How to Earn Your Associate’s Degree Before Graduating from High School

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How to Earn Your Associate’s Degree Before Graduating from High School
Earn your associate's degree - or credit towards a bachelor's degree - before you earn your high school diploma. Learn about early college high schools and how they can help you jumpstart your higher education.
In an age of perfect SAT scores, 4.5 GPAs, and the most competitive college admissions in history, some students are gaining an edge by obtaining their associate’s degree before their high school diploma!  
Many “underage” students opting to take college courses are enrolled in “early college high schools,” while other public schools across the country are providing students with dual enrollment programs that help them earn their associate’s degree during high school.  
Doubling the Degrees
As a brainchild of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the "early college high school" trend is growing, and since 2002, more than 200 schools across 24 states and in Washington DC have been designated as early college campuses, according to the Early College High School Initiative. Specifically designed to cultivate the academic achievement of all students across socio-economic, cultural, and language barriers, these high schools have helped many students obtain their associate’s degree or earn credit towards their bachelor’s degree – all while enrolled in high school. Better yet, students from these high schools earn all this college credit tuition-free. 
While most assume that only the “brightest and best” high school students can earn college degrees while in high school, this is not the case. In fact, according to The Washington Post, “Programs that allow students to earn college credit while in high school sound as if they have been designed for the smartest, most ambitious teens. But that's not necessarily so.” 
Expounding is Michael Lerner, New York’s Bard High School Early College Associate Dean of Studies, “We have plenty of students who might not have made it through high school, but they rise to the challenge that we present.” 
Indeed, reports have found that teenagers, “many of whom don't believe they are college material,” have successfully earned their high school diplomas, along with one to two years of college credit simultaneously. 
Dual Benefits for Students
While the opportunity to earn an associate’s degree alongside a high school diploma certainly possesses an array of benefits, many leaders assert that some of the most appealing perks may be seen in the lower-income community areas. 
As Roscoe Collegiate High School director, Jacob Tiemann, asserts, “The program is good for all students, especially those first-generation college students, low-income students, minorities and English language learners.” 
Enrolling in college courses while in high school relieves some of the financial burden associated with higher education. For example, Roscoe Collegiate High School in Snyder, Texas paid for all of the college courses and textbooks for Shelby Ragsdale, a senior, to attend Western Texas College. This ultimately saved her family an estimated $20,000 in college costs!   
Texas alone has specifically opened 29 additional early college high schools throughout the state. In tracking the progress of students enrolled in these programs, reports reveal that 11 percent of early college high school graduates are able to earn both their associate’s degree and their high school diploma simultaneously (based on data from 2002 to present). Similarly, 40 percent of early college high school students are able to graduate with more than one year of college credit under their belts. 
With classes offered through cooperating colleges, such as Texas State Technical College and Western Texas College, Roscoe’s school leaders are confident that these diverse opportunities are excellently preparing their students for college life. As Ragsdale personally admits, “‘I am glad that I did this because it prepared me for college."’
If you are interested in earning college credit during high school, early college high schools may be an excellent academic choice. Since these schools are publicly funded, all qualified students are permitted to apply. In addition, most administrators assert that they do not choose applications simply based upon the top test scores. In fact, many of these early college high schools purposefully diversify their student population, both in terms of socio-economic backgrounds and academic performance.
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