Keep Your Cash: Take The Shortcut Through College

We’ve all been there: 7:30 a.m., yawning in the back of Intermediate Algebra and then 40 minutes later shuffling down the hall to Basic Spanish, or Study Hall, or Gym. We all know that most of high school was pointless busy work or a giant time-wasting daycare to keep us out of trouble. We suffered through it thinking, “It’s almost Friday” or “Next year is Senior year,” wishing there were a better alternative. Had to plug through this, then go to college, and then get a job.

Too bad nobody told us that we could have kickstarted our higher education and gotten our associate’s degree by the time we were 18. I took 7 Advanced Placement classes in high school and that didn’t even cut a semester off my bachelor’s degree (though it did help me get into better classes and be more prepared overall). My kid sister is 15 years old, a homeschooled sophomore equivalent, and is taking 2 classes at the local community college this semester.

Not only will she get college credit, but it simultaneously counts as a full year high school class! The really crazy part is, she’s only paying $500 per class, while living at home and working on weekends.

Just think about how much money you would have saved or debt would disappear if you had gotten a bunch of General Ed. credits out of the way before getting to your college. Remember when you got to school and you were super excited to be taking college courses (and paying $20,000-$50,000 to do it!), and then your first class was basically a review of your Global History class from junior year? Attending community college first lets you skip straight to the interesting classes once at University.

I don’t know about you, but despite my 7 AP classes I was not prepared for the work style of college. I was terribly disorganized, had nonexistent study habits, and was not used to participating in class. Colleges expect you to be a “self-starter,” proactive about getting your work done, managing your time and distractions, and there is no one checking in on you to make sure you’ve been researching that 25 page term paper for Intro to Philosophy. In high school, the teachers coddle you and remind you every day that “the midterm is next Friday!” and when you come home, your parents might get on your case too.

Going to community college is, no sh*t, actually like a college classroom environment! Not to mention it’s full of opportunities high school doesn’t provide, like internships and teachers with experience in professional fields.

Standardized tests carry a ton of baggage, criticisms including bias towards certain socio-economic classes, preference towards some types of learning methods, making it incredible challenging for people with mild learning disorders, and they lack clarity on what the objective of the test is and what scores represent/measure.

Applying as a transfer changes the focus of a college admissions officer away from SAT/ACT scores to work ethic, personal engagement with academics, and willingness to step out from conventional paths and think for oneself, all very positive attributes reflecting the “go-getter” attitude of a transfer. This can often make being accepted to a college easier as a transfer student versus applying out of high school because you have already demonstrated you can handle collegiate level work, plus you went out of the way to make it happen.

I have another sister who is going to graduate from college only one year after me, in May 2014, with her nursing degree from St Louis University, despite the fact she is 2 years younger than I am and has been 2 years behind academically for most of our lives. Because she took classes at the community college starting her sophomore year, she cut a year off her education (SLU web calculator says that a year of undergrad costs $48k), will start working in her professional field a year earlier, earning money to pay off her loans, and help keep the world a healthier place.

If it’s not too late for you to save yourself some time and money, I’m jealous. But if you’re like me and learning about this after college, spread the word. Your little cousin is sick of talking to the parents about plans for continuing education and would definitely appreciate a little heads up advice from you.

Photo credit: US News And Reports