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Degree Planning 101 (part 1)

PART 1 of 4

Degree planning, in contrast to high school planning, is when your teen’s courses are selected to meet the requirements for a college degree. Resourceful high school planning, something we’re especially focused on here, is considering those requirements while your teen is still in high school and thoughtfully injecting college credit into your homeschool program where it makes sense. Since planning a high school diploma is already a big job for most of us, degree planning can feel unachievable. In this 4-part series, I’d like to talk more with you about degree planning. 


Why not?

As a general rule of thumb, most of you shouldn’t do degree planning in high school. In Homeschooling for College Credit, I take great care to emphasize to parents that their focus should always be on their teen’s high school diploma, not a college degree. It’s important for me to start with that reminder because degree planning is becoming more popular and there are a lot of GREAT reasons to do it (which I will share in this series), but if you feel yourself forcing your teen into a path before they’re ready it’s likely to backfire, and we don’t want that.

When parents land here, it’s exciting, so they are really eager to get going with a plan!  I get it, I’m that parent too. I have spreadsheets and charts for each of my sons, and I can sometimes let my “planning gene” overrule my patience with their (im)maturity and indecision about an occupation. I always knew that I wanted to be a chef, so it’s not easy to me to hear my son’s indecision…. especially since I’ve already mapped out a plan in Excel. (!)

I confess that right from the beginning because I sincerely do remind myself that “having a plan” is not a better goal than “making good decisions” as a family with my sons. Ultimately, we all want to do the right thing for our kids- we want them to have a strong educational foundation, love learning, develop a strong moral character, and pursue training after high school that leads them toward a joyous career that supports our grandchildren! Sometimes that includes a degree.

What You’ll Give Away

Degree planning in high school changes how you make your homeschool schedule because you’ll have to follow the requirements spelled out by a college. To give you an example of how this slight shift can make parents crazy, here’s an example:

A 9th-grade student studies for and passes the English Composition CLEP exam. This exam is worth six college credits at their target college and happens to meet their ENTIRE degree requirement for English 101 and English 102. 

The dilemma you’ll face is whether or not your teen should continue taking English courses in 10th, 11th, and 12th grade. 

Some will argue “yes” because having four units of Language Arts is important, but others will argue “no” because it wastes time on courses that won’t count toward their degree.  

As you can see, this is a difficult decision to make, and it will come up time and again in other subjects as well. For a degree that doesn’t require history credit, do you omit high school history? Is that a trade-off you’ll make?

Good Candidates

Even though we’ll spend these next sessions learning the basics of degree planning, keep in mind that ANY college credit your teen earns in high school puts them ahead. Your teen doesn’t have to earn a college degree in high school! But, if your teen falls into one of the categories below, you’re probably already thinking about degree planning (and maybe they are, too!). I think there are a few situations that lend themselves really well to degree planning in high school.

Your teen is an entrepreneur. Entrepreneur teens focus on solutions and often end up starting their own business. If your teen is an entrepreneur, you probably already feel like they are revving their engines while being stuck in neutral. Teens with small businesses, or those getting ready to launch one, tend to have an above-average level of motivation and drive. These teens may look at school as “checking the box” so they can get busy with their real life. Further, they think spending 4 years to earn a college degree might be a waste of time or money. Entrepreneurs make excellent candidates for degree planning in high school and, when given the opportunity for a self-paced curriculum or credit by exam, generally finish a degree in about half the time.

Your state has a free dual enrollment program.  While most states have some kind of dual enrollment program, a few states offer these programs for free. This is not to suggest you force your teen into a program before they’re ready, but if your teen is ready and eligible, free dual enrollment can be a lifesaver. Not all dual enrollment programs end in a degree, but if yours does then degree planning becomes very important. In states that extend these benefits, it is typical for students to be able to pursue an associate degree. Besides the cost savings, these programs can shave years off of the amount of time it takes your teen to graduate from college.

