Online College Classes for Rising 9th Grader?

Question:My kid is going to attend high school in the upcoming September.  During the summer, he enrolled himself at a state university via their online program (they allowed 8th/9th graders to enroll in college courses and earn college credits) and is currently taking two first-year college courses.  We plan to encourage him to continue doing so in the upcoming summers for the next three or four years.  We did this in order to let him have direct experience with college courses (rather than looking at waiving those courses when he indeed goes to college).  Will this be an effective way to boost his college application in general?  If he scores only B or C on those courses, will that backfire and hurt his application?

College admission officials like to see that students have challenged themselves by taking college level courses and they also are pleased when teenagers spend their summers engaged in worthwhile pursuits. So, by taking these online classes, your son will be doing both. That could be a plus when he applies to colleges, but here are some caveats:


  1. It is common these days for high school students to take college classes, and this is especially true for applicants to the most selective colleges. So if your son is aiming high, his summer classes will still be viewed as a positive but they won’t help him to stand out in a crowd, unless—by the time he’s ready to go to college—he’s attained a signifcant level of competenence in a particular subject that he’s passionate about, especially an atypical one.


  1. As your son gets older, he may want to have more varied experiences in the summer.  However, if he’s taking his classes online, there’s probably time for other activities, too (job, travel, volunteer work, research, etc.).


  1. Your son will get better “direct experience” if he takes his colleges classes—at least some of them—in an actual classroom. High schools often have agreements with community colleges that allow high school students to enroll in college classes at the college itself over the summer or during the school year for free.


  1. If your son gets B’s or even C’s in the college classes when he first starts out, it won’t affect him at admission-decision time. But, later on, the lower grades might hurt. As noted above, the more selective colleges receive applications from tons of teenagers who have taken college classes and many have only A’s in them … even when they’ve taken the courses on campus at prestigious universities.  The impact of a lower grade will depend on where your son is applying and also on the rigor of the college class(es) he took.


  1. Will your son’s high school give him credit for these classes and thus incorporate the grade into his GPA? If so and–and if he’s ordinarily an A student–then B’s and C’s in the college classes might pull down his cumulative GPA and also his class rank (if the high school calculates one).  Note also that, although your son has been told that he will receive college credit for these classes, he actually may not. Colleges have widely varying policies when it comes to awarding credit for work completed before a student enrolls. The university that is sponsoring these classes should provide credit if he enrolls there. But, in many other cases, the college will not accept ANY credits earned elsewhere pre-matriculation. And some colleges only give credit for courses taken in an actual college classroom that is populated with mostly “real” college students. A general rule of thumb is that, the more selective a college is, the more stringent the credit-evaluation process is likely to be.

The Dean’s conclusion:  If your son is excited about taking these online classes and seems to be enjoying them, he should certainly continue. But if he’s resistant (or downright cranky) and your primary goal is to boost his college admission odds, you should reconsider. Don’t count on this plan as a fast track to a top school.