Can Online College Courses Be Taken in High School?

Taking college courses while in high school is not a new practice although interest in this approach increased significantly with online course offerings. Highly motivated high school students may opt to pursue college courses as part of their curriculum under a dual enrollment agreement between their high school and the colleges offering the courses. It is also possible for high school students to enroll in college-level course offerings independently as a way to explore their interests and abilities.

Dual Enrollment Programs

Dual enrollment is an academic track for high school students who meet minimum requirements, including grade point averages (GPAs) and satisfactory completion of course prerequisites. Students who qualify are allowed to enroll in college courses that may be online, on-campus at the high school or on the college campus itself. The choice of courses may be limited, and the program is typically designed to focus on a few specific fields. Grades earned count towards the students’ GPA but may weigh more than regular high school courses to reflect more rigorous course work.

Online enrollment for dual-program courses increases student participation as it resolves transportation issues especially for students who may not have a driver’s license or access to transportation. Online courses make it possible for high school students to maximize their participation in dual enrollment programs, earning credits for high school graduation and advanced credits for college. In most cases, taking college courses under a dual-enrollment agreement between high schools and colleges means that course fees are waived or reduced, resulting in savings on college tuition.

Independent Participation

Students seeking exposure to advanced materials may have the option of enrolling in online college courses on their own. Credits earned for completing these courses may be count as college credits but may not have any bearing on the student’s high school GPA. Students may have to pay course fees on their own although some colleges offer reduced tuition to high school students pursuing college course work. In terms of course choices, students who are not restricted by a dual-enrollment program may enroll in any course provided they have already completed all the prerequisites.

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Choosing College Courses

Taking college courses in high school has many benefits, including access to advanced materials that are not typically provided to secondary school students. To make the most of early access to college coursework, exercise good judgment when choosing which courses to pursue. Under a dual-enrollment program, the courses are pre-selected to lead to a specific focus or career track. Advanced math courses are open to those who plan to major in engineering and other sciences while courses in writing and language mechanics are open to those who plan on majoring in journalism or fine arts. High school students taking online college courses as an independent study will most likely choose courses according to their interests and aptitude.

Data from the U.S. Department of Education indicate that 34 percent of high school students enrolled in college courses that were available to them usually under dual-enrollment programs. While most of these students took courses at their campus, about 8 percent completed the courses online.

Pursuing college courses while in high school has many advantages, but it is important that students understand the discipline, drive and commitment required to complete the course requirements. Online enrollment requires a higher level of commitment because students are essentially working on their own, but this is a good way to get a head start on earning a college degree.