Taking a course at a community college this summer may be a good option for teens who would rather hit the books than the beach.
And some teens may be able to use federal dollars to help pay for these courses. The Department of Education announced last month that 44 colleges and universities will participate in an experimental program that will allow high school students to use Pell Grants – a form of financial aid – to help pay for dual enrollment courses.
Generally speaking, teens earn both high school and college credit when participating in dual credit programs, say Elisabeth Barnett, an expert on dual enrollment at Teachers College, Columbia University. Though, she notes, that the language used to describe these types of programs varies.
But high schoolers don’t have to participate in a dual enrollment program to take classes at a community college, says Barnett. They could just go to a community college and ask to sign up for a class.
Parents can help teens take the following steps to enroll in a community college course this summer.
1. Research: Parents and students should talk with a high school counselor before teens enroll in community college courses, says Tim Conway, director of school counseling at Lakeland Regional High School in Wanaque, New Jersey. A high school counselor can help students plan and select courses that align with their future goals, he says.
High school counselors can also inform families of the necessary procedures to enroll in a community college course in their state, he says, while making sure families get the most affordable cost.
And school counselors can ensure students get high school credit if they are participating in a dual enrollment program, along with advising students on which community college courses are likely to transfer to four-year institutions students are considering attending, he says.
Parents can aid in the process by researching community college summer courses online through the course catalog to see what’s available, and at what time, location and price, to ensure the course fits into families’ schedules and budgets, he says.
2. Apply: High schoolers will typically have to apply for admission to the community college before they can take a course. The application is typically really straightforward, says Barnett. However, some community colleges have minimum age requirements, she says. And sometimes students may have to take a placement test before enrolling in certain courses.
Most community colleges have open admission policies, which means that typically anyone who can benefit from higher education can enroll, says Julie Leidig, provost of Northern Virginia Community College’s Loudoun campus. She also coordinates the dual enrollment program.
At her institution, high schoolers have to meet a standard for college readiness, often through a placement test, to take a course. And if they want to get high school credit, they have to get approval from their high school beforehand.
3. Register: After students receive admission to the community college, they will need to register for courses, says Conway.
Leidig says first-time students are required to go through an orientation before they register and go through advising at her institution, so students shouldn’t wait until the last minute. However, there is still time for high schoolers to enroll in summer classes at her school this year.
Conway says these courses can help students find their niche, get a jump-start on college and potentially allow families to save some money on higher education.
Leidig tells high schoolers to take these courses seriously.
“It is real college, and that transcript will follow you,” she says. “A student should not be too afraid of doing this if they have the right preparation, but they should understand that it’s not just an experiment with going to college – it is going to college.”