Earning College Credit in High School Through Third-Party Organizations

Updated August 4, 2021 | Staff Writers

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Earn College Credit Before Stepping on Campus

College is a big step, and it’s such an important one that many students (and their parents) go to great lengths to prepare ahead of time and ensure that the four years spent in study mode will yield the best possible outcome for a successful future. Whether this means preparing for college entrance exams to get into the school of their choice or spending summers on college campuses to earn credits ahead of time, the goal is the same—to get a jump start on what may be the most influential experience of your life. In this article, we’ll explore one way to accomplish this goal: earning college credit online through third-party educational organizations.

Why Earn College Credit Outside of the College System?

Most colleges and universities offer summer programs for high school students, and many of these programs offer opportunities for students to earn college credit, even before being accepted into the school. With these types of programs available, you may wonder what the advantages are of earning college credit outside of the college system. For many students and their families, the answer lies in affordability. Many programs that are directly affiliated with specific colleges and universities are quite expensive, even with the help of financial aid and scholarships. Third-party organizations typically offer much more affordable options. Another consideration is accessibility. College and university programs can often be exclusive and competitive, meaning it can be difficult to gain admission, especially if you don’t have a stellar academic record. College credit through third-party agencies tends to be much more accessible. While they might not accept just anyone, if your academics are decent, then you shouldn’t have much of a problem getting in. But just how do third-party organizations offer this college credit and what requirements do students have to meet in order to be eligible? We’ll address these and other concerns about earning precollege credit online in the coming paragraphs.

How to Earn College Credit Online Prior to College Enrollment

While most people are aware of distance learning opportunities for enrolled college students, not everyone knows of the online options available to students pre-college. These online programs provide a convenient way for students to get a head start on their postsecondary academic careers, no matter where they choose to finish their degrees in the long term. In this article, we’ll explore some of the ways that high school students can begin earning college credit without ever stepping foot in an actual classroom.

Online Advanced Placement (AP) Courses

For decades, the College Board has provided a way for high school students to earn college credit through Advanced Placement—or AP—courses. By taking advanced courses and passing a rigorous exam, students can earn credit at little or no cost, getting a head start on their college degrees. Nearly all colleges and universities in the United States—and over 60 international institutions of higher education—accept AP credits. Today, students can opt to take AP courses online, making this avenue for earning college credit precollege even more convenient. Online AP courses are available in subject areas such as English, History, Science, Social Science, Art, Foreign Language, Mathematics, Computer Science, and more. Below are some AP course titles that can be taken entirely online:

  • AP English Language and Composition
  • AP Biology
  • AP World History
  • AP Statistics
  • AP World History
  • AP Spanish Language and Culture
  • AP Calculus
  • AP Environmental Science
  • AP Physics
  • AP Human Geography
  • AP Computer Science

To receive credit for online AP courses, students must take the AP exam in the subject they studied online. They must then submit their exam score to the college or university they plan to attend for completion of their degree. Each school has its own policy about how much credit (if any) they will award students based on their score. AP exams are graded on a scale of 1 to 5, depending upon the level of qualification in the subject that the student demonstrates on the examination:

  • 5 = extremely well qualified
  • 4 = well qualified
  • 3 = qualified
  • 2 = possibly qualified
  • 1 = no recommendation

Once the school receives a student’s score, it will decide whether or not the student will receive credit, placement, or both for their exam score. If a student receives credit for the exam, that means he or she will be awarded points towards their degree. If a student receives placement, he or she will be able to skip some introductory-level courses in the exam subject and advance to more complex courses. In many cases, a student will receive both credit and placement. Typically, colleges and universities will only consider a score of 3 or above for credit or placement, but it’s important to check with your chosen school for its specific AP policy.

Online Dual Enrollment Program

Dual enrollment is a relatively new program designed to give high school students a leg up on earning college credit. Dual enrollment courses are similar to AP courses in that they’re advanced classes that give juniors and seniors the opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school, but there are a couple of distinct differences. First, dual enrollment classes allow students to earn two types of credit—high school credit and college credit—thus, the term “dual” enrollment. Secondly, students do not need to pass a comprehensive examination such as the one administered by the College Board in order to receive college credit. Instead, students receive this credit by earning a passing grade in the course.

Online Dual Enrollment Courses

Dual enrollment also differs in that it offers students the opportunity to take a wider range of classes. Courses offering dual credit are available in nearly every academic subject imaginable, including business, economics, communications, computer science, information science, global studies, foreign language, education, criminal justice, healthcare, and more. In fact, students can even take enough courses to earn an associates degree while also working on their high school diploma! Below are just a few examples of the types of courses offered through the online dual enrollment program:

  • Personal Finance
  • Intermediate Business Computer Applications
  • Criminal Justice Ethics, Psychology of Adulthood
  • Advanced Skills in Life Coaching
  • Computer Concepts and Applications
  • Educational Philosophy for Teachers

Featured Program: StraighterLine

Recently recognized as one of the most innovative companies in education, StraighterLine is a membership-based organization that allows students to earn college credit prior to being accepted into a college or university. These credits can be transferred to the student’s chosen educational institution once they are accepted. How does this work? StraighterLine partners with 100 different colleges and universities across the country, so when students complete general education courses online with Straighterline, they can easily transfer these credits to a partner school to finish their degree.

