Many students earn college credits while they are still in high school, whether they are homeschooled or attend public or private school. Homeschooling for college credit commonly includes dual enrollment and testing for college credit.
Earning credits while homeschooling high school can save money on college courses that would otherwise be needed during the university years and can enhance a homeschooler's high school transcript.
Academic benefits of dual enrollment
Community colleges can meet the needs of homeschool students in quite a few ways.
Students can enroll in one or more college-level classes at community college while continuing to learn as a homeschooler in the usual ways at the same time.
Community colleges may have a minimum age (some with flexibility and some without) for participation in dual enrollment programs, and they may require certain minimum scores on placement tests, usually in math and language arts. These requirements can vary from state to state, so home educators should look into the regulations for their local community college.
The community college courses students take will provide both high school and college credit simultaneously through a dual enrollment program. For example, a student taking English 111: Introduction to Writing at the community college would have that class serve as their high school English class for 11th or 12th grade, and that's what would go on the high school homeschool transcript.
This is well accepted by colleges, who also see this practice from public school students.
(Typically, when a student is dual-enrolled in community college, a one semester college course is counted as a one full high school credit).
You can see that this allows students the efficiency of getting a head start on college classes that would be more expensive at a university later. Some students are able to shorten their time at university by a semester to as much as two years—with their expenses reduced significantly.
Additionally, when homeschooled high schoolers do well in their dual enrollment community college courses, four-year colleges and universities see outside evidence of readiness that shows the students are well-prepared to learn in a college environment. That's a big plus when applying to four-year institutions.
Community college classes also help students who are trying to meet college requirements for homeschoolers. They provide a way to cover difficult high school classes that a homeschool parent needs or wants to outsource, such as a language a parent does not speak or a lab science for which a parent does not have equipment or know-how.
Many four-year universities and colleges waive other admission requirements if a student has a significant number of dual enrollment credits from a community college, most commonly exempting them from submitting ACT or SAT scores—but not always. Some four-year institutions will even waive all gen ed (general education) requirements if a student transfers in with an associate's degree from a community college.
The Virginia Community College System, like those in many other states, even has Guaranteed Admission Agreements with many four-year institutions. Students can often begin taking required community college classes for these guaranteed admissions programs while they are still homeschooling high school.
In cases where the student is fulfilling requirements for a guaranteed admission program, keeping track of courses and deadlines is important. TheHomeSchoolMom offers a free community college course planner spreadsheet that highlights needed courses. Simply input program requirements and courses taken, and the spreadsheet shows what is missing from the requirements. The tracker helps students stay on track with course choices.
Details about terms. Sometimes dual enrollment (not "duel" enrollment) at a community college goes by another term, such as concurrent enrollment. Both dual and concurrent enrollment terms may also be confused with part-time enrollment or part-time attendance, which usually describe taking courses at a public high school while homeschooling. In some states, a teen might even be enrolled in public school part-time to take a dual enrollment course for which they earn college credit.
Your state may have its own terms to describe these various arrangements. To get the right answers to your questions, make sure you are using the correct term.
Enrolling in community college creates a permanent transcript of college courses and their final grades that will "follow" the student, so students should enroll only when they feel prepared to do well academically.
Developmental benefits of dual enrollment
And of course, dual enrollment in community college can be a big plus for homeschool students as they manage the transition to college they learn:
- to read a course syllabus
- to deal with class attendance and grading policies
- to study from more challenging textbooks
- to attend classes on a college campus with college students and have a chance to participate in class discussions and group projects
These experiences are similar to discussions and projects in homeschool co-ops and homeschool classes but often at a higher level.
Another advantage? Like public school students who dual enroll, homeschooled teens can begin by taking a single college class while living in their home environment, so the adjustment to college is more gradual.
Parents should also consider potential challenges of dual enrollment for individual kids. A homeschooled kid without the academic background or executive function skills to do well may have a rough first experience with college classes and struggle with grades.
Registration procedures may be different for dual-enrolled students, such as requiring in-person registration with a parent present. Meeting with an academic advisor can help both parents and students understand some of the potential challenges of specific classes.
High school students also need to be mature enough to attend classes with students who are college age and beyond. This is not your homeschool group!
