9th Grade

Should My Student Get His Associate Degree?

Your rising sophomore is wrapping up his or her ninth grade year and chances are you’re already looking toward the fall term. While it is early, perhaps you’re considering some dual enrollment courses or CLEP tests as part of his 10th-grade year. As you peruse the community college website you spy a “fast track” to an Associate degree. The plan is intriguing – should you enroll your high-achieving child?

It’s very common for homeschool students to study for an A.A. degree either during high school or shortly thereafter. In an ideal situation, these students then transfer their degree to a university, where they complete their Bachelor’s degree over the next two years. Unfortunately, the transition is not always this seamless. Before committing your student to an Associate degree track, be sure to ask these questions.

Will My Credits Transfer?

Not all college credits are created equal. Most state colleges have partnerships with in-state community colleges (called a “Guaranteed Admission Agreement”) that guarantee the transfer of community college (CC) credits into state college programs. What they don’t tell you is just how those credits will transfer. In order to save time and money, CC credits must go toward the program requirements for your student’s Bachelor’s degree. If the CC credits transfer in as electives, your student will still have three, four, or even five full years left to complete his four-year degree depending on the program in which he’s enrolled.

How can you combat this? Start by printing off the degree plan from any four-year colleges your student is considering. These plans list the graduation requirements for a specific degree (e.g., Biology, Mathematics, Nursing). Under “General Education requirements” you will see a list of classes that you should be able to take at your community college. Most basic math, science, and English courses (usually 100 level classes) will transfer into both public and private colleges. We’ll talk more about transferring in future email updates, but keep these facts in mind as you consider dual enrollment.

How Will Scholarships Be Affected?

When a student achieves an Associate degree, most colleges view him as a “transfer” student – even if he’s under the age of 18. When a student becomes a transfer instead of a “new” incoming freshman, the college will not receive as much money. Because a college is limited in how much aid it can offer, transfer students are typically eligible for fewer school-specific scholarships than new incoming students.

This might sound disappointing but remember: the student who successfully transfers in 1-2 years of coursework has already saved thousands of dollars by not attending university for those few years. The loss of scholarship tends to even out with the money saved. Just be aware that achieving an Associate degree does change your student’s incoming status at most universities.

Is an Associate Degree Enough?

What if your student doesn’t want more than an Associate degree? Is that enough?

This depends on what your student wants to do. Many community colleges have partnerships with trade schools, which allows students to study carpentry, HVAC, or cosmetology while also achieving an AA degree along the way. These programs are an excellent resource for students who prefer to work in a trade. They can also be great for students who plan to finish their Bachelor’s degree while working in the trade they previously studied, as a stepping stone to another career.

To know whether or not an Associate degree alone is sufficient, your student should study the career field and ask some questions:

  • What is the average education requirement for an entry-level position?
  • How much does pay increase as education increases?
  • Do most companies in this field fund further education, or do you need to have your degree upon hire?
  • Does the average pay grade in this field offset the investment/potential student loans that may be incurred?

Asking these questions early on can guide your decisions about an Associate degree program. Whatever course you choose to take, remember that 100-level general education credits and CLEP tests are almost always transferrable to universities (outside of Ivy Leagues) and can give your student a head start, whether or not he completes his Associates.

In general, there are a lot of great tools and routes available to you. You just want to make sure you have done your research and are sure that the route you takes makes sense for your particular family and situation before proceeding down that path.

Questions? Email [email protected]