by Janice Campbell
It was "Pomp and Circumstance" once more this spring as we attended another college graduation. This time, my 19-year-old son was graduating with his bachelor's degree in Computer Science. In less than a month, he would start his new position as an Assistant Technical Analyst in a Fortune 500 corporation. But wait... at nineteen, isn't he supposed to be just starting college?
I don't know about you, but I've never seen the point in wasting time. I was always the kid who read ahead in class, finished homework before leaving school for the day, and saw no point in filling out sixteen workbook pages on a concept I already knew. When it came to educating my four boys, I've taken a similar approach. Once the basics of a subject are mastered, they can move ahead as quickly as they like, earning college credit while still in high school. Why not?
Benjamin Franklin once said, "Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time; for that's the stuff life is made of." Although traditional education has decreed that primary and secondary education should take twelve or thirteen years to complete, there is no good reason to spend that amount of time, unless you want to. For homeschooling families, there are much more productive ways to spend those dozen years than crawling through a traditional course of study. The most compelling benefits of earning college credit during high school include increased credibility for the homeschool transcript, and a dramatic savings in the time and money needed to obtain a college degree. Let's talk about these benefits, and the two simplest ways you can start earning credit - standardized college-level exams and community college classes.
Credibility: Show What You Know - While diversity is one of homeschooling's greatest assets, it can also be perceived as a liability. Pity the poor college admissions officer who has to wade through hundreds of applications and transcripts each week! When dealing with an accredited public or private school, he knows there is an objective system for assigning grades. When dealing with a homeschooler's application, though, he has no idea how objectively or by what standards grades are assigned. It makes it difficult to measure a homeschooler against someone who has been traditionally schooled. So how can a student measurably and credibly demonstrate his learning? A parent-created high school transcript is a start, but it won't tell the whole story, unless it shows results from standardized tests or grades from sources other than the parent. When an admission officer sees on a transcript that a homeschooled student has taken English Literature and earned a 'B,' he has no way of knowing the scope and depth of the student's work. However, if the transcript lists a standardized test score or college grade along with the parent-granted grade, the admissions officer immediately has a better picture of what the student has studied and how well he understood the material. This gives him an objective point of reference, and as a bonus, may also impress him!
Save Time: Turn Study Hours into Credit Hours - I recently read that it is taking students longer than ever to earn a four-year college degree. Some students are juggling jobs and school, while others have had difficulty settling on a major. Imagine what an advantage a student would have if he or she entered college with a year or two of college credit that was accumulated during the high school years! This credit cushion would provide several wonderful options. The student could:
Choose to graduate early.
Spend a year exploring classes that look interesting.
Opt for a double major.
Start a microbusiness.
Spend time as an intern or volunteer.
By learning deeply and purposefully, and investing a little time in testing or college classes during high school, you can make the most of the high school years, and open doors to many interesting opportunities.
Money: A Penny Saved is a Dollar Earned - Community college classes and college-level exams are a cheap way to earn college credit. Classes usually cost considerably less than $100 per credit hour, and most exams cost less than $100 for three to six credits. That works out to less than thirty dollars per credit hour for three-credit exams, and less than twenty dollars per credit for six-credit exams. Compared with community college classes, which are reasonable enough, exams come out way ahead, unless your state pays for community college classes when they are taken as a dual-credit .option
Why College-Level Exams? - There are two benefits you can earn with exams such as the AP, CLEP, or DSST - advanced placement (also known as "testing out" of otherwise required classes), or actual college credit. The decision as to which benefit to grant rests with the college you choose, but either way, you add credibility to your transcript and save both time and money by taking them. The beauty of exams is that they don't cause a lot of extra work. Any high-school subject can be broadened and deepened to college-level, especially a subject in which the student has a natural interest. The exams measure whether a student has acquired knowledge and understanding that is approximately comparable to what he would learn in an introductory-level college course. If a student loves a subject and has read extensively on his own, he may be ready to pass a college-level exam without much further study. College-level exams are convenient. AP exams are offered at high schools; CLEP, DSST, and other exams are offered at test centers on college campuses nationwide. You can take exams whenever you're ready - there's no age limit. They're cheaper than most other ways of earning college credit. They're objective, many are widely accepted, and they make the most of your time. And scores are maintained on a testing company transcript for twenty years so that you can have them sent to any schools you wish at any time during those years.
Try College (with Training Wheels) - Your local community college or junior college offers another option for earning credit in classes, such as lab sciences, that are difficult to manage at home. It's like college with training wheels-most students commute, many are first-generation college students, and classes are often designed to bring these students up to speed so they can transfer to a four-year college if they wish. The application process is simple; tuition is usually much lower than at a four-year school; and students can begin by trying just one or two classes at a time with no long-term commitment. I've heard of students as young as 10 years old being admitted, but most schools prefer that students be 13 or older. My sons started taking classes when they were 15 or 16, and it has been a very positive experience for all of them. Both of my older sons completed associate's degrees, then transferred to four-year schools to complete their bachelor's. It's really nice to be graduating from college, when other people your age are graduating from high school!
An Opportunity and a Challenge - As outsiders in the education establishment, homeschoolers sometimes face a credibility gap. While this needn't affect our educational choices, it's nice to be able to go above and beyond the ordinary in providing objective proof of learning. College-level exams and community college classes are cheap, accessible ways of earning college credit and proving that homeschoolers can teach themselves nearly anything they want to know. When you decide to homeschool through high school, you have already made one non-traditional educational choice. By taking it a step farther, you can open to the door to some wonderful options that will help your student make the most of the teen years. Together, you and your teen can choose a homeschool experience that prepares them to soar. Are you ready to get a jump-start on college?
Janice Campbell, author of Get a Jump Start on College! A Practical Guide for Teens, Transcripts Made Easy: The Homeschooler's Guide to High School Paperwork, and the Excellence in Literature series, has been writing and speaking in central Virginia since the late 1980's. She homeschooled her four sons from kindergarten into college, using the principles she now shares in her books, blog, workshops, and her free e-newsletter. Sign up for it today.