Should My High Schooler Dual Enroll?
If you have a high schooler, you have probably contemplated whether or not dual enrollment is something your student should pursue. While dual enrollment has experienced popularity over the years among homeschoolers, whether or not it is a path your student should take is something you should consider carefully.
~What is dual enrollment?~
Dual enrollment is when a current high school student enrolls in a course or courses at a local community college or university. Students are designated as dual-enrolled or guest students rather than matriculated students. In some cases, tuition discounts are extended to dual-enrolled students. Madonna University, Lawrence Technological University, and Concordia are a few local choices with reduced tuition rates.
Students take the courses in the same classrooms as the college or university’s regular students. These courses can be used toward the student’s high school curriculum and requirements, and in most cases, also transfer to the college they ultimately attend after high school graduation.
~Benefits of Dual Enrollment~
While it seems the main benefit for a student to dual enroll is to get a jump start on college credits, there are many other reasons to consider dual enrollment for your homeschooled high school student.
Tapping into the resources of a local college provides many opportunities, including access to science labs, for a challenging in-person classroom environment for homeschooled high schoolers.
Knocking out some typical general education credits is always useful, but don’t overlook the opportunity for your student to explore some interest-based courses as well. Both of my students were able to explore career interests through dual enrollment and had a clear direction of what they wanted to pursue post-high school as a result. Many students spend their freshman and sophomore years in college trying to get a footing in what direction they would like to take. Having a clearer direction beforehand helped my students have a more focused path.
Even though homeschooling is becoming more mainstream, homeschooled applicants are still often looked upon as an unknown element. The inclusion of dual enrollment on a college application demonstrates academic rigor through a trusted outside source for college admission offices. Additionally, there may be an opportunity to request a letter of recommendation from professors for an involved student in the classroom. This isn’t to say dual enrollment is necessary for homeschooled students to get into college. Homeschooled students can and do attend college without any previous college courses. If not approached carefully, dual enrollment could even be a disadvantage. But strong grades and recommendations from a local college will give students an advantage in the college admissions process.
College is very different from high school, and the transition to college is more than just academic readiness. Gaining experience navigating the structure of college will allow for a smoother transition to full-time college. For my student with needed accommodations, self-advocating and navigating the college accessibility office process in high school was particularly beneficial.
~Cautions of Dual Enrollment~
While the benefits of dual enrollment are great, so are the risks. Don’t jump to enroll your students in dual enrollment without considering other factors.
A one-semester intro college course is equivalent to one year of high school study. College classes progress at an accelerated pace. If your student is not accustomed to faster pacing, he or she can quickly become overwhelmed and get behind with a shorter timeframe in which to recover. Furthermore, the grading structure of many college classes is such that exams and large projects make up the majority of the grade; there is no grade buffering with homework, which is often not handed in for credit. An overwhelmed student who hasn’t mastered the material well enough to perform solidly on an in-class exam is likely to flounder. Be sure your student is ready and will be successful before trying dual enrollment.
College grades follow the student. Additionally, college enrollment follows the student, so don’t think your student can just drop the class if they aren’t performing well. College applications will ask if the applicant has been previously enrolled at another institution and answering untruthfully can be considered academic dishonesty (with a possible rescinded admissions offer if discovered). Some may think that a low DE grade can be justified because the student “was just in high school,” but an admissions office will not view it that way. Instead, they will wonder if your student is ready for college classes given a previous poor performance. Just as dual enrollment can give your student a boost in college applications, it can also hurt them.
What is the maturity level of your student? College courses are not modified to accommodate young learners. Evaluate the subject and what adult topics could be covered, and then consider if your student has the maturity to be exposed to those topics. A class such as Composition 101 may seem like a safe choice until your student needs to peer review the paper of another much older student who has selected a mature topic for their paper. Furthermore, college classes have adult students who may or may not know, or care, that they are sitting in a classroom with a high school student. If your student isn’t ready to navigate social situations with adults, he or she may not be ready for college courses.
If your main goal of dual enrollment is to transfer credits as a cost or time savings, you could be disappointed depending on the college your student chooses for their degree. While it is true that dual enrollment could give your student a head start on their college career by knocking out some general education courses while in high school, it is also possible that courses may only transfer as elective credits and won’t eliminate any required classes. Furthermore, not all courses transfer the same to all colleges, and without knowing where your student will eventually enroll, it is sometimes difficult to predict the transferability.
~Is Dual Enrollment Right for My Student?~
A parent will often ask me if their student should dual enroll. Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question with anything more than “it depends.” I believe dual enrollment can be beneficial to many students, even those who aren’t top academic students. However, whether it is the right choice depends on the college, course, professor, and maturity of the student and academic readiness. There are too many factors for a blanket answer.
If you believe your student may be ready for dual enrollment after considering the above benefits and cautions, be sure you plan well.
Be careful to not overload your student and start slowly. Begin with one class and see how it goes. Select a class in an area of strength and one where success is likely. You want your student’s first experience with college to be a positive one. A student who struggles with an initial experience may wrongly conclude college isn’t for them.
A good — or bad — professor can make or break a college class experience. Choose professors wisely. The student reviews on www.ratemyprofessors.com are a helpful guide. Don’t go off just the rating overview — read the reviews. Sometimes, a student will give a professor a poor rating because they received a failing grade, even if deserved. Reading individual reviews can give you an idea of the professor’s style and approach as well as the type and length of assignments.
Meet with an admissions counselor, if available. They can guide you through the admissions process and give guidance on appropriate classes to take. For example, when one of my students first started dual enrollment, we considered an introductory anatomy course. The admissions counselor informed us that this particular course was a “weeder course” (a particularly challenging intro course to weed out weaker students) for the school’s competitive nursing program. While my student was strong in science and interested in the subject, we weren’t looking for a course that was unnecessarily difficult for a first experience.
If your goal is for credits to transfer toward requirements, research transferability. For example, Psychology is one of the most highly transferable courses; most colleges have it as one of their general education requirements. It is also a high-interest and accessible topic to most high school students. On the other hand, schools often have particular requirements for composition courses. For example, composition 101 at one school may not directly transfer to another school’s required composition course, or the school prefers that all incoming freshmen take the same composition course. If you have an idea of where your student may attend post-high school, you can explore the website transferology.com.
Consider your end goal and plan accordingly. Both of my students dual-enrolled, and the approach was different for each. One of my students wanted to have a 4-year college experience post-high school. The goal wasn’t really to knock out early credits. Instead, the goal was to meet current academic needs and to explore interests. In the end, she attended a small liberal arts college that took her DE credits almost exclusively as elective credits, though the extra elective credits gave her some flexibility (her major required 50 electives) to double major. If the primary goal was to transfer toward requirements, there might have been some disappointment. My other student desired to get through college as quickly as possible. As a result, the DE focus was more on highly transferable classes and some very focused interest-driven courses. He ended up attending a large state university where almost every course transferred directly as a required course and cut his post-high school college time by over a year. The extra incoming credits also gave some flexibility for a lighter load when some more challenging classes were on the schedule. For both, I believe the dual enrollment credits contributed a more competitive application, merit scholarships, and solid career direction.
Dual enrollment can be an excellent opportunity and experience for homeschooled high school students — given the right circumstances. However, if you are considering dual enrollment for your high schooler, be sure to consider not only your student’s readiness but how your student might benefit from the experience and how it fits with his or her long-term goals.