Get Your College General Education during High School

My college kids, goofing around

My college kids, goofing around

I started thinking about having my children work towards their general education degree during the homeschool high school years when my eldest son, Daniel, turned 19. A teen is studying the basic general education subjects anyway, so why not go in more depth, learn more, and receive college credit as well? Courses such as World Civilizations, English Literature, Biology and other general education courses are taken in high school and then repeated a few years later at college. So many of the subjects are the same during high school and general education levels of college that it seemed sensible to just study these subjects once and do it well, rather than study them in the high school years and over again shortly in college at a high tuition price.

With Nathan, my second child, I decided to try to direct his studies so that he could get college credit during his high school years. It seemed to work well, and Nathan received a 2 year degree with honors from a local college at 18 years old. Because he did well, he was able to get a full scholarship which paid all his tuition. He basically only had to pay for his books for those two years of college, which was a great help.

The high school years of homeschool are a good time to branch out and try lots of different ways to learn, under many types of teachers and mentors. This not only results in a better education, but it fills the social and independence needs that homeschool teenagers have. Many high schools now have several classes that can be counted towards college credit. Usually these classes are difficult, but if your student is doing homeschool for the rest of his studies, he can spend extra time on these courses and learn them well to receive a high grade that will go on his college transcript. There are many options for earning college credit. These include courses by Internet, email, TV, video, correspondence, Independent Study, and studying textbooks at home and then taking the C.L.E.P. exam for college credit. (In my experience, teens need to be out among people, learning how to relate with the world outside of home, so be cautious about using home study programs exclusively.)

My oldest son Daniel did well in English so he decided to take an exam rather than the required general education college course: English 100. He ordered the C.L.E.P. exam through a local college. When it arrived, he took the test in the college testing center. It took him a few hours, cost $40, and granted him 6 credits—a whole year of college English! Not only did this save money and time, but it freed him to pursue those areas of learning that truly interested him. Many community colleges will grant credit by passing an examination.

spanish-375830_1280Nathan loves to speak Spanish, and basically taught himself during his homeschooling years. He did take a few classes in high school and college, and then spent some time in a Spanish-speaking community for 6 months. When he returned, he went to college and was able to challenge and earn 16 credits of Spanish by taking a fluency examination. Since he received an “A” on the exam, his 16 credits were counted as “A’s”, boosting his G.P.A. nicely! If you consider that it would have taken at least a semester of work to earn those 16 credits, plus at least $2,000 tuition, books and fees, you can see that you can save an incredible amount of time and money this way!

One of the best reasons for working towards college credit during your high school years is that you can use Christian textbooks. We have had more than a few bad experiences with college textbooks, so I find this a convenient way to avoid them. All three of my oldest children (Daniel, Nathan and Mark) have been sorely disappointed in the quality of the textbooks offered at the best colleges and universities. Daniel took a college independent study course in World History from a well-respected and well-known university. His textbook was expertly-written and interesting, and definitely advanced, but it undermined faith, teaching the Bible as mythical and including several descriptively lewd readings from early decadent civilizations. When Daniel questioned his college teacher about the book, his teacher expressed sympathy but said it was the best book they could find (or were allowed to use).

At the same time, my son Mark (at 18 years old) took a basic required Health and Wellness course at our local community college. He brought the textbook to me since he was uncomfortable just browsing through it. I took a brief look and went into shock! Over 1/4 of this very large book dealt with sexual perversions, listing them by terms and in detail complete with color illustrations. Mark was a young, wholesome Christian, and this was not the course of study I had in mind! I rubber-banded the offensive pages off at his request, so he could study the remaining chapters without the book flipping open to some “bad” page. After some consideration, Mark chose to skip those chapters and take a lower grade (after requesting that the teacher accept a substitute text for those chapters).

Even if the books are worthy, there is often so much more on the market that is exciting, well-written and up-to-date. I am thinking of the comparison between a college Botany textbook and a “bookstore” type book on the subject of Botany. Often you can find much better books if you do not look in the college bookstore!

