Community College Success
How to Earn A’s in Community College
By Lee Binz
Are you considering dual enrollment but concerned about grades? Many homeschoolers are jumping into the fast track to college credits with community college because many states pay the tuition for qualified high school juniors and seniors. It’s an attractive opportunity, but the transition can be stressful for parents and teens. All of a sudden, your high school student is taking college courses, so the work is more difficult and the grades feel so much more real, permanent, and significant. Have no fear! Let me explain how you can encourage your children to be successful in dual enrollment.
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6 Tips for Maximum Benefit
1. Find out university policies on community college classes. You want to be sure how they will use college classes before your child transfers to a four-year university. Some universities will not accept certain community college courses. Other universities will consider your student a transfer applicant rather than a freshman applicant, which can affect scholarships. Some universities won’t give credit but will use those classes to place your student in higher level courses. Do your research to locate a “dual enrollment policy” for any university your child is interested in attending, so you are prepared.
2. Have your child take a community college class in each major subject area. Try to cover at least one class in math, history, English, science, etc. For students who are taking just a handful of classes, this will help you provide outside documentation of ability in a broad array of subjects. Instead of just proving their mettle in math, try to demonstrate abilities across the board. Some teens will attempt a full course load at community college to achieve an Associate of Arts (AA) degree, which means covering all the subject areas to achieve that distinction.
3. Have your child take classes required by your first choice university. That way they won’t need to repeat the same class when they transfer. That can shorten the time they stay in (and you need to pay for) college. For example, if your chosen university requires everyone to take a psychology class, taking psychology as a dual enrolled high school student can eliminate the need to take it at the university.
4. Be prepared for college applications after community college. Even if your child completes dual enrollment, when they want to attend a four-year college in the future, you’ll still need complete high school records. Be ready to provide a transcript, course descriptions, reading list, and activity list. Collect course descriptions for classes taken at the community college, in case the information is needed for a smooth transition.
5. Advise your teenager to get to know their professors. College professors are one of the best sources of letters of recommendation. For the best results, these professors should know your child well in order to write knowledgeably about them. Tell your children to sit in the front row, ask questions in class, and participate in discussions. This will help them get better grades, certainly, but it will also help professors get to know them.
6. Make sure your child gets excellent grades in all college classes. College grades weigh heavily in admission and scholarship decisions, even if a university does not give college credit for the classes. Emphasize the importance of getting excellent grades – hopefully all A’s.
It's very important for kids to do well in community college classes. These college grades will take priority over any high school grades on the transcript. When colleges look at grades, GPA, and SAT® or ACT® test scores, they are trying to predict who will be successful in college. What could be a better measurement of college success than documented success in college? College grades are the most accurate measurement of college readiness, so they should be good. However, you don't need to panic! While community college grades can affect college admission and scholarship opportunities, there are plenty of reasons not to worry.
5 Reasons Not to Worry about Grades
1. Most students drop a grade. Keep in mind that college classes are more difficult than high school classes and students will drop one whole grade level on average when they make the switch. In other words, an "A" student usually gets a "B"; a "B" student usually gets a "C."
2. Average homeschoolers tend to get excellent grades. Many homeschoolers get A's because, quite frankly, moms are usually tougher on them than college professors. We expect our children to truly learn and achieve mastery over concepts. Learning and mastery are words that equal "good grades."
3. Hard work earns great grades. Give your children the expectation of working hard to get an A in every class. However, truth be told, if they get a B or better, they can still do well in the college admission process (depending on where they want to apply, of course).
4. Classes aren’t filled with geniuses. Community college students are not all top-performing students. Adults returning to college and high school drop-outs will re-enter education through community college. The straight-A types generally go to a four-year university instead, so the competition isn't usually as tough as a regular four-year university. Even if professors grade on the curve, a smart homeschooler can typically out-score a moderate adult who hasn’t taken English or math in the last few decades.
5. Homeschooled kids worry about comparisons. Statistically, homeschoolers are wonderfully prepared for college. Still, kids may wonder if they have been well-educated by their parents and as a result are willing to work extra hard to prove they are educated.
Although your children may get terrific grades in college, the experience isn’t just about the GPA. You want them to study and learn college material, not just be able to pass a test. You can guide your children so they can be successful in learning at the college level.
7 Strategies for Community College Success
1. Read the syllabus carefully on the first day of class. The syllabus will explain all the requirements, assignments and tests for the entire class. Put all deadlines on the calendar.
2. Plan for two hours of studying for every hour spent in class. This general formula will help you estimate the time required for each class. Your children can read the book and circle, highlight, underline, discuss, make note cards, form a study group, etc.
