High school course selection: Can it help you save on the cost of college?
By Joe Messinger, CFP®
January 22, 2016
In January every year, high school students begin the task of selecting classes for the upcoming fall. With many types of classes to choose from (IB/AP/CCP), how can you help your student make the best decision? Will some of these chosen courses actually save you money when your student goes to college?
Yes, some courses your student takes now in high school will save you tuition dollars later in college. And while colleges will not give you scholarship money reducing the sticker price because you have taken a certain course like AP calculus, they often will provide you college credit for mastering a subject, and getting college credit for free is just like getting dollars taken off the bottom line.
Before we talk about specific types of courses, remember…it is important to work with your high school counselor to develop a plan that fits your student’s learning style and what fits them best. This decision is very individual. Also, starting early in your high school career to develop a plan that works for you is the best idea. With the new FAFSA being based on the prior-prior year, college funding planning needs to start much earlier. (Something to keep in mind…Your “base-year” for financial aid will be based on the spring of your sophomore year and fall of your junior year tax return. You want to look as POOR as possible during this “Base Year” as the majority of scholarships and grants are 4 year renewable.) It is so important to start planning early!
Now on to the types of coursework…In a previous blog, we talked about the International Baccalaureate program. Parents are sometimes surprised when they do not see scholarship offers from flagship universities as a result of the IB coursework. However, upper level IB courses where your student achieved a high test score can earn you college credit. When looking for a college, be sure to cast your net a bit wider to find schools willing to grant sophomore status to an incoming freshman based on their IB coursework. Our blog has a sample list of schools to think about.
When a student has a talent or strong interest in a particular subject, Advanced Placement (AP) may be the way to go. Students should be ready academically for the challenge of college level coursework and its faster pace before selecting AP courses. But if they are, AP classes can earn you college credits. The key to earning credit however is your student’s ability to score highly on the end of course exam. AP end of course exams are administered across the country by the College Board. Grades are on a 1 to 5 scale. Whether or not a college will grant you credit for your AP calculus or AP language course depends on your exam grade. Usually 5 or 4 (and sometimes 3) is needed to earn credit. So consider your student’s ability to study and do well on a test when determining if AP is the right fit for them.
Another alternative is taking actual college courses while IN high school. Many states have developed college course programs for high school students sometimes called dual enrollment or other titles. In Ohio, we have the College Credit Plus, CCP, program. Students enroll in a college course while still attending their high school and receive credit for that course from both. Courses taken from public colleges are free. High schools may have agreements with local universities to provide certain courses but students can take courses from any college—even online. Unlike the AP option, your ability to earn college credit for a CCP course is not determined by one final exam score. Your student earns the credit if they pass the course. So if your student struggles with taking a big test like the AP but still is ready for college level challenge, then CCP may be right for you.
With any of these choices, consider your child. Look to their strengths and interests when choosing course work they will excel at. Don’t push them into an AP English class when they hate English or always struggle with it. (As an aside, if you want a resource for figuring out your student’s strengths and interests, check out At The Core’s website.)
Making some choices now about your student’s high school classes in the fall can save you college money in a few years.
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