You plan to use distance learning.  Many majors, especially those that don’t have a hands-on-component, such as American history, English, literature, liberal arts, business, math, psychology, politics, finance, economics, social science, geography, etc. lend themselves perfectly to a distance learning program. There are a handful of colleges offering several hundred majors in fields that work perfectly with distance learning. A bonus is that they tend to allow as much as 75% of the degree to be planned and transferred. This means that by resourcefully planning and completing the first 90 credits at home, your teen can then graduate high school and complete the last 30 online. When you hear about college degrees for “under $15,000” this is what they’re talking about. These high transfer colleges specialize in DIY degree planning, which is perfect for a motivated homeschool family.

Your budget is zero. I realize that sounds extreme, but for many parents, their college savings is zero, and if their teen is to attend college, they plan to borrow every penny. This is for the average student who doesn’t have a college fund and doesn’t have a plan. For this group, I think degree planning in high school is an excellent plan, and it’s how I would advise you to progress through college debt-free. When your budget is zero, there are a handful of colleges that I suggest you use.  I call these colleges “High Transfer Colleges” because they allow you to take maximum advantage of alternative (inexpensive) credit and DIY your plan from home.  High Transfer Colleges still have expensive tuition, but because they are among the most flexible, and the most transfer-friendly, families don’t pay expensive tuition.  They carefully and resourcefully plan each and every credit at home, deliberately completing each degree requirement along the way.  Credit earned this way ranges from $0 to $100 per credit.  An excellent degree at a High Transfer College plan can bring the cost of your teen’s first 3 years of college to under $3,000.


Poor Candidates

I think it’s fair to share some scenarios where I think degree planning in high school is a bad plan. As always, you are your teen’s best guidance counselor, and there are a dozen factors at play besides these, but if you fit into one of the categories below, my advice is to keep diploma planning. Focus on high school, and allow college credit to come into your homeschool where it makes sense. Your teen can still earn 30+ college credits without degree planning!

Your teen is academically gifted.  It seems counter-intuitive but academically gifted students will benefit from the enriching environment of being on campus with smart people who challenge them. They thrive when they have access to large libraries, high-tech labs, and engaging professors. These teens aren’t annoyed by classes, they look forward to them! For these students, testing out of a class or finishing a degree early may leave them feeling unfulfilled. Allow them to pursue college classes that keep their passion burning, and allows them to engage with others who share their passion. If college classes break the budget, allow them to do independent study and follow up with Advanced Placement exams.

Your teen is undecided about their occupation. If your teen is completely undecided about their potential occupation, degree planning is a recipe for disaster.  Selecting an occupation, or at the very least having a vague idea (“something with computers”) is an essential starting point. All great plans work backward from the occupation. Only after you know their occupation can you determine the right kind of credential or degree, and only after you know what kind of degree they need can you begin planning it. For these students, keep allowing them to explore their interests, and inject college credit where it makes sense- degree planning should wait.

Your teen’s target college doesn’t accept transfer credit. The entire premise of homeschooling FOR college credit assumes that your teen will earn college credit and that it will apply to a degree at some point. If you have your heart set on a program that doesn’t accept transfer credit, there is no point to degree planning. Simply, your teen can take college classes for their educational value, but degree planning is overkill. Still, since the college completion rate is only about 50%, my advice is to allow your teen to accumulate some college credit where it makes sense, even if you don’t think they’ll use it. Most (unused) college credit is good for 20 years or more, so in the event of a move, college transfer, or other life situation that takes them in a different direction, they’ve got credit tucked away and ready to use if need be.


Looking Ahead

Degree planning in high school allows a parent to use the knowledge that they have about a college’s credit acceptance and credit transfer policy and use it to their advantage. If your teen’s target college spells out a list of CLEP exams they’ll allow for college credit, resourceful parents can take advantage of that information by carefully choosing the exams that will meet their teen’s college requirements and high school requirements simultaneously. If you’re ready to do a degree plan, there’s a lot to learn, so let’s get started!

Join our Degree Planning Facebook Group

Keep reading:  Degree Planning Part 2


You might like:

Degree Planning Masterclass for Parents

30 Ways to Earn College Credit

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Degree Planning 101, Part 2 of 4

Degree Planning 101, Part 3 of 4

Degree Planning 101, Part 4 or 4



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