The most obvious pathway that most people default to is graduating from high school. and the following fall semester beginning college at a four year institution. This is fine for those of you who have enough money saved for college, or who have full-ride scholarships, but for most students this is not the case. The problem is that so many people never think about their general plan of paying for school and go straight to this; then they are forced to scramble when a financial crisis comes up and this is where mistakes are made. The financial mistakes you make here can haunt you for a long time...believe me. I will cover those mistakes later, but first I will share with you the major pathways to paying for college. These pathways can be used in combination with each other. The smarter, more innovative students usually find a way to combine all or most of these pathways. If you are young enough you can take advantage of all of these pathways...for those of you who are older, you will be limited but you still have many options.
If you are still a high school student and you generally get good grades (mostly A’s and B’s) perhaps this is a good choice for you. Many public high schools and even some private high schools have dual enrollment programs with local community colleges and universities. The state pays for you to attend college and earn credits (mostly in general studies courses like English, Math, History, Biology, Chemistry, etc).
The advantage to this pathway is you get a two for one. You get to knock out one or even two years worth of college credits as you complete your high school diploma. Some people even complete an Associate’s degree (which is a two year degree) and a high school diploma at the same time. Another advantage is you get one to two years worth of college paid for. This is a significant savings both from the point of view of tuition costs but also living expenses.
The disadvantages are you won’t necessarily get to spend your Junior and or Senior years in traditional classes with your friends. Different schools have different programs. You might get to make up half of your schedule at your high school and the rest of your schedule at the college, but not all programs work that way.
Also participating in these programs requires maturity because you will be responsible for your work. Professors don’t remind you to turn in homework assignments, and they don’t let you retake a test or quiz you did poorly on, or missed because you were “sick” (unless you really were sick and can prove it with a doctor’s note).
You also need to have a good idea of what college you want to go to. These programs are usually most efficient for people who plan to attend college at a local university because the credits are already resident credits or a credit transfer program with the community college is in place. If you plan on attending an out of state university or private college you should bring this up with the community college or university you are attending for the dual enrollment program. The advisors at the dual enrollment schools can steer you towards classes that will most likely transfer to the university you are interested in attending.
[Note: Some colleges and universities that are not part of the dual enrollment program you participate in, such as an out-of-state college, are not required to accept all or any of the credits you earned in the dual enrollment program. Most colleges and universities will accept general courses that are commonly taken such as English 101, but the more unique or offbeat courses offered at your dual enrollment school are usually less likely to transfer. This is why it is important to talk to the advisors at your dual enrollment college about your college plans.]
Most high schools also require approval from teachers, counselors, and possibly administrators for you to participate in this type of program (this is so only students who are likely to succeed will be admitted). You need to talk to your school guidance counselor if this sounds like something you want to do.