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How You Can Earn an Associate Degree in High School

Wish you could experience college life in high school? You could take college classes and earn enough credit for an associate degree through dual enrollment!

As a 15-year-old high school senior and a college sophomore, my educational experience has been anything but traditional. When I was 13 years old, I enrolled as a dual-enrollment student through the State College of Florida, taking two classes per semester in addition to a few online high school classes through Florida Virtual School. The next year, the College rolled out a brand-new program called the Collegiate School and gave me the opportunity to join. From that point on, I was considered both a high school junior and a college freshman, working to complete my high school diploma as well as my Associate of Arts degree through full-time college coursework.

This educational path has been rigorous but so rewarding, and you may have the opportunity to pursue something similar at your school. But you probably have a lot of questions about dual enrollment, from what the workload is like to how you can enroll. Here’s what you should know about these types of programs and how you can earn a college degree while you’re still in high school! 

What is dual enrollment?

There are a few differences between dual enrollment and Early College programs/collegiate schools. Dual enrollment is a great opportunity for high school students looking to get a head start on college and/or dip their feet into higher education. This type of program offers high school juniors and seniors the chance to take a couple of college courses for both high school and college credits while continuing their regular high school curriculum. 

On the other hand, as the Dallas Independent School District explains, “an Early College High School/Collegiate Academy is a high school that offers students the opportunity to earn dual credit—credit for both high school courses and college courses.” Like dual enrollment, tuition fees are most often waived, giving students the opportunity to achieve up to around 60 hours of college credit totally free. In addition, these programs offer ninth and 10th graders the chance to enroll in two to three basic college courses while they finish a few high school requirements and prepare to enter full-time college courses during their junior year, where they’ll continue their studies through 12th grade. Unlike dual-enrollment programs, collegiate schools and Early College programs operate independently—they are their own high school. For a rundown of dual enrollment/early college vs. AP, IP, or Honors courses, check out this article from Advantage College Planning

Why should I consider dual enrollment?

Other than the obvious benefit of earning college credit—and potentially your associate degree—while you’re still in high school, there are plenty of reasons you might choose to pursue a dual-enrollment program. For one, the independent environment of college fits much better than the traditional system for some high school students, providing an open opportunity to grow as a scholar and person. In addition, the higher level of courses will challenge your entire mind and beliefs, driving your abilities and intellect to new heights. 

However, these programs aren’t for everyone. Dual-enrollment/Early College programs are very rigorous and can be taxing on a student’s mental health—a significant con. Overall, whether this type of program would work for you depends entirely on who you are as a student. 

Testing into a dual-enrollment program

Most programs—both dual enrollment and Early College—require a significant amount of testing and paperwork before they let you enroll. Personally, I spent a few months brushing up on my math and reading analysis before taking the exam my college required (the PERT: Postsecondary Education Readiness Test). But if you’ve been doing well in the English and math courses at your school and/or on state tests, chances are you’ll do fine. If not, most programs offer you the opportunity to retest after a few months! 

Once you qualify score-wise, you’ll move onto the next steps: enrollment paperwork and class registration. Depending on the program, you may or may not have an advisor to help you figure out which classes to take and when, so be sure to spend some time to think about what you might want to major in in the future, and look at potential colleges’ admission requirements to make sure you’re making the best use of your time.

What will the first semester be like?

Once your first semester of dual enrollment officially begins, your college life will be a radically different environment compared to traditional high school. In college, there’s a lot more freedom and fewer people to hold you accountable for things such as attending class. There’s no structured lunch break either. When you have issues or questions, a lot of it is up to you to figure out. This level of independence can be intimidating, especially coming from a highly structured school experience, so it’s useful to work on your time management. Try to spend time on campus familiarizing yourself with the buildings and your new schedule, and set specific times when you’ll grab some food and take a break. Along with this lack of structure comes another complication: it can be easy to forget classes sometimes, at least at first, because unlike high school, your college classes will be every other day or even just once a week. I recommend setting reminders on your phone to help you adjust!

Related: Dual Enrollment: Online vs. On–Campus Classes

Tips from a dual-enrollment student

One thing I wish I’d done in my first semester was put myself out there more. Rather than sticking around to get to know my professors or chatting with my peers before class, I was the type of student to dart around and avoid social interactions, which didn’t help me in the long run. Having a few people in each class who you can rely on to give you notes if you have to miss a class, study with before exams, or just talk about the day’s lesson is so helpful, especially in your first semester of college. Here are a few more tips to help you make the most of dual enrollment. 

Getting involved

This is an important tip for both inside and outside of school: get out in the world, get your name out there, and get some experience. While academics are super important, it’s equally important to have life experience; plus, that experience can introduce you to totally new interests that you might like to pursue career-wise! You’ll also want to network as much as you can when you’re on campus. Talk to your professors, get to know your classmates, and take advantage of opportunities such as speaker series or guest lecturers. You never know who can become a mentor, teach you something new, or support you in this endeavor.

Writing

Another insider tip: pay a lot of attention to things like citation and writing in your Writing 1 and 2 classes. It might seem silly, and you may not care at the time, but knowing how to properly cite things (without help from Citation Machine) is going to be massively important. Plus, improving your writing skills will give you an edge in a lot of your classes as well as your future college applications.

Grades

When you’re in a dual-enrollment or Early College program, you need to accept that you may, at times, get a lower grade than you would’ve liked. College is difficult as is, and it’s even more difficult going in as a high school student. It’s important to give yourself grace and understand that you’re doing your best.

Related: How to Make the Most of Your Education in College 

There you have it: a comprehensive guide detailing how you can earn your associate degree in high school, what dual enrollment is really like, and top tips straight from someone who’s been there, done that. It’s a lot of work, but anything worth doing is going to be challenging. Good luck!

Learn how to prepare for college-level work in our Majors and Academics section.

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About Maggie Jordan

Maggie Jordan is an undergraduate student currently studying for her Associate of Arts degree. As an avid reader and passionate advocate for the environment, she plans to double-major in English and Environmental Engineering. When she isn’t busy studying or writing short stories and poetry, Maggie enjoys being a student leader for the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) and volunteering at various nonprofit organizations like BEAM, where she tutors her peers in reading, writing, and college admission. She also enjoys hanging out with her two llamas, Gold Rush and Chewy.

 

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