through your studies, that you are well-financed, and that you're a little tall for your age, the adjustment shouldn't be that hard. This could be the path for you.
Academic college is not the only path to post-secondary education. For students with a skill set and passion in any number of technical disciplines, there is a way to accelerate the process of completing one's studies and earning certification. Between 1997 and 2010, the Department of Education sponsored a program called Tech-Prep, which supported a wide array of state-based technical programs aimed at bridging the last two years of high school and the first two years of post-secondary study.
This means that students can begin earning an associate degree or 2-year certificate in a technical field by their junior year of high school. Disciplines encompassed by this program include engineering technology; applied science; mechanical, industrial, or practical art; trade; agriculture; health; and business.
Thanks to tech-prep, students can begin earning an associate degree or 2-year certificate in a technical field by their junior year of high school.
In addition to granting certification, Tech-Prep programs emphasize post-graduate employment opportunities. Though the federal grant program which dispersed in excess of $100 million each fiscal year is no longer awarding funds, there are a number of programs in operation today as a result of earlier funding.
For instance, the state of Pennsylvania administers Students Occupationally and Academically Ready (SOAR) Programs. Operating under the philosophical umbrella of the Tech-Prep program, SOAR provides Pennsylvania Department of Education-approved career and technical education programs in high-skill, high-demand fields.
The result is a statewide network of Technical College High Schools such as the Brandywine Campus, the Pennock's Bridge Campus, and the Pickering Campus. As the SOAR program points out, you can earn anywhere from 9 to 21 free credits depending on the post-secondary institutions you choose to attend.
Funding and availability for Tech Prep programs varies from state to state. You are advised to search for information specific to your state if this is a path that interests you. Ironically, Tech Prep opportunities are at once among the most economically accessible paths to earning early college credits and among the most direct pathways to gainful post-graduate employment.
Ultimately, if you anticipate a career in a technical field, you truly are best served by exploring the most immediate and affordable way to begin advancing on your path to certification and employment. Depending on your circumstance and ambitions, early enrollment in a Tech-Prep program could be immensely more valuable than the traditional academic path to high school graduation.
Be Prepared For A Challenge
The programs outlined above all have one thing in common. They are reserved for the most ambitious among you. By initiating the process of earning college credits early, you are taking an accelerated path forward. This means that your education will be more rigorous.
Whether you are carrying the simultaneous burdens of high school and college courses or skipping ahead in your educational experience, you will be challenged. Be sure that you are up for it, that you are prepared to work hard, to manage your time, to manage your stress, to learn from your mistakes, and to be resilient in the face of difficulty.
And remember, you are now actively building a college transcript. Your performance in most early credit-building programs will follow you throughout the course of your higher education. Be honest with yourself before you take on college level courses and exams.
Navigate The Credit Transfer Racket
If you are a particularly gifted student, and not at all intimidated by the challenge of a more rigorous workload, then the idea of earning college credits will seem like a no-brainer. But of course, it's not always as simple as that. Every college has its own credit transfer rules and its own bureaucratic variants.
Before you enroll in a specific credit-granting program, take stock of the colleges or universities where you are likely to eventually apply. Be sure that the school of your choice is equipped to transfer you preparatory program or experience into a bonafide college credit.
U.S. News and World Report warns that not only do credit transfer policies differ from one college to the next, but that policies may even differ from one department to the next. The Report notes, for instance, that Brown University won't accept AP test scores for credit but that, in certain departments, these scores might be sufficient to bypass introductory level courses. Moreover, under the right circumstances, Brown will accept International Baccalaureate scores for course credit.
This points to one of the most determinant variables that you'll have to consider before diving into a program. You'll have to discern whether or not the program you've selected is compatible with the transfer rules at the college(s) of your choice. The College Board offers a resource for making this determination with respect to Advanced Placement test scores. Visit here and type in the colleges and universities on your list to see who is willing to count your credits toward graduation.
Still, even this resource points out that you would be well-served to reach out directly to the college in question, given the variations that may persist from one department to the next. Call up the colleges on your list and ask questions before you commit to a credit-granting program.
