Earn College Credits in High School and Save on Tuition

earn college credits while you're in high schoolWritten by: Sharon Newkirk of Student Choice

Bank those college credits early!

Saving money when you’re in college is on the top of most college students’ minds. But, what about saving money in college – before you get to college? One of the best ways to save money is to prepare well in advance. There are several methods to attain college credit with little or no cost but they must all be started before the acceptance into your college of choice.

Credit for Life Experience

Colleges and universities may use your prior learning or life experiences to grant credit in lieu of classes. This knowledge and the skills must be measurable in a standard fashion. Sometimes the standard is applied by a College Level Examination Program (CLEP) test or by reviewing portfolios of work. There may be fees associated with the testing needed to obtain credit, but final scores are available immediately after taking the test.

The CLEP process is managed by the College Board – the College Board provides resources, tools and services to students, parents, colleges and universities in the areas of college planning, recruitment and admissions, financial aid, and retention. You can find out more about them on the College Board website.

Another testing group revolves around life experience. Tests originated by the United States Department of Defense originally called “DANTES” and now called “DSST” can provide credit for upper and lower level coursework. Several of the courses tested are the core classes found in a CLEP test, but there are expanded areas of knowledge that DSST will test and provide credit. DSST exams may be funded for military active duty personnel but the test will have to be at a DANTES–funded military test center. So what do all those acronyms mean?

    • DANTES – Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support
    • DSST – Department of Defense Standardized Test
    • CLEP – College Level Examination Program

Dual Credit Classes

These are classes offered in high school for which you get college credit. Sometimes called “college prep,” or “post-secondary,” these are a little different than “AP” classes (Advanced Placement). The high school and a college or university work together to provide classes that count in both systems. The students are typically at a high school junior or senior level when taking classes and must meet the college’s prerequisite requirements to be enrolled for the college course.

The classes offered are typically basic core classes like English, History, Math, Government and Social Sciences. The arrangement between the high school and college could also include other various degree plans. Depending on the arrangement made between the school district and the college, there may not be a charge for the course or books. According to Dual Credit Texas (a Collaboration of Texas community colleges), a college course offered for dual credit has a greater chance of being transcripted for college credit than an Advance Placement (AP) course.

Advance Placement Courses and Testing

These “Advanced Placement” courses are offered in high school, and the student will take an accelerated class with the opportunity to test at the end of the semester (or year). College credit is available for achieving a passing score. There is a charge for taking the test and each college can determine a minimum score for credit but most require at least a “3” on a 1-5 scale. It’s important to note that even if the student excels in the class it is the test that colleges score for class credit. The Advance Placement examinations and coursework are managed by the College Board.

Early College High School

I’ve recently seen this new form of early college credit offered in my hometown in Texas, and I’m pleased to share it with you.

These campuses are typically located on or near a college campus so students can earn a high school diploma and at the same time earn an associate degree or up to 60 hours of college credit. The idea is that the high school coursework is offered and taught in conjunction with the college requirements. Students have access to all of the college resources but do not have to pay tuition, fees or textbooks for their college courses. There have long been specific study schools such as math or science focused curricula but this approach involves the entire high school experience while providing the building blocks needed for students to excel in their post-secondary goals. Our school district is beginning with a group of 100 freshmen and is adding another class of 100 each year to build the high school from the ground up. All classes must pass state educational requirements for any high school curriculum.

It Early College Credit Right for You?

Historically, students who earn college credit prior to graduating high school are shown to be more successful in their subsequent college studies. They tend to be more comfortable with the transition from high school into college as they have already experienced some of the differences first hand.

The ability to bank college credits before you ever receive a college bill can be more valuable than just dollars and cents. Imagine walking out of high school and into college with 60 hours on your transcript – that’s 60 hours you don’t have to take or pay for! That amounts to over $17,000 for the average public 4-year college’s in-state tuition. With numbers like that to support your decision – considering adding studying for college credits to your high school agenda and I may just pay off in the long-run!


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