Early what? Is it a dual enrollment program? Do you get college credit? Do you take classes with college students? These are just a few of the questions that I get when I tell people that I go to an early college high school.
The early college program is something unfamiliar to many people, and to add to the confusion, there are middle colleges and dual enrollment programs with colleges and community colleges. The difference between the two is that middle colleges are a bridge between early college and normal high school programs, and the idea for an early college grew from middle colleges. Both have classes on college campuses; however, middle colleges do not take their core classes with college students and do not always get as much college credit, whereas at early college high schools, students take classes with college students in 11th and 12th grade. Both have the opportunity to earn college credit and have college schedules, but early college is a type of dual enrollment, where students take classes for credit at a college, most commonly in their junior and senior years. Instead of going to a normal high school and taking a few college classes, like in many dual enrollment programs, early college students actually go to a specified early college school and try to fulfill their high school requirements while receiving two or more years college credit.
The Good and The Bad of Early College
As awesome as this program sounds, there are many aspects to consider when deciding on whether or not to go to an early college. Many early college high school programs are small. For example, my current school only has around 50 people in each grade and less than 200 in the whole school. There are many benefits of having fewer students, such as smaller class sizes and more attention from teachers and your high school counselor. In addition, it’s easy to know everyone at your school and everyone is generally friendly and welcoming; however, there are drawbacks of having a too inclusive community such as a lack of diversity and new ideas.
If you prefer spending time in extracurricular activities over academics, having a small student body may be another drawback. Since many early college programs have small student bodies, many early college high schools do not do as well on team extracurriculars, such as Science Olympiad or Mock Trial and there are a limited number of clubs (my school only has 12 school clubs). Also, if you want to do sports, you have to participate in sports teams at your district school, since most early college schools do not have their own sports teams. This is also partially because the early college program has a strong focus on academics, since the course load is significantly heavier than in most high schools. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t excel at individual extracurriculars or volunteering – you only need to put a little more effort. Because of not having a large class size, some early college high schools have more leadership opportunities available to its students, such as being on the board of clubs and student body positions.
Another considerable drawback of attending an early college high school is having to fulfill high school requirement during your first two or three years. Doing this means that you will probably have a limited selection of courses to choose from, most of them being taken to fulfill your high school requirement. In addition, the heavy course load may not be for everyone, since many of the courses are AP-level or year-long courses condensed into semesters. For example, at my school, AP Psychology is a semester-long course and the math courses before AP calculus are semester-long courses. However, once you finish the high school requirement, you can take most of the college classes and participate in a few college extracurriculars in your junior and/or senior year of high school. This gives you more choices for your schedule than most high school do and you get the flexibility of a college schedule.
Why Choose an Early College Experience?
One reason many people go to early college high schools is to get college credit. This could potentially save you money, since it allows you to graduate college early (depending on the college); however, many early college students choose not to graduate early in college and to focus on adding majors and studying abroad. Another benefit of the early college program is getting internships easily, since the college you attend has services that help you land your next internship. Exposure to college life also better prepares you for college and helps you improve your time management skills.
So, if you’re looking to amass a few more college credits or expose yourself to college life, early college high school programs may be a good fit for you. Otherwise, there are many other alternatives to traditional high schools such as homeschooling, online schools, and vocational schools. You do you.