Decrease cost of college by earning post-secondary credits in high school

As a sophomore I was introduced last year to four college programs at my school, Washburn in Minneapolis. I had no idea which one to choose, and I had many questions that I thought were too dumb to ask -- things like, what should I know before choosing which program to take?

Four programs available in many Minnesota high schools can help you earn college credits before you even know what college you’re going to. The challenge is figuring out what the programs are and which one is best for you.

As a sophomore I was introduced last year to four college programs at my school, Washburn in Minneapolis. I had no idea which one to choose, and I had many questions that I thought were too dumb to ask — things like, what should I know before choosing which program to take?

Now I’ve learned. For my family, which doesn’t have a lot of money, it’s important that I earn college credit while in high school, when I don’t have to pay tuition. Because I didn’t get enough information, I picked the option that makes it hardest to get college credit.

When teachers kept telling us how important college credit classes were, I decided to make time to talk with my parents and choose a program that would give me college credit.

I had four options. The International Baccalaureate (IB) program is a two-year program with rigorous classes, service requirements and exams required to earn credit. Students can earn an IB diploma or take individual classes and exams to earn a certificate.

The Postsecondary Enrollment Option (PSEO) allows Minnesotao high school students to take their classes on a college campus while still earning the required high school credits. Advanced Placement (AP) is college-level work taught by high school teachers. College in the Schools (CIS) are University of Minnesota classes, with the same books and work assignments but taught in high schools instead of at college.

Even though the school counselors gave us some information, they didn’t tell us everything. After I had made my decision to take IB classes I researched these programs much more in-depth and found that I may have made the wrong choice.

What I found made me realize that the school just presented students with basic information, and they didn’t really go into depth about what I think was very important for students to know.

The IB program is for high school juniors and seniors to take classes in their high school with accredited IB teachers. The program is two years long and encourages students to be well-rounded in sports, arts, academics and service and take more rigorous courses. According to the IB website, there are more than 838,000 IB students at 3,003 schools in 139 countries.

I thought that just by taking the classes I would get the college credit. However, I found out I am going to have to take tests. The cost for first IB exam is $185 and $55 for the second exam. The fees can be covered by scholarships available to students who receive free and reduced-price lunch.

I thought rather than go to a college campus for PSEO classes, I would get college credits by staying at my high school with teachers I have gotten to know, see friends every day and still have a high school experience. But as I now find out, “nothing in IB is succinct. There are always long answers,” said Marianne Melton, the Washburn High School IB Coordinator.

I contacted Melton because I was overwhelmed and I didn’t know what to do with all the information I had read on the Washburn High School and IB websites. The requirements are really complex and as I dug into them, I realized that I would have to score high on the exams in order to get college credit. I learned that two-thirds of the IB tests taken in May 2008 had scores high enough for a chance to earn college credit. And not all colleges give credit for an IB diploma.

I’m not the only student who is confused. My friend Hector Gomez-Salazar, 16, a student at Washburn, said he chose IB over AP because “I wanted to challenge myself to try something on the next level…I think it [IB] will help me be better and smarter for college overall…it’s just going to help me be ready.”

Like me, he didn’t understand the details about the IB requirements and wasn’t asking enough questions.

I called Melton to clear things up, because I could still change my mind about the IB program. She explained that just passing an IB course isn’t enough to earn college credit. I could pass a course with a D+, but would need to get at least a 4 on a 1-7 scale on the IB exam to get college credit – and that depends on the admissions policy of the college I want to attend.

So even if I had A’s in all my IB classes, and I did my 150 hours of community service and took the tests, I wouldn’t be assured of getting college credits.

After the extensive research I did for IB I found out that it was still a good choice for me because it is a challenging program that will help me get ready for college. Knowing more about it made me more optimistic about passing my exams. However, my second choice had been PSEO, which I now think should have been my first choice because the college credits seem easier to obtain.

It’s crucial that when and if you are taking classes in high school for college credit you do research on how likely it is that colleges will grant you the credit if you do the work. Go to your counselor for a one-on-one talk about what you want, what programs there are, what they require and which choice is best for you. Don’t let your friends make choices for you and don’t be afraid to break away to something new. Most importantly, always ask the questions you have.

Here is a chart that breaks down all the options.

Chart prepared based on information from Sinthia Mireya Turcios and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities staff. Click here for a more detailed comparison of the four programs.