Mix and Match Strategies
Bear in mind that you may not be limited to just one of the above-noted options. Depending on your unique situation, the set of opportunities available to you, and just how great your ambitions are, you could combine a number of these strategies in the process of accumulating early college credits. Participating in a residential summer program does not preclude one from earning AP credits or knocking out a few one-day CLEP exams.
But just how many credits will be transferable, and what level of overlapping is permitted, will depend wholly upon your university of choice. For instance, Western State Colorado University notes that it will grant a maximum of 18 credits for CLEP exams. It also offers a pair of tables breaking down the different number of credits that can be earned for each individual AP or IB subject area.
By contrast, Gordon College simply notes that it will award up to 32 credits for any combination of AP, CLEP, or IB exams. This essentially accounts for a full year of college.
The outlook is even better for University of Florida students, who may earn a maximum of 45 semester credits through any accepted combination of AP, CLEP and IB credits.
Clearly though, the range of possibilities is fairly infinite. Before mixing your own cocktail of pre-college credit-building strategies, do some research on the colleges most likely to make your wishlist. If you play your cards right, you could tear your way through pretty close to two years of college before freshman orientation.
Consider Your Geography
At the end of the day, opportunities are different for everybody. Geography is a major determinant factor in the types of credit-building programs and opportunities at one's disposal. So too is the college you ultimately wish to attend. Some districts eschew Dual Enrollment programs in favor of Advanced Placement. Some colleges place a higher value on International Baccalaureate tests than AP exams. There will be limitations over which you have no control. The best you can do is research and take full advantage of the opportunities that do exist in your region. Start by speaking to your guidance counselor or researching opportunities in your state online. If you don't come up with anything, you might consider reaching out to personnel at nearby community colleges for advice.
Find out what kind of financial aid exists before you dismiss any given opportunity offhand. Programs like Upward Bound and Early College are designed to open early pathways to higher education for otherwise underserved students. Speak to your parents, teachers, or a guidance counselor about the various aid, grant, or scholarship programs that may apply to your unique situation.
Also consider this one small risk. Many scholarships are geared specifically toward college freshman. Should you acquire enough credits to no longer fall into this category, you may no longer qualify for certain valuable scholarships. Give this matter consideration before you enter into a program. Are there scholarships that you are uniquely qualified for? If so, be sure you can retain eligibility.
Appendix A: Getting Started
Here are a few quick links as you explore your options:
College Board provides a search engine of colleges and universities that offer credit or placement for AP scores.
College Board also offers a link to information on how to take the exam and a fact sheet on registering for AP Exams
Listed Below are links to individual AP Courses, categorized by discipline:
AP Art History
AP Music Theory
AP Studio Art: 2-D Design
AP Studio Art: 3-D Design
AP Studio Art: Drawing
AP English Language and Composition
AP English Literature and Composition
History & Social Science
AP Comparative Government and Politics
AP European History
AP Human Geography
AP United States Government and Politics
AP United States History
AP World History
Math & Computer Science
AP Calculus AB
AP Calculus BC
AP Computer Science A
AP Computer Science Principles
AP Environmental Science
AP Physics C: Electricity and Magnetism
AP Physics C: Mechanics
AP Physics 1: Algebra-Based
AP Physics 2: Algebra-Based
World Languages & Cultures
AP Chinese Language and Culture
AP French Language and Culture
AP German Language and Culture
AP Italian Language and Culture
AP Japanese Language and Culture
AP Spanish Language and Culture
AP Spanish Literature and Culture
International Baccalaureate Diploma Program
The IBO provides a listing of the world's International Baccalaureate Schools, browsable by country, language of instruction, level of education, and coeducational status.
Listed below are links to individual IBO courses, grouped according to subject area:
Theory of Knowledge
Creativity, activity, service
Studies in language and literature
Individuals and Societies
College Level Examination Program
The College Board's College Search tool is a great starting resource for determining which schools offer credits for CLEP exams (as well as AP exams). Just click on the left bound menu item labeled “Academic Credit” and check off your search criteria. You'll see that a search highlighting both AP and CLEP credit transfers yields 2,207 possible schools.
Apply to take your CLEP tests here.
