Considerations in Early College Attendance

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By Tonya L. Andersen

Early college attendance seems to be on the upswing; both in actuality and in mindshare. I often hear about high school students taking a college class trying to differentiate themselves in the ever competitive college admissions race. Parents of gifted students looking for more academic rigor and advanced coursework for their child are considering their local college as a resource. And I also hear from other homeschoolers looking to provide additional academic rigor, access to science labs and/or ‘classroom’ experience for their children prior to standard college admissions. In all these discussions, the first question seems to be, “Is my child really ready for a college course?”

Readiness for college is based on academic strengths, maturity of the student and their ability to succeed in a college environment. While I don’t think there is a checklist per se that will provide a yes/no answer, the following bullet points are guidelines that I often give parents to think about and discuss with their sons and daughters. It’s not a comprehensive list, but does cover the basics of early college consideration.

On Admissions and Costs:

  • Colleges often offer dual-enrollment programs to local high school students and homeschoolers. Information on the program and how to apply is often on the college’s website.
  • College admissions offices expect to see the student take the lead in admission. Parents of early college students should be there to support the student; dealing only with admissions counselors and the business office as needed.
  • Early entrance students may have to take a placement test in math and English. This test is commonly known as the "Ability to Benefit" test and usually computer-based. A quick search for 'Accuplacer', ‘Compass Test’ or 'Ability to Benefit' will provide several examples of this basic test.
  • Federal financial aid is not readily available to early college students unless they have 'graduated' high school. Some states provide "Running Start" programs that are funded for early college students and others have discounted or free dual enrollment programs. Always ask the admissions counselor about possible funding sources, but be prepared to pay the full tuition and fees for your young student.

Course Selection:

  • Students considering early college should start with one class in an area of strength and build from there.
  • Consideration as to class size should be made. Early college students should think about the environment that they will thrive in (small class or large lecture hall) and choose their opportunities appropriately.
  • It is wise to check the course syllabus on-line prior to registering for a course (great way to check depth, pace and workload) and to make a visit to the college bookstore to review the texts.
  • Many colleges have an intensive writing focus called “Writing Across the Curriculum.” This focus means even some math and science courses may be writing intensive and noted as such in the course descriptions. If you are looking for math or science courses, but have a reluctant writer, be sure and check the course’s writing requirements prior to registration.

Classroom Interactions:

  • All communication with the Professors should be from the student and not the parent.
  • Don't expect the Professor to make accommodations for your child based on age. If the student cannot handle the content, pace, work load, group work, etc. (with the exception of documented disabilities), find another course or wait a year. The less your student is singled out the better.
  • Students should be prepared to block out significant time for homework. The general estimate is that there is approximately 2 - 3 hours of homework for every hour of class time. Thus a 3 credit French class may require 6 – 9 hours of homework weekly.
  • Students should be coached on proper classroom etiquette prior to the start of their first class. They should purchase the text prior to the first class, arrive on time, take a seat and be prepared to take notes.
  • Students should not answer every question asked in class. Raising one's hand every 8th or 10th question is a good guide. The Professors are very aware who knows the material and who does not.

Other implications of early college:

  • Due to Federal law (FERPA), your child’s college experience is between the college and the student; even if they are a minor. Transcripts are between the student and the college as are other communications. Your child may be able to sign a waiver for you to receive transcripts, but otherwise, all requests and access are only from the student.
  • Families should carefully consider the ramifications of early college for credit. Too many courses may limit a student’s ability to apply as a freshman at the college of their choice and courses listed on a high school transcript usually do not transfer for credit.
  • Maintaining a reasonable GPA is key as many early college programs have minimum GPA requirements to stay in the program.
  • Expect get-acquainted questions from other students on campus and roleplay short answers to the common questions for other students. Common questions include, "Where did you go to high school?" "What is your major?" "What town are you from?" and for the younger set (either in age, looks or both): "How old are you anyway?" "How come you are so young?” and “Are you a genius or something?"

Early college studies can provide a great benefit to the student and their families. With some common sense and upfront planning, your student can thrive with access to more advanced curriculum!


Tonya L. Andersen is a former high-tech professional, presenter at gifted conferences, curriculum consultant, homeschooling parent and mom to an early college student. She’s also a new blogger and her resource listings can be found at http://twokidsonedog.com/blog

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