Getting a Head Start: How Students can Earn College Credits in high school

Getting a Head Start: How Students can Earn College Credits in high school

- in 2019 Editions, Education, Magazine, October 2019, Teens
Adrianna Lakatos, a Chardon High School graduate, also earned an associate’s degree from Lakeland Community College in Kirtland and a bachelor’s degree from Lake Erie College in Panesville Township through the College Credit Plus program.

Adrianna Lakatos graduated this past May from Chardon High School. Like her classmates, she had spent her high school days doing the things she loved: drama club, attending football games and class events, and hanging out with her friends. But, as many of her class of 2019 classmates were just starting to think about going off to college, Adrianna was already looking at career opportunities. 

That’s because Adrianna graduated high school already having completed her associate’s and bachelor’s degrees at local colleges.

She was 16 when she earned her associate of arts from Lakeland Community College in Kirtland. Just two weeks prior to walking with her Chardon High School graduating class at the age of 18, she earned her bachelor’s degree in communications with a minor in marketing from Lake Erie College in Painesville Township. 


Set on an Early Path

Chardon High School offers College Credit Plus programming that allowed Adrianna to start taking college courses during her freshman year. College Credit Plus (CCP) is a dual-enrollment program in the state of Ohio that enables students from grades seventh through 12th to earn both high school and college credits simultaneously. Classes may be offered at the high school, online or on the college campus.

“I started off slowly my freshman year,” Adrianna says. “I took three classes at Chardon High School and two or three classes at Lakeland the first semester. I sort of eased into it to make sure I liked it.” 

As she became accustomed to the rigor and schedule of the CCP program, she began to spend more and more time in college classrooms or completing courses online. She was accepted into Lake Erie College just before her junior year at Chardon, and she spent her last two years without a class at Chardon High School.  

“It worked out better with my schedule, and there was a lot more responsibility and a lot more class offerings [on campus],” Adrianna says. “What kind of helped me through that to keep some of the normal high school experience was that I was in the drama club all four years and did the all-age shows and stage crews. I was at my school, talking to kids my age, and at school functions. It kept me in the loop of what was going on.”


Options Abound

While Adrianna’s path was anything but typical, it shows what’s possible for students who take advantage of the programs available for early college credit. Depending on your school district, there may be several options that you and your child can explore. 

CCP is offered to all students in the state of Ohio, including public, homeschool and non-public high school students. Other programs include Advanced Placement (AP) coursework, which enables college credit for a designated high school course that has been audited by the College Board; International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IB), which is available for 16- to 19-year-olds and is globally recognized for its focus on personal, professional and academic development; and Career Technical programming, which often is a partnership with technical institutions to further coursework in that field of study.

The availability of AP, IB and Career Tech programming varies across school districts, so the best route to take if you and your student are interested in earning post-secondary credit is to talk with your school’s guidance counselor. 


Is it Right for Your Student?

There are a lot of things to consider when you and your child start thinking about post-secondary education. The most important is to know whether they are college-ready on both an academic and maturity level. 

“Adrianna had always been involved, and even as early as elementary school she was taking advanced classes,” says Lisa Lakatos, Adrianna’s mother. “She always did her homework, she liked school, she was excited about school. So I always kind of knew that she was probably going to be involved with the program.”

To qualify for CCP, a student has to be accepted into the college where they’ll be taking classes, and meet all the entry requirements for courses, (just like they would if they were applying after high school,) Therefore, while there may not be a certain GPA for a given organization, there may be testing standards and placements that must be met. 

Parents should remember that qualification and actual readiness can be two different things though, according to Heike Heinrich, director of student success programs at Cleveland State University.   

“In CCP, the student is creating an academic record that will follow them wherever they go,” she says. “Students need to take their college classes seriously and do well in their coursework. There are programs in which there is no ‘do-over’ or ‘starting from scratch.’ A bad grade in biology or chemistry can potentially disqualify students from highly selective programs in the future — like nursing, for example.”

Even though students as young as seventh grade can qualify for CCP, that may not be the best time to start them, she says. 

“The actual time to sign up for CCP really depends on the student’s maturity level and the course location,” Heinrich says. “If the student physically takes the course on a college campus, parents should ask themselves: Is my child academically ready to complete college-level coursework? Is my child ready to commute to campus? Is my child emotionally ready to deal with adult and mature course content? Is my child ready to independently follow the social and academic rules and regulations in a college environment? If the answers to these questions are ‘yes,’ and their high school counselor has been consulted and concurs, it is time to sign up.”

Likewise, it’s equally important to know whether and how credits will transfer so that there aren’t any surprises after high school graduation. 

“With any of these options — AP, IB, Career Technical courses, or CCP — it is important for students to consult with the college or university where they plan to attend to determine not only whether that institution will accept any or all of these options for college credit, but how that credit will apply to their intended college degree program,” says Johanna Pionke, director of alternative credit and articulation agreements at Kent State University. 


Benefits of Early College Credit

The advantages are huge if your student is a good fit for one of the programs — and it goes way beyond just getting college degrees faster. 

“These courses provide opportunities for students to explore career interests, are academically challenging, and may enhance their college readiness and success,” Pionke says. “Some colleges with competitive admissions processes may weight applicants who have taken challenging coursework higher than applicants who choose not to take any of these. Depending upon the number of college credits earned, these options may reduce the time needed to earn a college degree, thus saving the student and their family money.”

Earning post-secondary credit through public high school programs often is tuition-free — including textbooks — up to a certain number of credits. That translates to incredible cost savings that could impact how a graduate starts off their adult life. 

While the students are still in high school, these types of courses also can shape their study habits and help them decide what they’d like to do as a career. 

“There’s also the experience,” says Karen Brown, director of strategic initiatives for Euclid City School District. “How many college students change majors? How many decide what may or may not be for them and end up having an extended stay in college? With CCP, students are able to experiment a bit without the cost of that experimentation.”

Brown notes that there are several basic courses that all college students need to take that are particularly suited for CCP, particularly for those who aren’t positive about which career path they’d like to pursue. 


Prep Work

The best resource available to parents and students when considering post-secondary education is their high school guidance counselor. They should work with you to understand the requirements and options available for your given school district, as well as the right fit for your student in terms of courses, workload and institutions. 

Meeting with a high school counselor is the best way to talk through readiness and requirements, says Gabrielle Perrin, CCP coordinator for Shaker Heights High School and administrative assistant for the counseling department.

“You have to take a little time with your counselor to assess whether you can be admitted and then what courses you have to take,” she says. “You have to follow any prerequisites the college sets forth for any course. There’s also where your student is in their own personal growth and maturity, which is important as well. That’s up to the family to decide whether a student is ready or not.” 

Brown advises that students, when talking with their counselors, “establish some goals and those goals should be around what the student’s interests are in both short-term and long-term.”

Also, counselors are connected to the contacts at universities, to whom they can refer you for specific questions about transferring credits and pursuing degrees. 

“The high school counselor is great, but their knowledge (can be) limited,” Brown says. “The resources at the college understand the different pathways available at the college level and can help students navigate what needs to be done to maximize the number of credits they can get. There are resources from both the college and high school that (students) can use.”

Adrianna offers advice to those who may think they’re not “good enough” students to pursue post-secondary education in high school. 

“You definitely don’t need to be a valedictorian, straight-A, perfect student to do this,” she says. “Even for me, I was never that student. As long as your GPA meets your high school’s requirements and it’s something you want to do, you can do it.”

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