3. Ensure your child attends class every single day. This isn’t generally a problem for homeschoolers, who are never “absent” at home. However, it can be shocking to see how many students in college decide not to attend class. Most professors don’t teach from a textbook and their lectures supplement the text. Class attendance is critical.
4. Teach your child how to take notes and be an active listener. This can help your student remain engaged in lectures and improve their retention. IEW has an excellent note-taking class, called the Advanced Communication Series. Your child can practice note-taking skills in church or while watching college level lectures from The Great Courses.
5. Suggest that your child sit at the front of the class. Professors know that students who sit at the front of class tend to be more engaged in learning. This will encourage learning and retention, but it will also help your child develop a professional academic relationship. Hopefully the professor will be happy to write a marvelous letter of recommendation when the time comes.
6. Encourage your child to get help when needed. During the first day of class, the professor will explain how they can be reached for questions. It’s important to ask for help immediately, when questions remain small, rather than waiting until the subject is overwhelmingly confusing. Remind your student to attend the professor's office hours (with another student) at the first sign of confusion. When speaking to a professor, there is no reason to reveal they are in high school, or in dual enrollment, or homeschooled. To the professor, each student is on equal footing.
7. Form a study group. Encourage your child to get to know other students in the class - especially anyone who also sits at the front of the class. They can develop a study group, and meet together regularly. Because of the variety of students attending community college, the best way to develop a study group is with other homeschooled students, or at least with other students attending through dual enrollment. It is an adult environment, with some unsavory characters attending class, so be careful.
Homeschoolers need to be aware of the potential pitfalls, as well as the possibilities, of a community college education. These college credits may be free, but parents should do their research before sending children into the community college environment. One community college approached me at a college fair, and asked me to warn parents that their young homeschooled daughters may be sitting next to registered sex offenders, unaware of the dangers. (For more information about the environment, read Facing the Community College Fad.)
Even though it's up to your child to attend the classes and do the work, there are things parents can do to help their children have a successful community college experience.
7 Things Parents Can Do to Help
1. Arrange a buddy system. Find other friends, perhaps other homeschoolers, who can attend class together. When our sons went to community college, they were in a classroom together or with another Christian friend.
2. Evaluate the professors. A good place to find helpful information is www.ratemyprofessors.com. Look at the comments as well as the ratings, because some students rate professors highly merely due to the fact they don’t give homework or show inappropriate material in class.
3. Preview the textbooks in advance. The textbook can give you a clue about the coming class, and perhaps give a sense of the professor’s philosophical bent. My son previewed the textbook for a music improvisation course and immediately proclaimed, “Mom, I can’t take this class.” I frankly thought he was just blowing off a little teenager steam, until I looked at the passages in the textbook that he pointed out. The author said that he would always capitalize the word “Self” throughout the book because, “You should always capitalize the name of God.” He went on to say that since only God could create music, that meant you were, in fact, God. So check those textbooks and be prepared!
4. Avoid over-working your student. If your child is taking a full time community college course load, do not expect any additional homeschool classes. If your child has two full community college classes, they might be able to do one or two classes at home. If your child is taking one full community college class at a time, you might expect them to get about half of their usual homeschool workload completed.
5. Don’t double up with homeschool classes. One whole college class equals one whole high school credit. That means, for instance, that a community college class in English is the only English class needed that year. On the other hand, it also means that a community college class goes faster than a high school class - twice as fast or more. (Check out my post, Two for the Price of One, for more details.)
6. Withdraw from class if necessary. At most colleges, a student can withdraw from class within the first few days. This might be an option if you believe your child will be completely overwhelmed by the work listed in the syllabus, or if you decide the class content or professor is inappropriate.
7. Keep complete homeschool records. When your child is taking community college classes, you need to include that information on your homeschool transcript. Clearly indicate which classes were taken at the community college, using the college’s acronym by each class title. For more information on transcripts, take my free online class, “A Homeschool Parent’s Guide to Grades, Credits, and Transcripts.” If you need extra help creating your homeschool transcript, check out my Total Transcript Solution.
Do your research about dual enrollment, and make sure it’s a good fit for your child. Even if your child gets good grades, there are other issues to consider. Community college can be a “Rated R” environment. Read my article, “Facing the Community College Fad” to help make your decision.
Community college success is attainable and it can be a great and rewarding experience! Your child will be well prepared for university and those classes will be a great help in paving the way for college admission and scholarships.
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Lee Binz, The HomeScholar, specializes in helping parents homeschool high school. Get Lee's FREE Resource Guide "The 5 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make Homeschooling High School" and more freebies at www.HomeHighSchoolHelp.com/freebies.