Cost of dual enrollment
Some states make dual enrollment in community college available free or at a reduced fee for all students, whether they are homeschooled or attend school. However, in many states, those free or lower cost programs are only available to students enrolled in a public high school—not to homeschoolers.
Even if you pay the sticker price for tuition at a community college, the cost is typically still substantially lower than the cost of tuition at four-year colleges and universities.
Dual enrolled students typically do not qualify for federal education loans.
Community college after homeschooling
Dual enrollment is not the only way homeschoolers benefit from community colleges. Learn more from our article about enrolling in community college after homeschooling is complete. Community college can be the ideal step for many teens after high school graduation, as well as for formerly homeschooled adults who want more education after some years of working, military service, or raising children.
Credit from other colleges
Some four-year colleges and universities allow high school students to enroll as non-degree seeking students for a limited number of courses. Others may have their own approach to dual enrollment.
Our article on High School Homeschool Curriculum provides more background on how to combine homeschooling to earn college credit with more usual—and some unusual—high school homeschool credits.
College credit through testing
In addition to earning college credit through dual enrollment, students can test for college credit.
CLEP and DSST. These tests offer two ways to receive college credit by testing as well as being an excellent way to show outside evidence of readiness. Military members frequently use DSST tests. DSST courses are listed on their website, and both test centers and a list of institutions accepting credit for DSST tests can be located with their search tool.
The College Board administers CLEP tests; check their website for details about institutions accepting credit for CLEP tests as well as dates and locations for testing.
Another credit-by-exam option is UExcel through Excelsior College; check their site for details.
AP® testing. A good score on an AP test is an indication that a student is likely to succeed in a college setting. You do not have to have taken an approved AP course to sit for an AP exam, but the courses cover all of the material on the exam. Exams are administered by the College Board for several subjects and are scored on a 1-5 scale, with credit being awarded at a college's discretion (usually credit is only awarded for a score of 4 or 5, and sometimes not even then).
AP® classes. A class can only be called an AP class if the College Board has approved it, so you should only use that designation on your transcript if the student took an AP course approved by the College Board. Courses taught using AP materials but not through an AP -approved course & instructor should not be labeled as AP courses.
The terms Honors or Advanced can be used as appropriate for advanced material and coursework and be weighted heavier.
Limits to testing for credit.
- Not all institutions accept CLEP credits, or they may be accepted on a limited basis. Some colleges will not accept CLEP credits within a student's major.
- It is becoming less common for colleges to award college credit for AP tests.
- Professional schools (law school, dental school, medical school, vet school) may not select college grads who "test out" of prerequisites during their undergraduate years in college, so your teen's goals matter. For example, students who have pre-med aspirations may not be well served by "testing out" of college science classes and may need to take the actual college classes to qualify for med school admission.
If you are encouraging your teen to pursue college credit during high school, be aware that not all such college credits are perceived equally by four-year colleges and universities. Credits earned during high school from enrollment at regionally accredited institutions (like state community colleges and most universities) are the gold standard and transfer to other colleges most readily.
Credits earned in other ways and from non-accredited or differently-accredited undergraduate institutions may be seen as less desirable by four-year schools, and those credits may not transfer.
Homeschooling for College Credit has a list of 30 Ways to Earn College Credit, sorted by the level of transferability.
College credits earned during high school may also create different perceptions among college admissions counselors depending on how they were earned. For example, credits earned through in-person dual enrollment college classes may be more highly regarded than credits earned through online courses. (There were certainly exceptions to this during 2020 and 2021).
Colleges and universities may have a limit to the number of college credits earned in high school that they will accept, and this limit can vary widely. Sometimes, particular "schools" within universities (such as a School of Engineering or a School of Architecture) may not apply credits earned during high school to the requirements for that particular college major.
Here's one tricky aspect of managing college credits earned in high school: sometimes earning too many college credits means a student would be ineligible for certain merit scholarships awarded exclusively to freshman at some of the colleges they plan to apply to. On the other hand, some colleges don't count dual enrollment credits (earned before high school graduation) toward what "college class"(freshman, sophomore, junior, senior) a student is in, so the student can still be considered a freshman as far as those merit scholarships.
Regardless of any extra considerations, earning good grades in community college courses and testing for college credit are two ways students may be able to save money and provide the outside evidence colleges like to use to determine whether applicants are ready to succeed in college.