You don’t have to be a genius to speed through college

In 2017, Raven Osborne was one of thousands of students who graduated from Purdue University in Indiana. But something about Raven made her a little bit different—she graduated from Purdue two weeks before she also graduated from high school.

How’d she do it?

Raven began taking dual enrollment classes in eighth grade, eventually moving from her local community college to Purdue. By the time she reached her senior year in high school, she was on track to earn her degree, too. In the fall, she returned to her high school—but this time as a teacher.

As Raven proved, with persistence and careful planning, it’s possible to earn your college degree in tandem with your high school diploma, saving time and money in the process. Even better, you can start while you’re still in high school.

As a homeschool student or parent, you’re no stranger to the concept of functioning “outside the box.” Deciding to accelerate your higher education is an extension of that concept, plus the independent study skills you’ve learned over the years. What’s more, the flexibility you have as a homeschool student opens doors that may not be available to students in traditional school systems.

If you love the idea of speeding your way through college, here are a few unconventional ideas to help you along the way.

1. Dual enroll in college courses during high school

Generally, high school students may begin dual-enrolling in community college courses during their sophomore year of high school. This allows you to earn both high school and college-level credit on your homeschool transcript that may then be transferred to your university of choice. This approach can save you up to a year or more of introductory courses that you won’t have to complete during your freshman year of college.

2. Take Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams

Challenging and rigorous, AP exams could give you the opportunity to skip remedial college courses and move on to more advanced classes. This could save you a significant amount of time and money in the long run. The main downside to AP exams is that they’re only offered once every year. You’ll have to plan and schedule carefully to make sure you don’t miss the sign-up deadline and the testing date.

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3. “CLEP” out of courses

CLEP exams are another method of testing out of certain college courses—and earning class credit in the process. Bear in mind that some colleges don’t accept passing CLEP scores. There are also certain majors and study concentrations that do not offer the option to CLEP out. It’s important to note that CLEPs can render you ineligible for certain scholarships, but the money you save when you test out of classes could be worth the loss.

4. Choose a college that has flexible policies regarding testing out of courses

Not every college accepts exam scores in place of sitting through an actual course. If you’re interested in testing out of some of your classes, do your research beforehand to find out whether it’s allowed at your school of choice. In addition to AP and CLEP exams, there are other tests like the DSST®, TECEP®, and UExcel®, which also allow you to essentially build a DIY degree for a fraction of the time and money (you can find a list of additional exams here).

5. Enroll in a college where you can follow a competency-based curriculum

Competency-based higher education has been gaining traction over the past several years, offering college students more flexible options for accelerating their educational experience. The concept of competency-based education is simple: If you’re already familiar with the material in a particular course, you should have the option to test out of it. As an added bonus, many of these degree programs are offered online. Before applying, research the degree requirements and the cost. Some colleges charge a “subscription fee” that could be costly if you don’t complete your course work in a timely manner.

6. Plan your course load carefully and far in advance

If you’re attending a traditional college, take a careful look at the course catalog and make notes regarding what classes are required for your degree, and when they’re offered. Some courses are only offered every other year (and sometimes, only odd- or even-numbered years!), so you’ll want to carefully consider where those classes fit in. One or two poorly-planned course enrollments could cost unnecessary time and money, so consult your catalog and your advisor to make long-term plans for accelerating your degree progress.

7. Take as many classes as possible per semester

Another way to shorten the total amount of time you spend in college is by taking a heavier course load than the average recommended load (12 credit hours, or four courses). Try your hand at taking five or six courses (15 or 18 credits) instead. Be cautious not to overload and burn yourself out—only you know what will work best for you as a student.

8. Participate in a portfolio review

As you build a portfolio of work samples in college (particularly in design, fine arts, architecture, etc.), add them to your digital portfolio and plan to attend at least one portfolio review session. Some colleges offer portfolio review days—a day similar to a job fair, where employers meet with students for short interviews and rapid-fire portfolio review. When you participate in portfolio review, you’ll sharpen your professional-level interview skills, as well as share your work samples and resume with potential employers. With viable work samples and interview experience under your belt, you might decide to accept a job offer before you’ve completed your degree.

9. Opt for an alternate route

Homeschool students know, better than most, that one size does not fit all. Some students may not wish to attend college and opt to build their careers in a different way. Programs like UnCollege provide students with the opportunity to explore their passions and interests, build a skill set that compliments those passions, and gain experience where they put their skills to work in an internship environment. Other students may enter the workforce after high school based on their experience and work samples alone.

The bottom line

Accelerating the college experience is definitely possible, and any combination of the above methods could be right for you. As you choose your path, research carefully to avoid any of the potential pitfalls of each option. With cautious consideration, strategy, and meticulous planning, you can fast-track your way to a degree and move on to build your dream career.

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Haley Walden is a freelance copywriter/editor who collaborates with creative entrepreneurs, authors, and agencies to strengthen and clarify their brand stories through engaging website copy, blog posts, marketing copy, and more.She is a geek at heart with a love for books, music, movies, theatre, and all things Star Wars. Haley lives in northwest Alabama with her husband and two children and is currently drafting her first epic fantasy novel. Connect with her at haleywalden.ninja.

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