What’s the Deal with Dual Enrollment?

Dual enrollment for homeschoolers is a hot topic these days, and depending on who you ask, it’s considered either the greatest thing since the personal computer, or an expensive and overrated excuse to take courses outside the home. The real answer is somewhere in between.

First of all, what is dual enrollment? Glad you asked. Dual enrollment is a process where a high school student can take college level courses at a local college or university, while still in high school, often at a reduced rate. These courses will generally count towards both high school and college credits.
So far so good? Keep reading, there’s a lot more to learn.

Since these courses count towards high school credits, a student could take a course that his parent-teacher is not well versed in, which would ease the burden and learning curve for the parent. The drawback of course, is that the parent is not teaching the student, so technically, it’s not “home schooling.”

Since the courses are actual college courses, (as well as counting for high school credit) they should transfer to most colleges or universities upon your student’s graduation. This can be a great way for him or her to gain some basic 100-level courses while still in the high school years.

Simple enough? Now for the complications.

Depending upon the college or university your student is considering, these courses may or may not transfer; it will depend upon the school’s admissions policy regarding transfer credits. For instance, most Ivy League and Tier 1 schools seldom allow transfer students or transfer credits. If your student plans on attending one of these schools, be aware that his or her hard-earned dual enrollment college credits may be for naught.

On the flip side of this, if a student is simply trying to get into a local state university, most likely these credits will transfer in without hassle. You will probably need to provide a copy of the course description from the school’s website or course catalog to confirm the similarity between their own offerings, and the course(s) taken. This is a standard requirement.

One of the first questions parents ask me regarding dual enrollment is how this can effect scholarships and financial aid. This is a tricky issue, and here’s why.

Depending upon the number of dual enrollment credit hours your student has completed, he or she may not be considered a “first-time-freshman.” If this is the case, he or she will be ineligible for most scholarships, specifically those designed for college freshman, and typically the most lucrative. A “first-time-freshman” is a student who is not transferring from another college or university, but attending for the “first-time.” This is not a hard and fast rule, it will depend upon the number of credit hours completed. Most schools have a standard that says if a student has 24-30 or more college credits completed, he or she is a transfer student, and not a first-time-freshman.

Something else that can make a difference is whether or not the credits taken actually transfer in. Post-secondary institutions are under no obligation to accept transfer credits from another institution, although a good majority do; with the exception I mentioned before, Ivy League and Tier 1 schools. These schools may not even consider a student for admission if he or she is labeled a “transfer student.”

Another aspect to consider is the cost. When a student dually enrolls, he or she is considered a “non-degree-seeking” student. This would be similar to you or I going back to school and just taking a class or two for fun. Because of this, he or she probably won’t qualify for any type of financial aid for these courses. The good news is that some schools offer dual enrollment courses at reduced rates. Even if they don’t, since most students will be taking them at a state school or community college, the costs incurred will be negligible, in comparison to courses taken at a private institution. (Dual enrollment can also be taken at private schools, and they are more likely to offer a reduced tuition rate compared to their normal degree-seeking student rates.)

So, now that I’ve thoroughly confused you, here’s why I’d always recommend your student take dual enrollment courses. Number one is credibility. The largest complaint from college and university admissions counselors dealing with homeschooled students, is the lack of objective grades and transcripts. Dual enrollment can help alleviate this argument by proving that your student can hack it. (Standardized test scores are another way, but we’ll talk about that in a future posting.)

The second reason is cost. So long as your son or daughter is not attempting to get into Harvard or Yale, have him or her take as many dual enrollment courses as possible, as the cost savings will be significant. I personally know a homeschooling family who have had their daughters take dual enrollment courses throughout high school, and upon graduation, the girls entered the university at the junior level, due to the sheer amount of dual enrollment courses completed. Since most of these courses are taken at the local community college and transfer in, this represents a substantial savings over attending the university for all four years. For a family on a budget, or the student who’s not getting massive scholarships, this is huge!

The third reason is experience. Even if your student only takes one dual enrollment course at the local community college, he or she will have gained a great experience by simply observing a typical college lecture course.

Since there are so many possible course options, have your student take classes that he or she is really interested in, or ones that can’t be taught at home. Maybe that’s photography, botany, or even psychology. The most popular dual enrollment courses tend to be English, math, and history, simply because these are all required courses at most universities, no matter what major is chosen.

So how do you go about signing up your son or daughter to take these courses? That’s the easy part. Call up your local community college or university and ask what their entrance requirements are. You can also inquire if they offer a dual enrollment program, and if there are age or grade restrictions. Since every school is different, the requirements to enroll will vary. You may need to provide a PSAT score and transcript, or perhaps nothing at all. Do your due diligence and it will work out fine.

There you have it. The whole scoop on dual enrollment courses. Need something clarified? Let me know.


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