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What You Should Know About Dual Enrollment to Make a Good Decision

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If the idea of saving on college tuition, or completing a college degree early appeals to you, dual enrollment might be a good option. Read the pros and cons, and then discuss your options with your career counselor to see if dual enrollment is the right choice for you.

Is Dual Enrollment a Good Choice for You?

Dual enrollment, or the option for high school students to earn both college and secondary credit, is gaining popularity with both students and their cash-strapped parents alike. If you've been thinking about dual enrollment, consider the pros and cons before diving in. You may decide this challenging path isn't the right one for you and your family after all.

What's Available?

Many states offer high school students the chance to take reduced, or even free, courses through their local community college. This means that while they're earning a high school diploma, they're also gaining college credit.

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Often, as with Washington State's Running Start Program, students enroll in available courses and pay a small fee. Then they only need to cover the cost of books and class supplies. For a student working towards an associate's degree, the potential savings could be in the thousands. This cost savings is a huge benefit to parents who couldn't otherwise afford the expense of college and students who want to graduate debt-free.

What's the Time Requirement?

Many schools work with students to ensure that college classes do not interfere with their high school courses. Sometimes those courses do overlap, which can be a problem if teachers cannot, or will not, be flexible. As the Today show points out, there can be serious issues that you should discuss with your guidance counselor, such as:

  • Will you be able to make up class time if your college and high school courses overlap?
  • Will lost hours due to overlap count against you?
  • Will you be considered truant if you need to leave early for a college course?
  • Will materials be available if overlapping courses force you to miss class time?

Understanding how your high school - and your teachers - view this missed time is key to staying on top of attendance and making sure you graduate on time.

What Happens if Required Classes Are Full?

For most colleges participating in dual enrollment programs, courses are filled with paying students first. High school students are admitted only after college enrollment is complete.

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Full college courses could leave high school students without the credit they need for graduation. If you can't get the courses you need, will your school help you make them up, or will you have to stop participating in the program so you can finish high school on time?

What Are You Willing to Give Up?

Between additional courses, extra travel time, and more homework, dually enrolled students can find themselves with little free time. A lack of social time can have a negative impact on family dynamics and relationships with friends. Some students even crack under the pressure. If you aren't willing to give up some of your free time, dual enrollment may not be right for you.

How Will You Attend?

Are your college courses available online or on your high school campus? Can you use public transportation, or will you have to buy a car and drive to classes? Transportation challenges can cut into your time and your budget. Meet with your guidance counselor and family for suggestions on the best way to handle transportation.

What Are the Actual Costs?

While tuition is typically reduced, these college programs are seldom completely free. Some costs may include:

  • Tuition
  • Books
  • Program fees
  • Classroom equipment

Other fees, such as parking permits, could add to the cost of a program. It's important to be aware of them and budget appropriately before you sign up.

What Can You Expect from Your Coursework?

Many students who sign up for college courses expect them to be uniform, rigorous, and transferable. That isn't always the case.

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According to College Express, some common complaints students have when taking dual enrollment courses included:

  • Courses don't transfer to other university programs.
  • Courses are less rigorous than advanced placement (AP) classes.
  • Courses are not as well structured as AP programs in the same subject.
  • Course grades impacts your college record if you do poorly.

It's important for students to understand the structure and requirements of the courses they are considering. Before signing up for a program, see how it compares to what is available on your campus.

What Are the Benefits?

It's important to understand both the pros and the cons when making a major decision like dual enrollment. Cons include losing personal time, spending more than planned, and struggling academically.

But, as Renae Hintze points out, there are some real benefits to dual enrollment that every student should consider, including:

  • Testing courses for 'fit' before committing to a major
  • Shaving thousands off college costs
  • Discovering new interests
  • Making early connections in your chosen field

Plus, thanks to flexible schedules, students can find themselves with free time during the day to complete homework - taking some of the pressure off.

Is Dual Enrollment Right for You?

Dual enrollment is a challenge but there are some serious benefits too. Before you and your family decide to take the plunge, answer a few questions to see if the program is a good choice:

  • Do you enjoy the challenge of new learning environments?
  • Does your local community college offer courses for dual credit?
  • Will the courses transfer to the college of your choice?
  • Are you prepared to give up social activities to succeed?

If you can answer these questions positively, then dual enrollment might be a good fit. Speak to your high school counselor to see what is available and take advantage of this unique opportunity.

By Patricia Willis
February 2017
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