My senior year as a college freshman

Normandale Community College
Ty Heimerl is both a senior at New Prague High School and a full-time post-secondary student at Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minn.
Photo By: Ty Heimerl
Ty Heimerl sits in class at Normandale Community College
Ty Heimerl sits in class at Normandale Community College wearing his New Prague High School hat and St. John's University sweatshirt. By going to college full-time his senior year, Ty hopes to save about $43,000 on tuition at St. John's. Photo courtesy of Ty Heimerl
With the cost of the colleges that I am looking at for next year, I am guessing I could save more than $43,000 for my first year.

My junior year, I faced a dilemma: stay at New Prague High School for my senior year, or go on to college.

Post-Secondary Enrollment Option classes, open to high school juniors and seniors, would allow me to attend any college with a PSEO program and earn college credits for free.

On one hand, I could have a great senior year of taking easy classes, hanging out with friends, and being in all sorts of after-school clubs. On the other hand, I could really challenge myself by attending college for free, making new friends, and getting a head start on my future.

According to a report by the Minnesota Department of Education’s Center for Postsecondary Success, 30,392 students took PSEO classes in 2009.

I decided to do full-time PSEO because I wanted to escape high school cliques, earn free college credits, and to be challenged academically.

Tons of free time forces discipline

My first semester, I went to school 12.5 hours a week, and had Fridays off. I took General Psychology, Freshmen Composition, Geography of the U.S. and Canada, and Principles of Nutrition. I chose these courses to fulfill high school requirements and because those credits would transfer to my colleges of choice: St. John’s University and the University of St. Thomas.

On Aug. 22, I started my college career with Freshmen Composition. The class was very easy and the professor was great, and I was done by 9:30 a.m. It feels weird to have so much free time.

My college classes have not been as challenging as I expected, but I have spent countless hours every day working on homework. I agree 100 percent with my professors who said college students should spend twice as much time on homework outside of class as they do in class. In my geography class alone, I spent almost four hours per night studying.

In Freshmen Composition, I worried that I would not be able to keep up with the amount of assigned work. I was intimidated by the fact that on top of day-to-day assignments, I was expected to write a 10-page research paper about texting while driving.

College classes move a lot faster than high school classes. It takes about one week to cover a chapter in the textbook in college, while it takes about two or three weeks to cover one chapter in high school.

Each class also had an assigned project or paper due by the end of the semester, looming over you. I did a good job at keeping up and my grades show it. I got straight A’s.

Don’t hate the smarts

I also chose to do PSEO because of the cliques at my high school. I don’t feel like I fit in well there, and I don’t like the labels high school students put on other students.

In high school, I was always known as the person who always had his hand up and was ready to participate. People would say things like, “Ty knows the answer,” or “why should we even participate if Ty has all the answers?” It irritated me.

I hoped that at college, all of that would be different; it would be a fresh start where nobody knew anything about me.

One day in Psychology class at Normandale, I was called on at least five times and nobody said anything about me answering all of the questions. I was expecting people to say something or give me a weird look, but it never happened. I realized that maybe things are different at college, and people are more accepting of others’ contributions to the classroom discussion. This is another big reason why I have come to love college life.

Credit this to my future

The biggest reason I chose to do PSEO is the amount of money I will save on a college education. With the cost of the colleges that I am looking at for next year, I am guessing I could save more than $43,000 for my first year of college.

There are trade-offs when you decide to go to college for your senior year. You have to give up some fun activities, like being 100 percent involved in sports and extracurricular activities.

I am captain of the varsity soccer team at my school and I had to miss some of my practices, including the grueling, morning two-a-day practices before the high school year starts. Fortunately, my soccer coach was okay with me missing some practices, but as captain, I felt bad I wasn’t there.

Going to college a year before your friends does impact your social life. I don’t see friends from high school every day anymore, and most of the people I do meet at Normandale are older than me, except for the other PSEO students.

My parents noticed my lack of social interaction and suggested I go back to high school for just one class. So, about a month into my PSEO classes, I went back to high school for one class three days a week: band, but for no grade. This way I can still see my friends and feel like I’m still a part of high school life.

I have had to be very motivated to try to hang out with friends because our school schedules don’t match as well. Because I finish school much earlier than my friends do every day, I have a lot of time to work on homework and to study. By the time my friends finish school at 2:30 p.m., I almost always have my homework done.

When I want to hang out with them, they’re studying. But we still find a way to make it work and it gives me a nice balance of both college life and high school life.

My first semester of college finished on December 13. Although Normandale was not as difficult as I had imagined it to be, I had a really positive experience during my first semester there.

I’ve found the benefits of doing full-time PSEO outweigh the negatives. Every high school student should consider enrolling in PSEO classes their junior or senior years.