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Should High School Students Take College Classes?

Dual enrollment - taking college classes while still in high school - is increasingly common among students. Over 70% of U.S. high schools have dual enrollment programs. While earning postsecondary credits early can lighten a future college workload, dual enrollment should be given careful consideration.

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Is Dual Enrollment the Right Choice?

The advantages of participating in a dual enrollment program are many. Research done by the Community College Research Center shows that students who take college courses while in high school have an increased rate of 4-year university enrollment as well as higher GPAs in college.

Before opting for dual enrollment, it's a good idea for students to consider the potential social and emotional challenges that can come with taking college courses during high school. Even the most socially well-adjusted and academically talented high school students can struggle with the unique pressures of college. For this reason, it's a good idea for individuals to talk with parents, teachers and counselors about some of the hardships they may face. It's important for students to understand the demands of just one college course.

Finding the Right Fit

One way to increase the chances of high school students' college success is to identify the right dual enrollment program. Some individuals will feel most comfortable in a community college setting, while others may be ready to attend classes at a 4-year college or university. Many high schools have programs on campus taught by high school teachers who are certified adjunct professors. Regardless of locale, students should enroll in institutions that offer support services, such as tutoring and counseling. It can often be helpful for individuals to attend classes with other high school students.

Start Small

It's a good idea for students to start small when taking college courses during the high school years. Individuals might take a single class through the dual enrollment program to gauge their ability to complete postsecondary coursework. Prior to enrolling in a course, students should factor in travel time and costs that may limit their abilities to meet college commitments. Furthermore, taking a lot of higher ed classes can cause high school students to miss out on important social and community events. Online college courses may be an option for students who don't want to miss these happenings.

College Credit for Less

Earning college credits during high school has another obvious benefit: College courses are often available at no cost or significantly reduced rates. Some high schools have a partnership with local community colleges that allow students to take courses for free. Students from low-income homes, and those who want to minimize their student debt after college graduation, have the opportunity to knock off credits at a discounted price.

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The College Admissions Impact

The popularity of dual enrollment programs has created fertile ground for academic competition at many high schools. Parents, counselors and teachers might encourage their students to take on a college course under the assumption that admissions officers look favorably upon applicants with postsecondary credits on their transcript. In fact, many college admissions officials are concerned some high school students are spending too much time in dual enrollment programs, in effect 'dropping out' of life at their high schools. This may act against students' admission chances at colleges that highly value community involvement.

This fact notwithstanding, dual enrollment credits can allow prospective college students to impress during the college application process. Taking postsecondary classes while in high school suggests initiative, and that students may be better prepared to succeed in college. This is especially true given that only about one-third of U.S. high school students meet college readiness levels in English, math and the sciences. Succeeding in a dual enrollment program can set to rest any doubts about a student's readiness for higher education.

Will Dual Credits Transfer?

Credits for a class taken at a community college could potentially transfer directly to a 4-year university. It is important to remember, however, that dual enrollment credits may not be accepted at some schools, particularly highly selective institutions. Without the appeal of earned college credit, the classes may seem far less desirable to some students.

Prior to making a decision or enrolling in a course, students should seek out the advice of their high school counselor or college admissions officer.

Learn about the benefits of a college-high school hybrid.

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