If possible, start college with some credits already to your name. These can be Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), community college classes, or (in some cases) “testing out” of lower-division courses. In any event, my advice is to take full advantage. Grab every opportunity for starting your university career ahead.
I started college with sophomore-level credits. I took AP Spanish, Literature, US History, and Biology. I also took a community college-level statistics class that counted for two quarters of math at my University. It made a huge difference in my experience as a college student, allowing me increased freedom academically as well as in pursuit of extracurriculars.
I did not graduate from college early. Instead, these credits I held when I first set foot on campus allowed me to fill my college years with the maximum pursuit of my passions—academic, volunteering, extracurricular, internships, travel, language-learning, and the kinds of “useless” interests that add such depth to college years (rock climbing, glass bead making class, and …wait for it… even basket weaving). Those college-level credits from high school allowed me to pursue two majors and a minor while also having the time to study abroad and graduating “on time.” I also had already completed a significant portion of my general education credits before setting foot on campus, meaning that I escaped from having to sit through Biology 101 in a classroom of 300 peers—instead I learned those concepts in a small classroom of engaged students in my high school.
Not everyone has the opportunity to take many college-level courses before they get to college. But whenever possible, I think they should get as much done as they can. I’m about to rattle off a list of reasons below, but here’s the biggest one in my book: the courses you can get out of the way are probably going to be the least fun on your college campus. Instead of sitting through Writing 101, you can take poetry or speech writing or a seminar on your favorite 18th century author. Instead of introductory level Spanish, you can launch into actually speaking and reading the language, and without the slog of learning alongside other non-Spanish majors who just need to get the requirement out of the way.
My best advice to you is to get started early. Snag those opportunities in high school that will help you launch into an awesome college career.
Top reasons to take college credits in high school
1. Scheduling flexibility
The best thing you can do for your freshman-year self is to increase your ability to make scheduling choices. Want to “ease in” with a lighter load? This way you won’t be falling behind. Haven’t decided on a major? Have the space in your schedule to check out a variety of classes.
2. Graduation requirements
As you progress through your years, it’s important to keep regular account of the classes you’ve completed in relation to the requirements for graduating. The sooner you start paying attention to this, the better. Your college-level credits will count toward graduation, filling those key lower-division credit hours and/or general education requirements.
3. Graduate in four years
There is a lot of hoopla about graduating “on time.” I personally think there are some good reasons why this might not be a driving force for college decisions, or some very positive outcomes for deciding to extend college for an extra semester or year (such as an exceptional research opportunity, the decision to take a gap year, the opportunity to add work experience to study abroad, and more). But barring these larger opportunities, the goal of graduating in four years is generally a positive one. Some recent research indicates that starting college with credits already in-hand is statistically helpful in attaining a degree (while my first reaction was “duh,” it is nice when stats confirm your assumptions).
Having a buffer of even a few credits can make a huge difference.
4. Study abroad
All this extra freedom leaves space for studying abroad. If you’re struggling through this last semester of high school and studying for the exams, just imagine what adventures this early prep can lead to down the line.
5. Course registration
This might be university-specific, but in many cases students register for classes on the basis of the number of credits they have already completed. This means that if you enter college with a semester already under your belt, you may get to register for classes before many of the freshman class. I found this particularly helpful when I was trying to get a specific professor for a required course, or when trying to register for a popular class. This sounds like a small detail, but can be a real perk.
6. Graduating early
It might be that you decide to push through and graduate early. Maybe you’ve got some great opportunity lined up, or you are anxious to move on with the rest of your life. If you enter college with credits and then take the maximum course load, you could shave some serious time off your college years.
I don’t recommend this. College isn’t something you should choose to end early, unless you’ve got a good reason. But it is an option available to you.
Aside from all these practicalities and possible outcomes, college-level classes will help you prepare for what you’ll be expected to learn once you arrive on campus. It’s never quite the same as far as difficulty and style, but it will offer you a glimpse of academic life. The more you’ve done to prepare ahead of time, the happier you’re likely to be. This will also indicate your dedication and preparedness for applications and scholarship funding. So all signs point to yes: take the IB class. Sign up for Intro to Writing at your community college over the summer. Try testing out of basic French. Do what you can, starting now, to be a massive success in college.
Good luck out there! Make the best of what’s left of high school, and all the best on those exams! They’ll make a world of difference later on down the line.
Have you taken AP/IB? Are you enrolling in community college classes? Do you have a different opinion on college credits in high school? Did you get a particular benefit from your advanced credits? Share your stories/opinions/insights here!