StraighterLine Partner Colleges and Universities

Below are some of the colleges and universities that maintain a partnership with StraighterLine. When students complete courses with StraighterLine, they are guaranteed to transfer to these schools (and many others!):

  • Liberty University
  • Thomas Edison State University
  • American Public University
  • Colorado State University-Global Campus
  • Saint Joseph’s College
  • City University of Seattle
  • Touro University- Worldwide

StraighterLine Online Courses

With StraighterLine online courses, students can complete the general education requirements for a variety of degrees in a convenient format and at their own pace. StraighterLine offers over 60 such courses in subject areas such as Business, Mathematics, English, Technology, Social Sciences, Humanities, Languages, Health Sciences, and more. Below are some of the courses that can be completed for college credit through StraighterLine:

  • English Composition
  • Anatomy & Physiology
  • Introduction to Criminal Justice
  • General Physics
  • Survey of World History
  • Introduction to Communication
  • Medical Terminology
  • Introduction to Nutrition

Why StraighterLine?

StraighterLine’s main selling point is its affordability. Memberships begin at just $59 per month and include unlimited access to courses. This allows students to earn college credit at a significantly lower cost that they would pay to a college or university after enrollment. StraighterLine claims that it can save students up to $15,000 towards a college degree.

Featured Program: K12

K12’s mission is to provide an individualized learning experience for all children, no matter where they are. They strive to fulfill this mission by providing students in elementary school through high school with engaging learning experiences in any setting where there is an internet connection. K-12’s learning model consists of a mix of synchronous and asynchronous elements. While students will attend virtual classes and interact with teachers and classmates in real time, they will also complete offline activities on their own time using tangible textbooks, workbooks, and reading materials.

K12 Online Program Offerings

K12 offers a variety of different ways for students to learn and earn both high school and college credit. Below are some of these options:

  • Tuition-Free Public School
  • Online Private School
  • Independent Courses
  • Online Summer Programs
  • Online Credit Recovery Courses
  • Online AP Courses
  • Online Dual Enrollment Courses
  • Game-Based Learning
  • Online Career-Prep Courses
  • Online Honors Courses

K12 Online AP Courses

As mentioned earlier in this article, taking online AP courses is a great way for high school students to jumpstart their college careers. K12 offers a variety of these College Board offerings through its online learning platform. Below are some of the online AP courses students can take through K12. It is important to note that K12’s online AP course offerings can vary by state and are subject to change.

  • AP Chemistry
  • AP U.S. Government and Politics
  • AP Psychology
  • AP Spanish Language
  • AP Statistics
  • AP Macroeconomics
  • AP Calculus
  • AP Biology
  • AP Environmental Science
  • AP French Language

K12’s Career-Focused Online High School Electives

In addition to traditional high school courses, K12 also offers a variety of elective classes that high school students can take in order to get a feel for the kind of coursework they would take in a specific career path. These courses do not provide high school students with college credit, but they can give them invaluable insight into a potential future career option. Taking such courses in high school can save students time and money while exploring their career possibilities in college. It can also give them a leg up on the prerequisite knowledge they may need to begin coursework in a specific field and may even enable them to test out of certain introductory courses. K12 offers these types of elective classes in career fields like technology, marketing, business administration, arts, communication, finance, and more. Below are some of the specific career-focused elective classes that K12 offers online:

  • Engineering Design
  • Accounting
  • Journalism
  • Green Design and Technology
  • Computer Science
  • Service Learning
  • Introduction to Entrepreneurship
  • Digital Arts
  • Web Design
  • Introduction to Marketing
  • Game Design
  • Audio Engineering
  • Computer Programming

What Skills Do High Schools Students Need to Earn College Credits Online?

Advanced technology in distance learning has made learning college-level material more convenient than ever before, but that doesn’t mean that students won’t have to work hard to earn their college credit. Plus, navigating online learning environments and managing postsecondary coursework via distance education modules can require a certain skill set. Here are some of the skills high school students will need if they expect to pass college-level classes online:

  • Computer Literacy
  • Time Management
  • Study Skills
  • Self-Motivation
  • Written Communication Skills
  • Active Learning Skills
  • Self-Discipline
  • Critical Reading Skills

Today, high school students have many options available to them if they wish to earn credits beyond their high school diploma. While it may seem cumbersome to work towards a college degree while still enrolled in secondary school, doing so is more convenient and accessible than ever before, thanks to online learning options. If students can manage advanced coursework, they can actually save both time and money by studying college-level courses online prior to their graduation from secondary school.

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