Posted in HS4CC

Playing the Odds

Earning college credit before you’ve picked out a college or are several years away from enrollment feels like a gamble, but most types of college credit can be sorted by risk level, and a when you follow a few basic guidelines you can get very close to navigating with confidence!

Step 1: Establish your comfort level for risk.

Establishing your comfort level for risk is not a simple process. I think there are at least a dozen considerations that play an important role, and where these considerations rank will vary by family. This list is not inclusive, but it gives you some things to think about while you start resourceful high school planning.

  • Cost. The more you have to pay, the more certain you need to be. You don’t want to burn money on tuition that you’ll need later. Luckily, there are a TON of very low cost options we’ll explore in this post.
  • Time. The closer to high school graduation (11th grade +) the more certain you need to be. If your teen hasn’t started 11th grade, they are a little more limited in what they have access to, but once they hit 11th grade everything is available.
  • Target school. The less sure you are about target college, school, or university, the more conservative you could be because you don’t want to shut off opportunities.
  • Target major. The less sure you are about target major or occupation, the more child-centered you could be. Before your teen has settled on their focus, they should be free to take classes that encourage them to love learning. This doesn’t mean wasted time, think of it as setting them up for a positive relationship with their college credits.

Step 2: Make informed decisions about how and where credit transfers.

My oldest son earned many college credits using the math program ALEKS (see chart above). I knew that it was unlikely that he’d get to use them at his target college (he didn’t) but since he liked their computer-based curriculum so much, it was more about using it for learning. He’s 27 now with college in the rear-view mirror and into his career. The point of this story is that I made that decision with open eyes. Since the year he graduated from my homeschool, there are even more options and programs, many are so low cost that I think it’s completely reasonable to use some of them for curriculum. If they DO get college credit, that’s just frosting on the cake.

Excellent Transferability means that nearly every regionally accredited
college in the country will accept these sources of credit at schools where transfer credit is allowed. Assume that the provider is regionally accredited or equivalent. In some instances, state laws and articulation agreements guarantee transfer of these credits. Pursue credit in this category with confidence.

But wait, there’s more. Having excellent transferability is not 100%. There are still some ways you can disqualify their credit from being counted. There is a 6-step test I apply to a course to *make sure that I’m as close to 100% as possible. It’s a little long to include here, but here’s the link to read later.

Good transferability means at least 1,500 regionally accredited colleges accept this credit regularly and are familiar with this resource. You can generally find a specific college’s acceptance policy for credit in this category on their website or catalog. Credit in this category can be pursued with confidence, though limits usually apply.

This category includes AP and DSST, but we need to give CLEP special attention. CLEP’s partnership with Modern States allows you to accumulate unlimited potential college credit for no cost. For colleges that accept CLEP, most will allow you to complete 1 or more years. Doing the math, know that a teen who is successful with CLEP may be able to accumulate enough college credit this way that they avoid student loans. That’s a reason to change target colleges! Since not all teens do well with credit by exam, your mileage may vary.

Limited transferability means fewer than 200 regionally accredited colleges accept this credit regularly. Colleges may be unfamiliar with this resource, and credit in this category may require a special review from the college before a decision can be made. Pursue credit in this category if credit-earning isn’t the only priority, if the price is free or very low, or if you’ve researched ahead of time with certainty that your target college does accept this credit.

The truth behind this type of credit is that it’s usually VERY low cost, VERY user-friendly, and easily accomplished for teens as young as middle school. We’ve had families earn almost full degrees using classes they’ve taken through Studycom or Sophia. The challenge with resourceful high school planning is when you start to accumulate a lot of credit (more than 10 classes, or 30 credits) you are reducing your target college list if you want to use them. This isn’t always a bad thing, you can choose carefully and end up with a legitimate regionally accredited bachelor’s degree for under $10,000….. but you aren’t going to get much utility outside that list.

You can see our “real” list of ACE colleges – these are the colleges that don’t just accept one or two courses so they can get on the list. These are the colleges that have legal partnerships with ACE providers and will accept generous amounts of nontraditional college credit. ACE Partnership List

Step 3: Don’t obsess.

It’s easy to do- especially if you have a tendency to love planning and mapping curriculum and schedules (guilty) and diagraming if-then scenarios (guilty) but one thing I’ve learned since our oldest earned his first college credit 15 years ago, is that your plan can not be perfect. It’s not possible. There is no such thing as a perfect plan! Minds are changed, budgets change, families relocate, states add or take away dual enrollment programs, target colleges change, target majors change, new occupations are experienced and others fade away, classes are aced while others require withdrawal. In other words, life happens. Your family’s college credit journey won’t look like mine, it won’t look like your friends, and that’s the way it should be. Your ability to take a deep breath, reassess, and develop a new game plan when things change is why YOU are your teen’s best guidance counselor.


Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit