Preparing for College by Completing Two Years of Dual Enrollment in High School

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In this article, Admissions Expert Zoe Edington shares her experience with dual enrollment in high school and the benefits of dual enrollment during the college application process. For more guidance on dual enrollment and college applications in general, sign up to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

For as long as I can remember, the adults in my life warned me that college was going to be unlike anything I had experienced before. It would be harder than high school in every way. The class material would be more intense, there would be less hand-holding from faculty, and the consequences of failing an assignment would be much higher.

I’m sure most college applicants understand these differences, and many probably even welcome the challenge that higher education will bring. When I applied to college, I was excited for the next chapter ahead of me. However, thanks to dual enrollment, I likely had a better understanding of the college work load than other high schoolers. By the time I applied to four-year universities, I had taken college courses for three years.

How It All Started

Throughout high school, I attended a college preparatory academy. My school had a mission of preparing its students — most of whom were low-income and would-be first-generation — to attend a four-year college. Most of this preparation involved taking intense classes. However, instead of AP or honors classes, my high school offered community college courses. The administration hoped that by taking college courses, students would gain confidence in their abilities. This would make them further motivated to go to college. We had to earn 15 college credits to graduate — about the same workload as one college semester. The academy selected the courses we would take each semester. They also arranged for the professors to teach on our campus so that we could take courses after high school finished.

I was one of the first students to take college courses — a “guinea pig,” as the faculty often jokingly called us. As the “guinea pigs” of the school, we were not only the first group to enroll in the courses at the beginning of the program, but we also continued to test the administration’s new initiatives. By far the most ambitious idea was enrolling us in college courses every semester. By the time we graduated from high school, we would have finished two years of college.

It was farfetched — almost no one expected us to graduate from community college on top of getting through high school, participating in extracurricular activities, and studying for standardized tests. Still, as impossible as this seemed, completing our credits became a goal for me and my peers. At our small, somewhat under-resourced academy, getting our associate’s degrees during high school would help us stand out during the college application process.

So even though we did not know anyone who had done a program like this before, we enrolled in two college courses in our first semester of high school and took it all one step at a time.

What Dual Enrollment Was Like

I started high school determined to prove myself in academics, but even I had no idea what that would entail. During my freshman and sophomore years, I enrolled in two college courses each semester. This was difficult at times, but it also gave me a boost of confidence. The fact that I passed my college courses without my high school courses suffering never failed to surprise the people around me.

By my senior year, I was determined to get my Associate in Arts (AA) degree. As seniors, we could leave campus early and take college courses at the community college itself. This freedom would allow me to satisfy my few remaining requirements and earn an AA at the end of the school year. The path to get there by this point was a bit unclear — mainly because the program was still new — so I spent countless hours on the community college’s website figuring out which courses I should take along with my high school schedule.

In four years, I took a wide range of college courses. Many of these involved rare material for most high school students (e.g. ancient civilizations, child and adolescent development, introductory astronomy). My high school administration wanted us to engage with a variety of disciplines while also satisfying the California A-G requirements. Through these courses, I learned about many topics that I could not have studied without the dual enrollment program.

Even though I took many semi-random courses, I discovered during my senior year that my friends and I were on track to earn not one but two AA degrees in interdisciplinary studies. The thought of earning two degrees at the age of seventeen was mind-blowing, but it posed a new challenge. For the rest of the year, we ensured that we were the first to enroll in our outstanding courses. At the end of our last semester, we drove to the community college campus for the last time. We walked the stage in our caps and gowns and earned our two degrees one month before graduating from high school.

How Dual Enrollment Impacted My College Applications

My experience applying to colleges with some college credit under my belt was probably the same as for most students. I applied as a first-year student — at the time, my high school was not sure that anyone in my class would earn their AA degree. I also knew that I wanted to attend a four-year college for more than two years regardless. Aside from indicating the rigor of my courses as “college-level,” I did not need to take any additional steps when filling out my applications.

After I submitted my applications, a few private schools reached out to me about alumni interviews. Dual enrollment was a common topic of conversation. During these informal interviews, we discussed my academic record and how prepared I felt for higher education. I could tell that the interviewers were impressed, and I knew that this would set me apart from other applicants.

How Dual Enrollment Helped in College

My dual enrollment helped me satisfy most of my academic requirements. Rather than the typical two years of general education classes, I only had five classes to take before I could focus on my major.

Even though I had shaved some time off of college, I still did not know what I want to study or do after graduation. I decided to stay at UC Berkeley for the full four years. Thanks to my AA’s, I had a lot of free time. I spent it by enrolling in random classes, studying abroad, doing internships at foreign companies, joining student clubs, and volunteering with the local community.

How to Participate in Dual Enrollment

Although my high school helped me earn college credit, all students can participate in dual enrollment. Most community colleges do not require a high school diploma, though specific courses may have prerequisite requirements. This means that high school students can simply enroll in college courses that align with their schedules. Because college courses can often equate to a year-long high school course, students may even be able to satisfy some of their graduation requirements through dual enrollment.

This kind of program is not for everyone. If a current high school student would like to take community college courses, they should speak with their counselor first to discuss their academic goals and their specific plan for dual enrollment.

This informational essay on dual enrollment was written by Zoe Edington, UC Berkeley ‘18. If you want to get help with your college applications from Zoe or other Admissions Experts, register with today.