Another good reason for getting college credit during high school is that time seems to be in short supply as you enter the young adult years. A young man who has half of his college degree completed before his peers graduate from high school has quite a head start on life! He can pursue his unique abilities and talents and start on his life’s work. For a young woman, I think that general education is so very important also. From that foundation, she can pursue her interests, prepare for marriage and motherhood, or continue in college studies if she chooses. Educated mothers have an even greater influence on their family for good.

Working towards college credit during the high school years seems to give relevance, a view of what adult life requires and how to prepare best for it with education. Each of my sons has expressed the feeling when attending a college class that education is for real, not just the busy work feeling that they felt in a high school class. You have to be responsible for attending college classes, or turning in work on an independent study course. It isn’t like high school, with hall monitors, and “no ditching class” rules. The instructor in a college course really doesn’t care too much whether you attend or not. Basically, this reality check helps our children realize that the responsibility for their education is completely on their shoulders.

stonehenge-578199_1280If you would like to pursue the idea of completing the general education college courses during the high school year, you will need to plan your homeschool so that your children have basic skills by the time they enter 9th grade, which is the first grade that is recorded on high school transcripts. From 9th through 12th grade, you and your student must pay attention and plan out courses carefully. Obtain a list from your local college of the general education requirements and try to work from that list. Those requirements are the same for most colleges. They will include College Writing, World History, American History, Biology, a Health course, Math, and more.

We try to avoid Psychology as it is one of those courses that is so prone to teaching error and falsehoods. Most colleges offer an alternative course that counts towards a general education degree. Our community college accepted Geography instead. The same goes for Fitness for Life, a health course that often focuses on sexual deviations, sexually transmitted diseases, drugs, alternative life styles, addictions, eating disorders and more unpleasant information. While I feel these things are important to know, I don’t think they warrant an entire semester course of study. We have discussed these issues in the sanctity of our home, with our scriptures open. Our university of choice allows an option: 3 P.E. courses. That has been delightful! My college students have taken Fencing, Folk Dance, Racquetball, Social Dance, Skiing . . . and much more, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

It is important to be cautious with putting children into college work who are not mature enough for it, or not interested and motivated. You can do a lot of damage to a future grade point average this way! All of my sons who went to college early have expressed regret that they didn’t take it more seriously and that they didn’t work harder. Considering the mentality of many college freshmen, I’m not sure that they would have been any more sober had they entered at a normal age—I think seriousness and maturity came as they grew up while attending college. But, you need to think it over. A teenager can negatively impact his academic career in a few lazy semesters if he isn’t eager and willing to work.

Many high schools have classes that are at a college level, with high school peers attending, and will give your student college credit. Just be sure the class transfers to the school you want before you count on the credit. The college credit classes at our local high school are accepted widely by local colleges but rejected by the one university my children want to attend. However, my children who only homeschooled and never attended public school were not very happy in high school classes. The whole compulsory, godless environment was unpleasant to them. They learned much better using other options.

When my daughter Julianna turned 16 (10th grade), we decided to consider college rather than high school or homeschool. It seems all the work that her peers were doing in high school was “college prep”. Why not just do the real thing and get credit? Our local state college accepts students at age 16. Most colleges do. So we went forward. The college required an easy entrance exam for placement purposes. Although she was nervous about how well she would do in her courses, she got almost straight A’s! She enjoyed the community college environment much more than high school (“everyone is more mature”, she remarked) and she got a head start on her college credit. She felt like she learned more than she could possibly have learned in homeschool or high school that year. I later felt it would have been wise to keep her in more general topics, such as Math or English, because she took courses that unfortunately covered human sexuality (Biology and Human Development) and I felt that was not appropriate for her young age (nor may it ever be appropriate in a general education college class!)

