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Has Your Homeschooling for College Credit Program Gone too Far?

Throwback to 2012 when I wrote this, “Whatever credit your child earns, even if it’s just one, is a step in the right direction!” I’ve always been a cheerleader for average students gifted with motivated parents- mainly because those are my people- that’s me. Deliberate and intentional homeschooling with average and sometimes passive kids. What could go wrong?

Homeschooling for College Credit looks different in every family. We have thousands of families here who will graduate teens having completed one or two college classes, and then we have others who will complete a degree! That’s a huge spectrum and where you fall doesn’t matter- you’re still taking advantage of an amazing opportunity to save money and shave time off your teen’s degree. If your teen earns even one college credit, he’s ahead!!

But like anything, being extreme can actually do more harm than good. When our enthusiasm goes unchecked, we can let credit-earning rule our school.

Credit earning rules your school. When credit-earning rules your school, we take our Homeschooling for College Credit plan too far and everything reasonable takes a backseat.   Signs that this might be happening in your homeschool include:

    • Always choosing a college credit-bearing option over other options even when a high school level might make more sense for your teen.
    • You find yourself totally rearranging your homeschool program to make room for college credit despite feeling really confident about the scope and sequence of your prior high school plan.
    • The time it takes for your teen to learn a subject properly is replaced by a parent’s drive to accumulate credit.
    • You find yourself moving faster and faster and faster.
    • You’re focused on the credit acceptance policies of one or two colleges before 10th grade.
    • You press your teen to “choose a major” or “choose a college” or “choose a career” so you can plan their college credit NOW.
    • You’re uneasy about your teen changing their mind about their major, college, or career because it disturbs “your plan.”
    • You’re making every decision for your teen regarding their major, college, or career.

Each of these pitfalls has a cousin, and that cousin is Moderation. When done in moderation, you can bring college credit into your homeschool in a way that benefits your teen, your homeschool program, and your budget!

Pitfall:  Always choosing a college credit-bearing option over other options even when a high school level might make more sense for your teen.  

Moderation:  A typical high school program encourages teens to explore a variety of subjects and interests. A student’s ability, aptitude, and interests become fine-tuned when they have an opportunity to experience these classes. Consider deliberately adding electives that don’t generate college credit but still generate high school credit.  Music lessons, driver’s ed, art, industrial arts, personal finance, debate, leadership, career exploration, etc. and even unpaid internships or volunteer opportunities are all important for a well-balanced program.

Pitfall:  You find yourself totally rearranging your homeschool program to make room for college credit despite feeling really confident about the scope and sequence of your prior high school plan.

Moderation:  If you have your copy of Homeschooling for College Credit handy, revisit Chapter 4: High School Planning! When you build your high school plan, I encourage you to make the plan as if you don’t know anything about earning college credit. If four years of history was important to you BEFORE you learned about earning college credit, it should remain important to you AFTER you’ve written a college credit plan. Bring college credit into YOUR plan; don’t revamp your entire plan to force college credit.

Pitfall:  The time it takes for your teen to learn a subject properly is replaced by a parent’s drive to accumulate credit.

Moderation:  If you shift your focus away from completion of credit, and instead consider each course as an “opportunity” to earn college credit, you can moderate your approach.  As an example, if you’ve planned for your student to take the American Literature CLEP exam at the end of this school year, you have an opportunity to allow an amazing year-long experience. In addition to reading whole works (not just Cliffs Notes), you can watch movies inspired by the book, learn about the author, write about the historical significance of the work, and analyze and evaluate why the book has stood the test of time. After a robust and deep learning experience, it’s totally appropriate to pick up a “CLEP Prep” guide and memorize authors, dates, titles, etc. Even if your teen doesn’t pass the CLEP exam, they’ve received a great education on the topic- the CLEP is frosting on the cake. For parents who focus only on accumulating credit via quick study, a failed CLEP exam is devastating because without the “college credit” their teen leaves with nothing.

Pitfall:  You find yourself moving faster and faster and faster.

Moderation:  This is a big one!! When I took my first CLEP exam, I studied “just enough” to pass in a few weeks. It only took me six months to test out of an entire associate degree (60 college credits) but I’m an adult who already went to high school. I did my share of slow-learning for DECADES before ever attempting to zip through Psych 101 CLEP. Think of the accumulation of facts and figures through memorizing a little like playing a game of Trivial Pursuit. When an adult learner acquires a new piece of information (a fact) it’s learned differently than when a young person acquires a new piece of information. Adults have “years on the planet” that inform how we process our new bits of trivia- children and teens simply haven’t been alive long enough to match our learning process. Adults can “evaluate and create” new knowledge with every new additional fact, while young people are still building their understanding of the world. While you can earn college credit by simply recognizing and recalling facts, it speeds past the opportunity to understand, apply, and analyze how those facts fit in their world. (Real) learning takes a long time – even for very smart kids. Allow your program the gift of slowing down.

Using Bloom's Taxonomy to Write Effective Learning Objectives ...

Pitfall:  You’re focused on the credit acceptance policies of one or two colleges before 10th grade. 

Moderation:  First of all, I do think a parent’s guidance should heavily influence where a teen goes to college. Parents bring wisdom to the table that teens don’t have. The pitfall here is that colleges can and do change their credit acceptance policies on a regular basis. Trying to predict a college’s policy three years from now is a fool’s errand and will result in chaos every time the college makes a change. It’s better to plan YOUR homeschool by bringing in college credit where it fits and makes sense. Later, when your teen is ready to target colleges, you can compare and contrast their policies and decide which one is a good fit.

Pitfall:  You press your teen to “choose a major” or “choose a college” or “choose a career” so you can plan their college credit NOW.

Moderation:  If I were my own child, I would have written and executed a perfectly crafted Excel spreadsheet for myself at age 12. I was the rare kid who knew she wanted to be a chef from early on and didn’t stray from that ambition until years later when I became a parent.  My kids? No such luck. I took a nose dive into this pitfall at full speed with my own kids- experiencing frustration and failure that my kids were slow to find their purpose. Imagine my surprise when I learned that THEY were the normal ones and I was the odd one!  (Apparently, I was the only one surprised by that. lol)  But, this is still a pitfall, and one to be aware of.  In fact, 80% of ALL COLLEGE STUDENTS will change their major at least once in college, the “average” student changes majors THREE times. In my opinion, I think that this happens for 2 reasons. (1) Students don’t generally get to choose their own classes, so having the autonomy to do that in college allows them to explore subjects for the first time. (2) Reality is a brick wall. Once a person exhausts all the “101” classes and starts actually getting into a subject deeply, they may find that it’s different than they expected. Sometimes a subject is boring, harder, more political, or frankly not as challenging as originally expected.   Unless your teen is very driven from a young age, expect change as they grow.

Pitfalls:  You’re uneasy about your teen changing their mind about their major, college, or career because it disturbs “your plan.”  You’re making every decision for your teen regarding their major, college, or career. 

Moderation:  I’ve combined the last two pitfalls into one because the same kind of moderation fixes both. Building on the previous pitfall about expecting change, taking your role as a guidance counselor to extremes means you’re trading an opportunity for them to take ownership in exchange for you to feel comfortable.  Having a plan is very reassuring for us, but if you can focus on diploma planning (while bringing in college credit) and allowing our teens to focus on degree/career planning (after high school) we’ll make the most of their high school career!


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