How to Take College Classes in High School & the Benefits

How to Take College Classes in High School & the Benefits

10 minute read

College-bound high school students already have a lot to consider. You’re likely taking the best classes you can, filling up those extracurriculars, and racking up community service hours. You may know exactly where you want to apply, or you may be just starting your college search. As you prepare yourself for your college years, you’re probably also thinking about how to pay for college – and how to make the most of your time there.  One answer to both concerns: take college courses while you’re still in high school. Even though this can mean more work for the average high school student, the payoff is usually worth it. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of taking college classes in high school and some of the options for doing so.

Can You Take College Classes in High School?

Yes, you can! In fact, there are several ways to start building college credit while you’re still in high school. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Here’s more information on the benefits of taking college classes in high school, and how you can earn credits months (or even years!) before freshman orientation.

Why Consider Taking College Classes in High School?

For college-bound high school students, taking college classes in high school can optimize your campus experience once you get there. Off-campus college courses can save you money and time as well as help you get even closer to your chosen career path.

Skip the Adjustment Period

One of the most jarring adjustments for students entering college is often the increased level of performance expected of them in their new classes. College courses are usually more time intensive than high school courses, requiring more effort and focus both inside and outside of class. They also may require a higher level of critical thinking and writing skills. By taking college classes in high school, you can start to get a taste of what college-level work is like, helping make the transition and adjustment to college much smoother once you step foot on campus.

Lower the Cost of Your Education

By taking college classes in high school, it’s possible to earn up to two years’ worth of college credits before you even apply for a degree program. Every semester of credit earned while in high school is a semester of tuition, books, and other college expenses you save. This can add up to tens of thousands of dollars saved by students and their families. Online courses especially can save you money while fulfilling some of your prerequisite and general education requirements from the comfort of home. For example, the average college class, including tuition, room, board, and other expenses, cost about $1,170 as of 2022. A class from StraighterLine, on the other hand, such as College Algebra, earns you 3 college credits, includes tutoring, textbooks, and proctoring for your final exam, and it may cover your math requirement when you get to college. And that class will cost just $158 (the cost of the class plus one month of our membership).

Take More Classes That Interest You

Most colleges require that all students complete certain general education courses before graduation. This means that no matter what your major, you’ll be required to take certain core classes.  Some common gen ed requirements include:

By taking college classes in high school, you can get a head start on your college education by knocking these gen ed requirements out of the way early. Now that you’ve saved time on these courses, you have more room in your college schedule to focus on your interests, including clubs and classes that fulfill your hobbies or help build your career. Let’s say you’d like to be a business major, for example. By getting ahead on some of your college requirements while you’re still in high school, you can spend your time on campus participating in niche honors organizations like Beta Alpha Psi and taking specialized finance classes, instead of worrying about English Composition.

Finish College Sooner

In addition to saving money on tuition and other educational expenses as well as freeing up more room in your schedule to explore your interests, taking college classes in high school can also help you finish college sooner.  Not only is graduating early another way to save money, but it also means getting a head start on your career path and having a competitive edge over your peers to earn job experience sooner that employers might be looking for.

How to Take College Classes in High School

There’s no one “right” way to take college courses in high school. Much will depend on your workload, stamina, and budgetary considerations. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ways to earn college credit before high school graduation to give yourself that competitive edge when you get to college.

Community College Classes

Taking classes at your local community college while still enrolled in high school is called “dual enrollment.” Community colleges are generally more affordable than 4-year colleges and universities while offering courses of similar quality.  Community college classes can sometimes be taken in the evenings, on weekends, or during your summer break so they don’t interfere with your regular high school schedule. The best part? Some community college classes will also count toward your high school graduation requirements! The downside to community college is that if the classes you want to take aren’t offered online, you’ll have an extra commute to consider.

AP Classes and Exams

Advanced Placement (AP) classes offer college-level courses in high school. AP classes are taught in all high school grades but are most popular in 11th and 12th grades as students prepare for college. These classes are designed to be as rigorous and challenging as any college class.  Students take AP classes as part of their regular high school schedule. For example, instead of taking regular high school English, or even Honors English, you might take AP English to try to earn college credit. Some common AP classes include:

  • AP US History
  • AP World History
  • AP Computer Science
  • AP Art & Design
  • AP Research
  • AP English Lit & Composition
  • AP French
  • AP Japanese

At the end of the school year, students take an AP exam administered by the College Board. These exams are scored between 1 and 5, and most colleges require a 3 or higher to qualify for credit.

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Program

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma program is an alternative to AP classes and offers students the opportunity to advance their studies through critical thinking skills and college-level work. This diploma is earned by completing a special curriculum that covers all basic areas of knowledge, such as language, mathematics, experimental science, and humanities, and is considered in many countries a qualification to enter university. Some high schools offer an IB program within the regular curriculum, and some high schools are IB only.  Like AP classes, the IB program is rigorous and challenging, but less focused on tests than AP classes. A recent study shows that IB students are up to 22% more likely to get accepted into high-ranking colleges and universities than their non-IB peers. However, IB programs are often so intense that they leave students with little time or energy to pursue extracurricular activities, they can be costly, and are not universally accepted among colleges and universities.

Online College Classes

Online courses are one of the best ways to earn college credit in high school. You take them in the comfort of your own home and save money on education costs. They may fall into three categories: courses offered by online colleges and universities, courses offered by traditional schools, and courses offered by online education providers like StraighterLine.  In all cases, unless the courses are offered directly through the college or university you eventually attend, the courses need to be transferred to and accepted for credit by that school. You’ll want to do your research to make sure the credits you earn will transfer to your chosen college. One of the best ways to increase your chances of successfully transferring credit is to look for courses that have been reviewed and recommended by the American Council on Education (ACE). Thousands of colleges participate in the ACE Credit program, so courses reviewed by ACE are more likely to be accepted at those schools. When looking at online college courses, it’s also important to consider things like whether the classes are synchronous (taken at specific times) vs asynchronous (taken on your own time), access to instructors or class administrators, and cost per credit. Programs like StraighterLine let you take college-level courses at your own pace, include free on-demand tutoring 7 days a week, and are transferable to over 150 StraighterLine partner colleges and more than 2,000 other colleges since all of our courses have been reviewed and recommended by ACE.

Considerations for Which Classes to Take

If you’re thinking about taking college classes in high school through dual enrollment or an online education provider, it’s even more important to plan out your choices and your schedule carefully. Picking the right classes can mean a head start on your graduation requirements or your career.  When thinking about what classes you want to take, consider whether it’s a class your high school already offers and whether it will count toward your academic or professional goals. No matter the classes you’re looking for, StraighterLine has one (or several) for you. These are just a few of the classes we offer for college-bound high school students. To take care of some of those general education requirements:

For future pre-med majors:

For future business majors:

And that’s just the bird’s eye view. Explore our courses to find the right one for you.

Save Time and Money with StraighterLine's Online Classes

StraighterLine is designed to help all students achieve college success. Our courses teach you what you need to know, and most of our students finish their courses in 4-6 weeks. The cost of a course includes your textbook and access to tutoring services, so you have all the resources you need to succeed, even before you step foot on campus. Contact us online or call us at (877) 787-8375 today to chat with a StraighterLine enrollment counselor to find out how we can help you save time and money jumpstarting your college career.

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