Posted in HS4CC

Parent Question: Should we start with core courses or electives for our first college credits?

This is a great question for anyone planning their teen’s first credits this coming year. You’ll get advice making arguments on both sides, but my advice is to ask a different question. Rather than asking about where it will fit on a high school plan, my question to you is which subject can we choose for your daughter that gives her a one-hundred-percent chance of success? THAT is the class we want to choose first.

This is such a BIG question for such a short reply, but I don’t want to overwhelm you! I think about college credit all day every day, and I watch families have successes and failures. One thing that will help you find success is to understand that everyone progresses through phases. A student earning their first college credit should choose differently than one getting ready to finish a degree in 11th grade! You will find success if you remember that your teen’s classes and the choices you make SHOULD change as they accumulate more credit, but so will your knowledge of the process.

When parents report frustration, confusion, and overwhelm, it’s usually because they are working on a plan that’s not matched to their teen’s stage.

Stage 1: Spark Stage (0-9 credits)

The first few college credits should fit perfectly into YOUR homeschool with complete and total disregard for “future college plans” because it’s too early for that. When you’re learning the ropes (yes, I mean YOU, not just your teen) it’s hard to know what you don’t know, and it’s harder to predict what will be the best fit for your teen. Will she enjoy the structure or thrive on independent learning? Does feedback drive her to achievement, or send her into a panic? Does she have a passion for something but never studied it formally? There are a million variables, so the first few credits need to be wide open in any area that interests her, that fits into your schedule and budget, and doesn’t bind her to a degree or college. Don’t look for classes others are taking, look only at something your daughter wants to take and do that.

Stage 2: Resourceful High School Planning

Somewhere during 10-30 college credits you’ll gain traction and begin to feel like you’re understanding the process, have an idea where to find resources, are watching your teen’s success (and challenges) and can begin to think about future planning. THIS is the phase where choosing classes starts to matter. It’s not possible for me to choose those classes without knowing her more personally, but I think the most popular or common courses in this phase will match a standard high school plan and also match a college’s general education courses. This is a loose application of advice, but courses like English, Speech, History, Algebra, Computers, Business, Art, Religion, and Science are all excellent choices for someone planning a 2 or 4 year degree.

Stage 3 and Beyond: Hitting Targets

At this point, “keeping options open” becomes competing advise with “hitting targets.” Please do not rush into this phase without a fully engaged teen. You and your teen need to establish a target together. I think it’s a great privilege to have that opportunity, and parents make the best guidance counselors! Together, you’ll identify a target(s) and start taking courses in the subjects that hit those targets. The target may be a specific college, a specific major, a certification or license, an apprenticeship, military, etc. The exact target is going to be unique, so the “recipe” you build for her at that time will depend greatly on the target you’re going to aim for! In this phase, there is no wasted steps. You’ll look for specific courses that meet specific requirements and accumulate those intentionally. This is the phase where parents do “degree planning” or mapping for a specific credential.


Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit