A guide to earning college credit while in high school

The main reason students take college-level coursework during high school (and sometimes middle school) is to get a jump on college credits.

Even a handful of college credits earned in high school can save valuable time and tuition dollars later on. This means potentially earning a bachelor’s degree much faster, enabling students to begin their careers and start earning sooner.

Many dual enrollment programs will enable students to graduate with a full associate’s degree as a high school student. That allows students to begin college as juniors. The rise of the community college baccalaureate has opened up the possibility of graduating from college one year after high school graduation. Students at McFarland High can graduate with a bachelor’s degree in industrial automation from Bakersfield College just one year after high school.

Coming into college with credit could also give students flexibility to take on other opportunities they might not otherwise have had time for, such as an internship or study abroad program.

Some students take these courses to burnish their college applications. Taking college-level courses demonstrates to selective college admissions offices that a student is ready for the intellectual rigor of college. Some college-level courses taken through high school are given extra weight, which can boost a student’s grade point average and class ranking.

Many advocates see these courses as a way to encourage college attendance among students who may not be college-bound, such as first-generation college students. Exposure to college-level coursework can help students develop the study habits and critical thinking key for success in college.

“It helps them to build confidence, and I think that that’s really key,” said Michelle Whittingham, Associate Vice Chancellor and Interim Director of Undergraduate Admissions for UC Santa Cruz. “Because sometimes students, for many different reasons, aren’t sure if they’re college material.”

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