The sooner students start thinking about and preparing for their efforts in higher education, the easier it can be to plan for success. This true not only when it comes to academics, but also (and especially) when it comes to the financial side of things. Preparing for college or university studies is a process that ideally starts long before the first day of college on an autumn day (usually) at the age of eighteen. In fact, the best-prepared students have often found intelligent ways to prepare and affect their college experience even several years in advance. We think that this is highly advisable, because it can positively boost the student’s academic experience as well as saving their family a significant amount of money over the long run!
How is that possible? Well, by seeking out ways to shorten their required stay in college or university, a student can shave of a semester (or even more) of tuition, fees, and living expenses from the overall college bill. This can add up to tens of thousands of dollars in many cases! This year, there are some motivated students who are graduating from high school and heading off to college… where they will begin as college students with advanced standing, when based on their accumulated college credits.
For this month’s newsletter, we are providing parents and students with some practical and important thoughts and suggestions on how to shorten the amount of time spent (and paid for) in college, but leading to the same degree for which other students will have to work longer… and yes, other students will wind up paying more tuition for the same piece of paper at graduation. Please remember that as college funding professionals – with expert insights into the entire process of higher education – we are especially qualified to offer this type of important information for the benefit of your college preparation and planning. Your child’s circumstances can certainly benefit from an individual analysis.
Completing AP Courses
When your child is in high school, s/he can already begin to make headway in college. If you are child qualifies or is able to choose to take Advanced Placement classes, this is a great way to begin to earn college credit while still attending high school. Many colleges and universities will allow AP credit to take the place of required “core” classes during freshman year. In this case, a bit of extra effort during the high school years can have a big payoff later!
Another way that students may sometimes earn college credit is to take International Baccalaureate classes, if available in your area. Completing college credit in this manner, and doing so in advance, can also provide some flexibility when it comes time for a student to choose a major. AP and IB classes are high-level high school courses, and they also give your child a taste of what to expect in college or university classes.
There is no guarantee that AP or IB coursework will be accepted at the next level, so it is always important to review individual school policies on these types of classes. However, there can be no question than the increased level of academic rigor pays dividends when college days begin in earnest.
Community College Credit
There are some community colleges that will allow high school students to take their college-level courses. If this is available for your student, and the community college credits are accepted at a university, it can save a ton of time and money. Many core classes can be taken at a community college and they will almost always be much less expensive than university classes. It may be a good option if your child is unsure about which direction to go during college. Taking some core classes in community college would buy additional time in college for determining a major course of study and/or a career for the future.
Usually community college credit is accepted as transfer credit at public universities within the same state or region, which can be a tremendous benefit for students who are interested in these schools. Some highly motivated students have actually graduated high school with an Associate’s degree in hand, meaning that in the right circumstances they can theoretically start university with junior status! Talk about saving time and money over the long run…
Take Core/Elective Classes Strategically
OK, so it is clear that not every student is able to make a firm decision regarding a major right away. That is just fine. One way to combat the threat of losing time due to indecision is for freshmen to focus on completing any remaining “core curriculum” classes during the freshman year in order to stay on track and make sure the basic requirements for graduation are being met.
Remember also that students can use electives to “test out” different fields of specific interest that could become a major. Even if he or she decides to go in a different direction, the elective then still fills the space of a course for graduation later.
One way to be able to assist your child in getting through college quickly and smoothly is for your child to meet regularly with his or her college academic advisor. Each school will have its own requirements for graduation, and the academic advisor can often offer valuable insights into the best way forward – therefore, it is important that they develop a plan together. Your child specifically should let the advisor know that it is very important to him or her to graduate within four years (or less, if possible).
Of course, as mentioned above, many students enter college unsure of which major to choose. That is ok, but meeting with an advisor early on to prepare and develop a plan is helpful to turn that undecided time into productive time. An advisor can offer guidance on what courses to take that will help to point your child in the right direction. They will know which courses are appropriate to consider to and take that will help to develop their passions. They can also connect them with other older students or faculty members will be able to offer additional guidance and understanding that might be helpful coming from a peer.
Not all academic advisors are helpful, but many are, so this is an important resource to investigate during the early college stages. Also, many schools will have specific advisors for particular careers, such as pre-law, pre-medicine, or pre-business studies. Students who are interested in these professions should always seek input from the experts so they do not miss any requirements for their professional schools!
Having realistic expectations is important when your child goes to a college or university. It is also important to know if the university or college that your child will be attending is committed to his or her success. If you and your child visit colleges, it may not be a bad idea to go to the admissions office – or even faculty in a field of your child’s interest – and seek out a chat with one of the staff. You can ask them directly what their rates of graduation within 4 years are and if they are unwilling or unclear about it then that might give you some pause.
It does not necessarily mean that it is not a good institution, but it may deserve additional research. Most colleges do not post these rates so in order to uncover graduation rates and related information, parents often need to ask directly. Having a low rate of graduation within 4 years could mean a variety of things. If there are a great number of students who only go to school on a part-time basis, then this might be a red flag. This is a great time for us to remind you that your college funding advisor can also provide loads of valuable information regarding these details, which can be enormously valuable in selecting which school to attend.
Another way to help your child to stay on track is to express your interest in their education. Parents who express their desire for their child to have a meaningful college experience are more likely to have children who are also vested in their college experience, as well. It is important not to become extreme “helicopter parents,” which serves no positive purpose in the educational process, and no parents should insert themselves into tasks that students are fully capable of doing for themselves. However, parents can communicate their interest and their wishes for a helpful and meaningful college education to their child. Educators have noticed that the students who have the best outcomes are ones who come from households where the parents are vested in their college experience and want them to succeed.
Bear in mind that it may not be possible for every student to implement every suggestion listed above – some students may not have a firm grasp on exactly what they want to study as early as others, for example, and other students may not have access to college credit courses in the area where they attend high school. However, we make it our goal to assist our students in finding the best options for their speedy success in higher education. If even a couple of the suggestions listed above can be implemented – and there are others, as well – then the chances are good that a student will begin to cut down the amount of time (and money) spent on completing a college degree.
Until next month,