It helps tremendously to get a dated and signed Articulation Agreement from the college your child is aiming for, if your student plans to get some coursework done before entering. This will detail which classes will transfer and what is expected in grade point average for entrance, as well as how long the “deal” is good for, as the colleges are constantly updating their requirements. I regret the few costly mistakes we have made by not securing a written declaration of just exactly what classes do transfer!

graduation-309661_1280As your student works through the high school years, doing homeschool, perhaps taking a few high school courses that count for college credit, you may wonder if he should work towards a high school diploma. Is high school graduation necessary? I have not found any reason to get a high school diploma for my children. My first three sons were admitted into the local college without even a request for a high school diploma. Homeschool students have a good reputation in the admission departments of most colleges, as they are generally intelligent and motivated. I have only had positive experiences with the colleges accepting my children. At the time your student wants to enter a college, to go to on-campus classes or to take independent study that will be recorded on a transcript kept at that college; he may be asked to take the ACT test. Most colleges base college acceptance on the ACT scores, along with other requirements. If your student has high scores, he will be accepted regardless of high school transcripts or a diploma (or lack of them). This is what happened to my children. It has never been an issue at all. No one has asked about it, no one seemed to care whether they had a diploma or not. In fact, I couldn’t convince one counselor or admissions officer to even take a look at it!

I would like to warn you against trying to take the G.E.D. test, which is the commonly accepted equivalent of a high school diploma for those students who do not attend high school. Thankfully, I was warned by a college administrator when I went to sign my son up for the test. From what I had heard, the G.E.D. test would serve as their high school diploma. The administrator told me that having a G.E.D. score is the equivalent of having the words “High School Drop-Out” stamped next to their name. The G.E.D. is mostly taken by those who cannot complete high school for many reasons (teenage pregnancy, suspension from school, prolonged illness, etc.). It is a hindrance, rather than a help, as it is a “dumbed down” test for bare minimum passing of high school. It is far better to just take the entrance exam required by the college you choose to attend.

imageI do recommend that you read a few books as you consider the possibility of getting your college degree early. College Without Compromise gives you very good reasons why a college degree is essential in our day and age, and why it is foolish to spend the entire 4 years and plenty of money in a traditional college experience.

Keep in mind that other options, besides the traditional on-campus college experience, require a large degree of self-discipline and works best only for motivated students. We learned the hard way that an Internet online course, or even a home study mail-in course, is very easy to procrastinate. Attending classes in person is actually the easiest way to insure you’ll get the credit for the tuition money spent. . . perhaps not the most efficient way, nor the most enjoyable way, but the most secure.

Besides that, attending classes at a good Christian college has other benefits. It can provide a wonderful social life! As my daughter Julianna so succinctly put it: “That’s where the intelligent guys are!” Being on campus, in an academic environment with access to a university library, has a wonderfully motivating effect on your student’s desire to study.

I think of secondary education in this way: first you build a foundation of general knowledge. This is often termed “general education” and includes history, science, math, English, and other basic knowledge. The faster and earlier you can obtain this basic framework, the farther ahead you will be. If you can obtain a general education college degree in the process, even better. Then, on top of this foundation, you build your specialty coursework—the classes and information that you must know to do your life’s work, to give the gift God sent you to earth to give. Finally, once you have gained the knowledge and skills, you can build your beautiful statue—your inspired life’s mission—on that stable foundation. If you can catch the vision and inspire your children with the vision (see illustration next page), you will be amazed at how diligently they can work towards the goal.

I think sometimes school feels endless to children, like they will never be done with long hours of intensive studying. Although we want to be students for our entire life, always learning and bettering ourselves, the fact is that once the preparation years are over, most adults seldom have the time to dedicate to the work of educating themselves as diligently as they were able to in their school years. Giving children a vision of their needed preparation for life gives them a tangible goal to work towards. It also prepares them for thinking about their life’s mission, and taking their education seriously. College can be a credit game (“get credit, then forget it”) for many, if they lack a vision of what they are trying to accomplish.

How I wished that I had seen my future work of mothering and teaching my children while I was young! I know I would have paid closer attention and taken detailed notes for the future during my Child Development classes!



May I recommend:

A College Degree for Girls?

The Complete College Without Compromise

Real Education