Listed below are links to individual examinations:
History & Social Sciences
History of the United States I: Early Colonization to 1877
History of the United States II: 1865 to the Present
Human Growth and Development
Introduction to Educational Psychology
Principles of Macroeconomics
Principles of Microeconomics
Social Sciences and History
Western Civilization I: Ancient Near East to 1648
Western Civilization II: 1648 to the Present
Composition & Literature
Analyzing and Interpreting Literature
College Composition Modular
Science & Mathematics
Introductory Business Law
Principles of Management
Principles of Marketing
French Language (Levels 1 and 2)
German Language (Levels 1 and 2)
Spanish Language (Levels 1 and 2)
Dual Enrollment Opportunities are generally available through individual states, regions, and universities. For instance:
The Syracuse University Project Advance (SUPA)
Washington Running Start
Hawaii Running Start/Early College
Kentucky Dual Credit Scholarship Program
Expand online research to your individual state for more dual enrollment opportunities.
FastWeb! provides an index, and individual links, to an array of Summer College programs geared toward high school students or recent graduates
Links to these individual programs are provided hereafter:
Abbey Road Overseas Programs
Academic Connections at the University of California – San Diego
American Collegiate Adventures
Bentley University Summer Athletic Camps
California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS)
Carnegie Mellon University – Summer Programs for Diversity
Carnegie Mellon University – Summer Academy for Math + Science (SAMS)
Columbia College of Chicago – High School Summer Institute
Concordia Language Villages
Cornell Summer College
Duke University's TIP Academy for Summer Studies
Experience Christendom Summer Program (ECSP)
Harvard's Pre-College Program & Secondary School Program (SSP)
University of Florida – Humanities and the Sunshine State
Indiana University – High School Journalism Institute (HSJI)
Miami University of Ohio – Summer Scholars Program
National Youth Science Camp (NYSC)
New York Film Academy's Summer Film and Acting Camps
Rhode Island School of Design Pre-College Program (RISD)
Smith College Precollege Summer Programs
Summer Study Programs
Summer Science Program (SSP)
Telluride Association Summer Programs (TASP)
Tufts Summer Study for High School Students
University of Chicago – The Young Scholars Summer Program (YSP)
University of Dallas High School Summer Programs
University of New Hampshire Upward Bound Summer Program
University of Pennsylvania Programs for High School Students
Tulane University Emerging Scholars Environmental Health Sciences Summer Research Academy
Wikipedia links to a number of unique Early Enrollment/Early Entrance programs overseen by specific colleges and universities. Links to these programs are provided here below:
University of Washington: Academy of Young Scholars
Wentworth Military Academy: Accelerated Scholars Program
University of West Georgia: Advanced Academy of Georgia
Bard College: Bard College at Simon's Rock
Florida Gulf Coast University: Accelerated Collegiate Experience
Boston University: Boston University Academy
Broward College: College Academy at Broward College
University of Northwestern-St. Paul: Early College At Northwestern
Florida State College at Jacksonville: Early College Program @ Robert E. Lee High School
California State University, LA: Early Entrance Program
Shimer College: Early Entrant Program
Alaska Pacific University: Early Honors Program
Middle Georgia College: Georgia Academy of Mathematics, Engineering and Science
Northwest Missouri State University: Missouri Academy of Science, Mathematics and Computing
University of Iowa: National Academy of Arts, Sciences and Engineering
Mary Baldwin College: Program for the Exceptionally Gifted
University of Southern California: Resident Honors Program
University of North Texas: Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science
Clarkson University: The Clarkson School
Guilford College: The Early College at Guilford
Forsyth Technical Community College: The Early College of Forsyth
Western Kentucky University: The Carol Martin Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science in Kentucky
Morehead State University: The Craft Academy for Excellent in Science and Mathematics
College of Central Florida: Early College Program
Programs vary from state to state. For instance:
Access Pennsylvania's SOAR program here to find participating Technical College High Schools.
College Connections, a resource from Washington State, includes links for registration and payment information.
Expand online research to your individual state for relevant Tech-Prep opportunities.
If you know of any other paths to earning college credits in high school, or if you think there's a specific program worth highlighting, please share in our comments section. And remember, when it comes to planning for college, it's never too early to get started!
More from The Best Schools
Popular with our students.
Highly informative resources to keep your education journey on track.
Take the next step toward your future with online learning.
Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.