Have you ever heard of a dual credit program, which essentially entails taking one or more college courses in high school and potentially receiving college credit? More than 1.2 million students took dual credit courses between 2010 and 2011, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Dual credit programs are usually offered at a local college (often a community college) or at a high school in partnership with a local college.
Dual credit can be a good option for students who want the rigor of taking a college-level course in high school, because it can help them earn college credit and see firsthand what a college class is like. If those credits transfer, then students can get a head start on finishing college down the road.
"For more selective institutions, it could be advantageous if the student performs well," says C.J. Mathis, assistant director of undergraduate admissions that the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. "For example, if a student attends a high school that doesn't offer honors, AP or IB courses, showing good performance in actual college courses can serve as a good indicator to the students' abilities. It can also be used to help support a student's ability if their test scores don't reflect their full potential." However, Mathis notes, the opposite could also happen. "If a student doesn't perform well in their dual-enrollment courses, it can be seen as the student is not currently prepared for collegiate curriculum, particularly at more selective institutions."
Dual Credit Programs Aren't for Everyone
Remember that just because a student has access to a dual credit program does not necessarily mean that they should enroll.
"The majority of students don't (and shouldn't) move on to a college curriculum due to their pace in maintaining a healthy and enjoyable learning experience," says Sonja Montiel, who worked in college admissions for 20 years before founding the College Confidence Academy in Orange County, Calif. "Pushing students too quickly into a college-level curriculum and prematurely being surrounded by a more mature learning community (aka older students) can jeopardize a student's academic confidence and motivation, and ultimately, overall self-esteem. It is only advantageous for students who are intellectually and emotionally ready to take on a higher demand of course work. The advantages can include acceleration toward a college degree, which leads to cost savings for the family."
Determining readiness for college-level academic work is crucial to understanding whether you should enroll in a dual credit course. Because dual credit programs have increased in popularity, many families may view them as a cost-saving measure to earn college credits more affordably. But some students — and parents — may be overeager about enrolling in dual credit programs without considering what is right for that individual student.
"For dual enrollment, I am seeing an increased amount of pressure from parents that their students need to take college courses, without assessing their abilities and motivation to pursue college-level learning," explains Montiel. "Competency completing and passing college-level courses is valued in the college admission process, but only when students do well! Should students be pushed to take college courses and perform poorly, they own an official college transcript with low-performing grades reported, which can create annoyances in the future in terms of opportunities in which college transcripts are required for review."
Take the Decision Seriously
Deciding whether to enroll in a dual credit program should not be taken lightly. It is not about just getting college credits in high school — you want to make sure that you don't just have the ability to take a dual credit course, but that you can actually perform well.
Montiel recommends taking the time to ask yourself these questions to assess whether a dual credit program is right for you:
- Reflect on why you want to take higher level courses and make sure one of those reasons is because you are truly interested in the subject area.
- What will be the challenges in terms of rigor and time commitment? What resources will you need to meet those challenges?
- What support do you need in terms of logistics getting to and from a college campus?
- How will family members be able to support you with these new requirements of a college level class?
- What outcome/benefits do you wish to see by taking college level courses?
- Do you feel ready and excited about taking college classes?
If you ask yourself these questions and think thoughtfully about whether you will do well taking on a dual credit course, you'll have a better chance of being successful if you decide to enroll in college courses (through dual credit) while you are still in high school.
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