Are you a high school student who is interested in taking classes at a community college? Community college classes can be a great way for high school students to take more challenging courses and prepare for college.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about community college classes for high school students: the benefits of taking community college classes in high school, when to take them, and how you can start getting enrolled.
How Can a High School Student Take Community College Classes?
Aren’t community college classes just for college students? Actually, no. While the primary purpose of community college is to provide an education to college students, most now also offer classes to people of varying ages and levels of education, from children to senior citizens.
Many community colleges allow high school students to take certain classes. Sometimes high school students are only able to enroll in introductory classes, and they may also be required to submit their high school transcript or a teacher recommendation as proof that they can handle a college-level course.
Some high schools have organized programs with community colleges that allow high school students to take college classes as a replacement for one or more of their regular high school classes. This is especially common in smaller high schools or those with few advanced or AP course offerings because it lets high school students take challenging classes they wouldn’t have been able to take otherwise. These classes can help high school students strengthen their transcripts and prepare for college.
Other times, high school students choose to take community college classes without receiving any high school credit; however; they may be able to receive college credit once they enroll in a college or university.
What Are the Benefits of Taking Community College Classes in High School?
Why would a high school student be interested in taking community college classes? There are several benefits.
Benefit #1: You Can Take More Advanced Classes
If your high school doesn’t offer certain advanced classes, taking them at a community college can be a great way to strengthen your transcript. If your high school doesn’t offer many or even any AP classes, you may be concerned that your school's lack of challenging classes will put you behind other students when applying to and starting college.
You may also be particularly strong in a certain subject and want to take an advanced course in it, either because you have taken all your high school’s classes in that subject, or they are not challenging enough for you. At my high school, each year, several students who had taken AP Calculus as juniors would take Calculus III at the local community college to gain more math skills and be better prepared for college math classes.
Taking these classes at a community college while you are still in high school can help prepare you for college classes and possibly allow you to skip some introductory classes once you get to college.
Benefit #2: They Can Help Your College Application Stand Out
Having college classes on your transcript is a great way to strengthen your transcript and your college applications. Your community college classes may be included on your high school transcript, labeled in such a way to show they are college-level classes, or, if not, you can include your community college transcript with your applications.
Taking community college classes in high school shows that you can take initiative, are hard working, and have strong academic skills, which are all qualities colleges like to see in applicants.
Benefit #3: You'll Be Better Prepared for College
If you are concerned about college or simply want to be better prepared when you set foot on campus, taking classes at a community college is a great way to introduce yourself to the rigor of college-level classes.
College classes, even at community colleges, are usually more difficult and faster-paced than high school classes, and by taking one or more in high school, you can be better prepared for university classes. This will likely help you get better grades and feel less stressed as a college student.
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What Are the Drawbacks to Taking Community College Classes in High School?
Though there are major benefits to community college classes for high school students, there are also some drawbacks.
Drawback #1: They Can Be Challenging
College classes can be quite different from high school classes; they are usually more challenging, faster-paced, and require more homework and studying. If you are not prepared for this, taking a community college class can be very stressful, and you may not get the grade you want.
Drawback #2: They May Not Always Be Fulfilling
Sometimes, community college classes aren't challenging, in fact, in some cases high school students feel that the community college classes they take are easy, especially when compared to AP or other advanced classes. If you are used to rigorous classes, there's a chance that you will find your community college classes too easy, especially if you are taking introductory classes. This may result in you not learning as much as you'd like to.
A good way to reduce the chance of this happening is to ask the school for a syllabus of the class or classes you are interested in taking. Syllabi will usually include the topics students learn and major assignments, and they can help you get a better idea of what the class will cover and how quickly it will cover it.
Drawback #3: They Can Be Expensive
Most students do not have to pay for the classes they take in high school, and it can be difficult to afford the tuition required for college classes. Even though community college classes are typically less expensive than regular 4-year colleges, tuition is still usually at least $100 per credit hour, which means taking one community college class can cost several hundred dollars or more.
Sometimes high schools will pay for their students to take community college classes, especially if they don't offer a particular class themselves. Ask your academic adviser what your school's policy is for covering the costs of community college classes. If they do help with costs, this can save you thousands of dollars!
However, if your high school doesn't cover community college costs, be sure to choose your community college classes carefully so you know you are getting the best value for your money. Also, if your high school offers a similar course, such as an AP class, you may want to consider taking that instead.
Taking community college classes may mean you have to pay tuition fees and other expenses. (Tax Credits/Flickr)
Read the sections below to learn more about how to make smart decisions when taking community college classes and minimize negative impacts.
When Should You Take Community College Classes?
You should think carefully about what semester and year you want to enroll in a community college class. It’s recommended that you don’t take community college classes until you are at least a junior in high school. By the time you are an upperclassman, you will likely have had more challenging courses and will be more prepared for college-level classes.
If you take a community college class early on in high school, you may find it overwhelming or too challenging. This can cause you to get a low grade that won’t get you many of the benefits listed above.
Another important decision is whether to take a community college class during the school year or over the summer. Most community colleges offer both options, though not all courses may be offered each semester. If you are getting high school credit or replacing a high school class, then you will likely take the community college class during the school year.
If there are certain times of the year when you are less busy (for example, a semester when you don’t have a sport or have less challenging classes), you may want to take a community class then so that you can spend more time on it. However, if the community college class you are interested in isn’t earning you high school credit or replacing a high school class, it may be easier for you to take it during the summer. Taking a community college class during the summer gives you more time to concentrate on it because you won’t have to balance a full high school course load at the same time.
