When can a student begin to earn college credit? Some say 9th grade, others day 10th grade … the process seems a bit unclear. Does it depend on whether the student is using the Advanced Placement model, CLEP process, or community college process? Does it depend on what community college the student decides to attend? How does the student prove they are ready for college classes? Some schools mention an aptitude test to demonstrate college readiness, while others mention it but are willing to work with the family. This lack of clarity is a deterrent for us. I wish I understood this process better!
So Many Answers
This is such a great question, and there are so many answers, that I wanted to turn your question into a post.
Note: Occasionally a parent has a question in one of our Facebook groups that requires an answer beyond a sentence or two. When that happens, I know others probably have that question too, so it becomes a post for everyone instead of a reply to one.
The first thing you should know is anyone can start earning college credit TODAY. It’s as if you asked me “when can my teen start learning about cooking?” which of course can happen as soon as one of you is interested! The kinds of learning, the availability of local resources, your student’s age and academic level, as well as dozens of other factors are all also part of this decision, but the “when” is completely up to you!
Across our entire Homeschooling for College Credit community, I can tell you that the majority of our teens are earning college credit in high school (probably 90%) with a few outliers starting in middle school. To segment further, the most popular grade to begin dual enrollment (taking a college class) is 11th grade, but there is a large number that are starting in 10th or 12th.
You asked how a student might prove they are ready, when proof is required (it often isn’t) eligibility would be outlined on their website. Where enrolling in a class like English 101 would be pretty typical, if your student wanted to enroll in Spanish III as their first class, the college may ask for your teen to demonstrate readiness in some way (usually a test) before they place them. It’s typical for “readiness” to follow a general guideline instead of a student-specific one. You might see colleges asking for your student to be in “11th grade with a 3.0 GPA” or similar. If one college’s eligibility requirements don’t work for your family, just pick a different college.
Where a family gets their college credit is also wide open because it’s almost as if you asked me “what’s a good math curriculum?” and of course there are too many to name! When I wrote Homeschooling for College Credit, I collected as many legitimate college credit options that I could find, deliberately left many out of the book, and then ranked them using criteria that worked best for high school students. I grouped (ranked) the types of college credit based on transferability. Transferability is more important to high school families than adults or college students because we are earning college credit before we have all the plans worked out. Families in our community earn college credit 2-3-4+ years before it gets used, so when you take that risk, you need some kind of structure in place to decide between the many credit types available.
On the homepage of Homeschooling for College Credit or Chapter 2 of my book by the same name, you’ll find 30 different college credit opportunities, and they are grouped by transferability. If you want as much certainty as possible, you can stick with Type 1: Excellent Transferability, or Type 2: Good Transferability. Keep in mind there will be other considerations once you get going, but “transferability” is the best place to start until you learn the ropes.
Type 1: Excellent Transferability
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.
- (1) College-Based Dual Enrollment
- (2) Arizona State University’s Universal Learner Program
- (3) Outlier (legitimate credit laundering)
Updated: TEL Learning(currently not recommended)
- (5) Summer School
- (6) Winter Break, Minimesters, Accelerated Terms
Type 2: Good Transferability
Good transferability means at least half of all 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
- (7) Advanced Placement Exam (AP) (approx. 85% of colleges)
- (8) College Level Exam Program (CLEP) (approx. 76% of colleges)
- (9) DSST/DANTES Exams (approx. 50% of colleges)
(credit types 10-30 view here)
You hit the nail on the head with your questions about how to access dual enrollment! College-based dual enrollment programs are unlike any of the other options because you’re using a college to enhance your homeschool. I encourage you to click on the “College Based Dual Enrollment” link above on my list because you’ll get a lot of really important information, but when you use a college, you’ll be subject to their rules and procedures.
Colleges are like any business, they operate independently from each other, but that doesn’t mean there are 3,800 different sets of rules to learn. In fact, most colleges that offer dual enrollment have very similar processes, and then very individual details. For instance, College A may restrict enrollment to students in 11th or 12th grade, while College B has no grade or age guidelines. Occasionally, the rules that guide the program may be set at the state level. (Example: I live in North Carolina, and our dual enrollment program protocol is set by our state, so the overall protocol guides all 58 of our community colleges!)
The biggest thing to know about selecting a college for dual enrollment, is that everyone in every state can access any college in the world. Granted, you may be limited to distance learning, but even when you live in a state with a program, participation is always optional and voluntary! If, for instance, I wanted to participate in my state’s program (free) then I am subject to the rules of that program. In my case, that means using our community colleges (not universities) and choosing from a limited number of classes. If I would prefer my son study from a religious college, or choose a class that isn’t offered locally, as a homeschooler I have that option! But that means being willing to find the alternative and pay for it myself. (A lot like deciding to homeschool vs using the school system! You’re really making all the decisions at that point and covering all the costs.)
Learning is a process!
Yes, there is a lot of information out there, but learning is a process. You 100% can figure this out, and you’re in the right place. Everything shared here is to help give you tools and information so you can make a good decision- everyone in Homeschooling for College Credit is a volunteer, so we have no incentive to suggest one type of college credit over another. The goal here is to teach you resourceful high school planning so your family can make the most of your teen’s high school career. Keep following, keep reading, and little by little it will all start to come together!
I want to share the video recording from our Night of Encouragement. Listen to real parents (and a teen) share about their journey. I know you’ll love it.
Night of Encouragement 2022