Savvy high school students know that taking rigorous, college level courses looks good to college admissions officers, but finding ways to accumulate college credits before graduating high school can provide many benefits. Students with “advanced standing” (the fancy college term for college freshmen eligible to have college credits already on their transcript) can pursue a more advanced track at their college, have time and flexibility in their college schedules, and (of course) save money by reducing the number of classes or semesters to finish a degree.
So how does a high school student rack up college credits before even crossing the stage to collect their diploma? Here are a few options to consider:
If there is a nearby college or university, many will allow qualified high school students to take actual college classes for credits that can transfer to your school. High schools often have partnerships with colleges and universities, so asking your high school counselor about dual enrollment with is a good place to start. Even if your high school doesn’t offer much or you are too far away from a college to attend class on campus, colleges and universities often have online course options for motivated high school students. Check it out!
Chances are your high school offers some college level classes that could earn you credits. Advanced Placement (AP for short) is a trademarked program of testing and high school classes from the College Board (the same organization that provides the SAT). University policies vary with what kind of scores you need to earn credits (or be exempt from intro level courses), but generally a score of 4 or 5 (out of 5) on these exams will rack up some credits. Even if your school doesn’t accept AP scores for credits, colleges and universities like to see these rigorous courses on your transcript. (Note: International Baccalaureate or IB offers a similar coursework-testing model for college credits at some high schools.)
Professional Certifications and Licensures
If you’ve had training for a particular career and earned a credential, you might be in luck: certain professional credentials can translate into college credits. For example, many Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) programs are not college courses, but schools for Medical Assisting degrees may count that credential for college credits. Others have earned college credit for Information Technology (IT) certifications. Some high schools offer career certifications as part of their educational program at very little cost. Check out if one might help launch a college degree, too.
Credit by Examination
If your school doesn’t offer some of the programs noted above (or you are home-schooling), there’s never been a better time to study on your own for earning college credits. Whether you choose to “challenge” the Advanced Placement tests mentioned above without taking the course, attempt one of the many College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests offered by College Board, or find other testing options, you can earn credits for your knowledge or self-studying.
As you apply for colleges and universities, be sure to explore what ways your future school will allow you to accumulate credits towards your degree before you’ve even finished high school. Nowadays, you can even get college credit for work or military experience. College policies vary widely about advanced standing, but more and more universities are rewarding hardworking, motivated students with credits, making it financially and academically easier to earn a degree on time.
Diana Sung is a career educator and personal finance enthusiast. She blogs about family life, frugal living, and values-driven finances at Free Fun Family.