Choosing the Right Online Dual Enrollment Program

best online dual enrollment programs

As someone who works closely with high school students, I see the powerful impact that online dual enrollment programs can have on their lives. Getting a jumpstart on higher education offers many benefits! You get to try college-level courses and sometimes even graduate high school with a hefty chunk of credits already done.

This saves you money and gives you more flexibility throughout college. However, there are many online dual enrollment programs with flavors and quirks. How do you make the right choice? Well, I’ve seen a lot over the years, and here’s what I’ve learned and suggest that students pay attention to.

Do Your Homework – Know the Basics

Before you start scrolling through colorful program websites, get a firm understanding of how online dual enrollment works:

  • Eligibility: High school grade level (often focused on juniors and seniors), minimum GPA requirements, and sometimes prerequisite courses may apply.
  • Accreditation: The program AND the individual courses should be accredited – so your credits will count! Double-check potential colleges your student is interested in to see how they accept transfer credits.
  • Cost: This varies; it might be more or less than your student’s pay per credit hour at their target four-year school. Research scholarships specific to dual enrollment.
  • Course Variety: Will your student get to dip their toes into a major they’re considering? Can they focus on the required general education courses everyone has to take?

Consider Their Learning Style and Experience

Some students thrive in the freedom that a well-structured online course offers, and others will not have the constant in-person support of a traditional classroom. There’s no shame in either case, but it’s something to be honest about before diving into dual enrollment. Here’s how I usually approach this with students:

  • Self-Motivation: I remember helping a student who loved history but wasn’t keen on structured assignments. An online dual enrollment class let him explore topics within a broad timeframe, giving him the freedom he needed to thrive. A more traditional college program with built-in due dates might be better for students needing consistent nudges to excel.
  • Comfort with Tech: Is your student glued to their laptop? Then, going with online learning isn’t a barrier. If the idea of taking notes or submitting assignments in an online space feels frustrating, this might not be the best fit.
  • Interaction Style: Some programs have live or recorded lectures. Others have discussion boards or even group projects. Do any of these formats sound exciting or particularly overwhelming to your student?

Match the Program to the Student’s Goals

The “best” dual enrollment program isn’t the same for everyone! Let’s look at three scenarios:

  • Career Exploration: A student is leaning towards engineering but can’t picture dedicating four years to it to find out it’s not their thing. In this case, I look for a program with introductory engineering courses or general STEM offerings.
  • Early Graduation: For a student laser-focused on graduating high school ASAP, look at programs that offer mostly general education (think freshman and sophomore-level) courses required at almost every college. Don’t be afraid to contact those potential colleges and ask if those courses will transfer into their program seamlessly.
  • Affordable Entry: Sometimes, dual enrollment is a financial move. This student prioritizes getting basic college credits at a budget-friendly price. I’d focus on community college dual enrollment programs with the lowest possible tuition cost or programs that are flexible to accept potential sources of aid.

It’s a Partnership

Here’s a bonus point many people don’t think about As a parent or guidance counselor, your experience (and stress level) with helping someone through online dual enrollment depends a lot on how the program is run.

I once ran into a situation where a student’s grades kept tanking even though they were putting in the effort. Their program was notorious for a lack of communication and unclear expectations. A different program would have been a better fit! Here’s what I usually look for:

  • Transparency in Enrollment: Programs should have a clear application process and timeline. No one wants surprises mid-semester.
  • Student Support: Is there a dedicated advisor to check in on your student? Are there tutors or office hours available? What about additional student services to set them up for success?
  • Your Role: Sometimes, I need to step in and troubleshoot tech issues or deadlines with the program myself. How easily can you communicate with the program as a parent or counselor if needed?

The Time Commitment – It’s Not Just Class Hours

Many students envision taking a single, dual enrollment course and neatly plugging it into their existing high school schedule. But here’s the reality – college courses, even online ones, operate on a different workload timeframe than most high school classes. Getting this wrong leads to stress, burnout, and sometimes even tanking grades in both college and high school classes!

I often help students estimate the real-world commitment before picking a program. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Credit Hours: Don’t go off-course titles alone! A 3-credit hour college course translates to much more independent work than a typical high school class. Some programs lay this out with estimated ‘study hours per week’ to help.
  • Semester Length: Is your dual enrollment program on a standard college semester system or condensed summer term? A course crammed into eight weeks could demand double the weekly work! This may rule out taking the class while having summer extracurricular commitments or working part-time.
  • Pacing: Does the course follow a strict weekly schedule with rigid due dates? Or does it give you chunks of content to manage on your timeframe within limits? This determines whether your student can balance it with fluctuating high school assignments or sports schedules.

Think of it like building a puzzle. If your student struggles to balance their usual workload by adding in an extra ten study hours each week, you may need to reevaluate your approach to dual enrollment. Should they take fewer courses at one time, look for shorter programs, or focus on summer enrollment instead? It’s worth planning out in advance!

Setting the Stage for Success – The Tech Factor

We take the “online” part of dual enrollment for granted. But a student who struggles with unstable internet access, clunky learning platforms, or doesn’t have a designated work area will hit unnecessary roadblocks on top of academic ones.

A good dual enrollment course has clear technical requirements listed upfront. If that list is missing or full of jargon your student doesn’t understand, reach out before enrolling! Here are some questions I typically investigate:

  • Internet and Hardware: Does the course demand a particular connection speed or operating system? Does your student have access to a computer that meets these requirements, especially if your family shares devices? Or would reliable on-campus study in a computer lab or library serve them better?
  • Software: Will your student need access to specialized software beyond simple word processing? Some programs provide software; others expect you to acquire your own. Are costs clear in advance? If software requires installation, who will manage that: the student or a tech-savvy adult?
  • Learning Platform: Is the course content and assignments hosted on a well-known platform the student is familiar with? Will it bombard them with emails and alerts that need to be managed? This will impact how often they’ll need to engage with the course outside of dedicated study time

A successful dual enrollment scenario may depend on upgrading Wi-Fi or investing in noise-canceling headphones for better focus rather than the courses themselves! Planning around the student’s access to these necessities before they get knee-deep in assignments is crucial.

Finding the Information (and Asking the Right Questions!)

While a program’s website is the easiest starting point, don’t underestimate old-fashioned communication in helping you narrow down the best online dual enrollment fit for your student. Here are avenues to explore that aren’t always obvious:

  • The Source Itself: Dual enrollment programs often have dedicated admissions staff, unlike just browsing courses in a typical college catalog. This is someone whose job is to answer your questions about fit, application, and logistics way better than guesswork can!
  • Current/Former Students: Can your student connect with someone already in the program, either personally or via online communities? While an official website provides the ideal situation, hearing an honest peer perspective on workload, support, or course quirks is invaluable.
  • Your Network: Does your high school guidance office have specific programs they have a relationship with? Are there parents in your local community or online forums who’ve navigated online dual enrollment for their kids? You may uncover surprising insights beyond what a glossy brochure offers.

Remember: There’s no such thing as a dumb dual enrollment question. The more informed you and your student are, the greater the chance of a positive experience that truly sets them up for success!

The Right Choice: Worth the Effort

Deciding on the right online dual enrollment program takes a bit of investigation and honest reflection by your student. It’s tempting to focus entirely on the courses, but the logistics and compatibility factors will dramatically impact whether it’s an empowering or draining experience. Doing your research beforehand and asking those crucial questions is the best way to prepare your student for a successful and rewarding introduction to higher education.

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