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A Smart Head Start on College

By Emily Driscoll

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Taking College Level Courses in High School

If college is on your radar in the next few years, now's the time to start thinking:

  • How can I increase my chances of graduating on time, if not earlier?
  • How can I reduce the amount of loans I'll have to repay after graduating?
  • How can I give my self a head start finding a job or career I love?

If you're academically driven and motivated, advanced and college level courses like Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) can help you earn credits while still in high school.

Increase your chances of getting an acceptance letter, save money, and better prepare for a college work load—sounds good, right?

But, be warned: this is a big commitment in terms of time and energy. The payoff can be well worth it if you put in the effort.

Save money long term

If you decide to take on an entire course load of higher-level classes, paying for multiple exam fees can get expensive fast.

But it can really pay off in the long run if you score well. Colleges have their own policies on how many credits they give for your score (a 4 or 5 on your exam usually earns you credit and many schools also give credits for a 3, and some scores can earn you eight or more credits).

If you score high enough on several AP or IB exams, you could potentially earn enough credits for an entire semester and finish college early.

Do the math

To figure out the potential return on investment, let's break down the numbers:

  • AP exams cost:  $89 per exam
  • IB exams cost:  $104 per exam

Although students usually take on exam costs, many states and districts offer fee subsidies. Program coordinators and guidance counselors can shed more light on fee reduction options.

The College Board provides a $28 fee reduction per AP exam for qualified students with real financial need. For each eligible student, some schools also give out an $8 rebate, leaving students to pay $53 per exam.

The average cost of a three credit hour college course, ranging from a community college to an elite university, costs $250 to $900 respectively.

Let's say you take four IB/AP courses during junior and senior year and score high enough on them to earn three credit hours for each. Averaging the cost of the exam to be around $100, you can save anywhere between $600 and $3200!

More flexibility with your choice of school

Taking a tougher course load doesn't just potentially save you money, it gives you more credibility with admissions officers. College level courses can set you apart from the pack, show you're serious, and increase the likelihood of getting into the college of your choice.

Getting into more colleges gives you a wider range of schools to choose from that fit within your budget.

You can also increase your chances of receiving more institutional aid as well as "free money" (scholarships, grants, etc.), usually awarded on a first come, first served basis.

More bang for your buck

The College Board reports that only 49% of high school seniors polled say their school did a good job in preparing them for success in both college and the workplace.

By taking these courses, you're more likely to grasp college work by the horns and perform better. Research continually shows that students who score a 3 or higher in their AP exams are more likely to succeed in college than their non-AP peers.

You can increase the odds of finishing in four years or less, take out fewer loans and have less accruing interest to be repaid after graduation. You can get into the working world more quickly, figure out what your passion is, start making money and repay any debt you have.

FoolProof recommends: How to do it smart

Do your research beforehand: Get familiar with class materials/course requirements and understand the level of commitment required by checking out a list of the courses before you sign up.

Don't bite off more than you can chew: If you can't handle all of the academic/time obligations, you could end up losing money if you skimp on exam prep.

Don't slack: The College Board reports that nearly 50% of high school students taking AP courses don't pass the exams to qualify for college credit. These courses are difficult and if you don't take them seriously and study enough, it will cost you.

Stay organized: Keep track of all results and the exam score stipulations of colleges you're applying to.  Some school policies vary on what is accepted for credit, and some don't accept these classes at all.

At the end of the day, you are responsible for how your education plays out. If you put in hard work now, you can make better academic and financial choices in the future. For more information, see the links below.

Good luck!

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