Prep Talk Blog > January 2010

High school blogger Olivia Duell talks about her experience with dual enrollment, which allows her to take college-level courses and earn college credit:

It was my junior year when I first began my experience with dual enrollment. When I signed up for my classes, I was unsure of what dual enrollment entails, so it didn’t mean that much to me. I had always been in honors classes throughout my middle school and high school careers, so I assumed that dual enrollment was just a fancier title for “honors”. This idea is a common misconception. The expectations in a dual enrollment class may be just as high as those in a regular honors class, but dual enrollment comes with a few extra features that honors classes can’t and don’t offer.

To clarify, dual enrollment is a way of taking a class in high school that also earns college credits. My high school is teamed up with the local community college, Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3); therefore, I earn TC3 college credits with the completion of every dual enrollment course I take. So far I’ve completed four courses for dual credit: a business class (Business Analysis/Business Computer Applications) and Pre-Calculus, both of which were split into two semesters over the year (to equal four courses total). Each class earned me about three to four credits for each semester. These credits will be added to those I earn this year for English 101, English 102, Calculus 201, Calculus 202, and College & Career Prep/INVEST. Each course is quite strenuous, and I have to keep my grades relatively high, but I will have near 30 college credits if I successfully complete them all.

Dual enrollment is a great option for me because my school doesn’t offer very many Advanced Placement (AP) classes; I’ve only been able to take AP United States History during my four years of high school. However, dual enrollment works just as well to stand out on a transcript as taking AP courses does. These courses are college-level courses based on the college’s own curriculum. I know I’m getting a special chance to learn what normal, high-school level classes can’t teach me, and this work shows how much I’m challenging myself.

I was also excited to learn that dual enrollment helps you build up a vast amount of college credits for no cost. Yet when I visited my college choices, I was crestfallen when I was told that the college credits I’ve built up may not be accepted. Some of my friends who will attend TC3 for two years will be able to save money and won’t have to take courses they have already completed in high school. But transferring is not for me; I plan on going to a four year school, and many four year schools (at least those that I am applying to) haven’t started accepting dual enrollment credits yet. This reality is a bit of a downfall, but I do know that if I am forced to take calculus again in college, I will at least have a solid chunk of background knowledge.

To sum up, I will explain the pros and cons I have been faced with. The pros include: an impressive transcript; a cheaper college cost if you attend the college you received dual credit from or if you attend a college that accepts your dual credit; a heightened academic high school experience; and experience with what college courses expect. The cons are that you have to keep your nose in the books and work extremely hard; you may also feel as though your work is for nothing when the college you choose makes you take the same course over again. But this is a minor flaw; I advocate taking dual enrollment courses, for it strengthens your knowledge and challenges you. I would have been so bored this year just sticking with general subject classes, and these classes remind me that senior year isn’t a year for slacking off.

On that note, I have some calculus and some English 101 to do for tomorrow. Before doing so, I’ll be re-reading this to remind myself of why I’m putting myself through this—but all joking aside, it really is worth it.

Interested in dual enrollment? Here are some pros and cons. For more stories from students themselves, check out the archives for previous columns in The Admissions Diary.

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Completion of Federal Online Form is Essential for Aid of Any Type
by James A. Boyle, President, College Parents of America

The race for financial aid dollars has begun. On January 1, 2010, the annual winter financial aid window swung open, during which key pieces of information must be submitted to the colleges and universities that college-aged children might attend next fall.  And parents must peer through that window with one essential form in their sights - the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as “the FAFSA.”

The FAFSA helps colleges make decisions about how and to whom they award precious, need-based financial aid dollars.  More complicated than the federal income tax form, the 2010-2011 federal student aid application asks as many as 130 income, asset, and dependency questions depending on a student’s status. States, colleges, and the federal government use the information to try to distribute this year’s estimated $145 billion in student aid equitably. While a new “skip logic” has been introduced, shortening the form for some low-income families, as a practical matter for most families there is little change in this year’s application compared with last year’s form.  

Developed by the U.S. Department of Education in the mid-1990s, the FAFSA is intended to help level the playing field in helping schools to make decisions about how and to whom they award precious, need-based financial aid dollars.  While deadlines vary from school to school, no school will award a penny of need-based aid unless and until the FAFSA has been reviewed and analyzed by the U.S. Department of Education and by the school's financial aid office.

There are several myths that abound when it comes to financial aid. These myths include:

Only students with high GPAs get all the aid;
Only extremely needy students can receive financial aid, so if your family income is high, then don't bother to apply; and
If your older son or daughter didn't qualify for aid, then neither will your other children.
Students and their parents may choose to complete the FAFSA themselves, but they should be careful not to make errors that the Department of Education’s computer does not find, resulting in  less aid than they are entitled to. Unfortunately, mistakes on the FAFSA are common and students can lose out on aid they are eligible to receive. To help families deal with the application’s complexity, the government allows students the option of getting professional help.

With the continuing weak economy, and so many public universities hiking tuitions in response to recent state budget cuts, more college students are expected  to be seeking financial aid in the coming year.  Since some schools make aid decisions through a largely first-come, first-served process, and some school deadlines are as early as February 15, students and their parents should not delay in completing a FAFSA at www.fafsa.ed.gov.

To learn more about College Parents of America, you may visit the organization’s website at www.collegeparents.org

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