Don’t try to take a community college class if you are already busy with your high school classes and activities. Taking a college course when you don’t have enough time to put towards it can cause you to feel stressed and overwhelmed, and it may cause you to get a low grade in the class, which won’t do much to help your applications or prepare you for college.
It’s also recommended that you start by enrolling in only one community college class at a time, especially if you are taking it during the school year. This will give you a chance to get used to college classes without getting in over your head.
Don't sign up for too many community college classes at once, or else you may find yourself feeling overwhelmed, and your high school grades may drop.
How Do You Decide Which Community College Classes to Take?
You will want to think carefully about which community college classes to take in order to maximize their usefulness and how much you learn. Although high school students often can't sign up for classes until after full-time college students have, you will likely still have a lot of potential class options left to choose from.
Read through your community college’s course catalog and think about the following questions to help you choose which courses to take:
Consideration #1: Are There Classes Your High School Doesn't Offer That You'd Like to Take?
Look at your high school’s course catalog and think about the classes you plan to take before you graduate. Is there a particular class you wish you could take but isn’t offered by your high school? This can include advanced classes such as upper-level math classes or AP classes, or it can simply be classes you are interested in but your school doesn’t offer, like certain foreign language classes or a specialized history course.
If so, look to see if your community college offers a course in that subject. Colleges, even community colleges, usually have a wider course selection than high schools, so you may be able to find a class you’re interested in. Often when you take a class you enjoy you’ll get a higher grade in it than a class you don’t find interesting because you are more motivated to study and do the homework.
Consideration #2: Which Classes Will Be Useful for College?
Another thing to consider when choosing community college classes is which classes will help best prepare you for college. If you already know what you plan on majoring in, then you may want to take classes related to that field of study. For example, if you know you want to be pre-med, check out your community college’s biology or human physiology classes.
If you are not sure what you’d like to study in college, almost all majors are required to take at least one math and one writing class, so courses in those subjects will likely be useful later on.
However, don’t assume that you will automatically get college credit for the community college classes you take because some colleges have very strict policies about transfer credit. Even if you don’t receive college credit, remember that taking community college classes is still useful because they strengthen your college applications and help you be better prepared for future college classes.
Consideration #3: Which Subjects Does Your High School Recommend?
Your school may already have a list of community college classes that previous students have taken and enjoyed, and they may also have a list of community college classes that they give credit for or accept as a substitute for a particular high school class.
If your high school has recommendations, this can make choosing which courses to take easier, because you will already have some idea of what classes other students have found useful. This information is also helpful if you are looking to get high school credit for your community college class.
Consideration #4: What Prerequisites Are Required?
When you see a class you find interesting, check the course description to see if there are any prerequisites or prior knowledge you need to have in order to take the class. College classes are already more challenging than high school classes, and taking a class you aren’t prepared for on top of that can make it very difficult to get a good grade in the class.
In addition to checking prerequisites, you may also want to start by taking introductory classes to ease yourself into college-level courses. These classes usually have the word “Introduction” or “Introductory” in their title or have a course number that begins with the number one (such as English 101).
Consideration #5: When Are Certain Classes Offered?
Logistics are also an important consideration when choosing classes. There may be certain days of the week or months of the year when you have more time to devote to your community college classes.
As mentioned above, it’s important to make sure you have enough free time in your schedule before you enroll in a community college course. By choosing classes that fill well in your schedule, you will make your community college experience less stressful and more enjoyable.
Looking through your calendar may help you decide which community college classes to take.
How to Enroll in Community College Classes
After you have decided which class you want to take, you need to begin the enrollment process. Before you enroll, talk to your academic adviser at your high school to learn if this class will be included on your transcript or if you will be able to use it to substitute for another course. You may need to provide them with a course description or syllabus to review. You should also ask them if your high school will cover the costs of the class, and, if so, how and when they will do so.
Next you need to enroll in the community college. This process varies by school. Some only require you to fill out basic information about yourself, especially if you will only be taking a few classes. Others require the same enrollment process a full-time student attending the school goes through, which may mean filling out an application and submitting test scores. This process can take up to a few weeks, so give yourself enough time to complete it before classes start.
Once you are enrolled, you can sign up for the class you want to take. Remember that, as mentioned above, oftentimes high school students have to wait until after current college students have had a chance to select their courses before they are able to sign up for classes.
Almost all community colleges have online enrollment, but you can also usually sign up by mailing in a form or going to the campus office and selecting your classes in person. At this time, you will likely have to submit your tuition payment. After you sign up for a class, you will be sent information about it. This information usually includes where and when the class meets, what textbooks and other materials you need, and a course syllabus that tells you what topics the class will cover.
Before the class starts, buy your textbooks and any other materials you need, and make sure you know how to get to the campus. On the first day of class, try to arrive a few minutes early so that you are ready and prepared when your first college class begins. Congratulations, you're now on your way to becoming a college student!
- Many students have the option of enrolling in classes at a local community college as a way to take a more advanced class or help prepare them for college.
- You may be able to substitute a community college class for one of your high school classes or get credit for it once you start college.
- Even though they can be expensive and challenging, taking community college classes while in high school can strengthen your transcript and help you be more prepared for college classes.
- Wait to take community college classes until you are at least a junior and know you have enough time to devote to the class.
- To decide which class to take, look over the school’s course catalog, talk to your academic adviser, and think about which classes will be helpful when you go to college.
Want to know what classes you can take in high school? We have a complete list of high school classes so you can see what your options are.
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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.