Homeschooled kids have it easiest when it comes to dual enrolling in a college because of their usually flexible-as-rubber schedules. Being dual enrolled for some years myself, I will warn that it can be a major change – for better or worse – as a homeschool student, and not just because of switching to a traditional classroom setting.
Most college work is reading. Sure, there’s quite a few assignments here and there that contribute to the grade you’re working so hard for, but to even start on those you’ve got to read a chapter or more in each of your hundred dollar dead trees per week. One of the classes I took last year threw out a quiz every three chapters (70+ pages) that did nothing more than test how well I memorized every fine detail, date and picture in my Art book (spoiler: not as well as I should have). This kind of memorization-based homework is normal for college.
It’s pretty easy to see how this would be a major change for most homeschoolers. Even if they’re used to reading textbooks for high school homeschool, spending four hours after homeschool on a writing project and then the rest of the night poring over every moral value in this week’s Ethics 111 chapter can be a stressful experience. However, the stress of college in lower doses can help a homeschool student transition into the mindset of a responsible college student – something that will serve them well at any university.
My recommendation: If you’re a high schooled homeschooler and you’re preparing to take your first semester or even your second-semester dual-enrolled at a college, start with a small number of classes. Not only does that choice leave you more time for your homeschool work, but it prevents the massive stress that can come from a full-on lifestyle change. Dual enrollment is best as a way to transition into college rather than to take thirty hours a week of classes a few years early.
Okay, maybe that image isn’t completely appropriate. There obviously aren’t going to be tiny children going to wine-filled parties with their classmates and worrying about their Trigonometry I grade. But as a teenager, age is a bigger deal when it comes to social interactions than it is between, say, a forty and thirty year old. I started at sixteen and didn’t have much trouble making friends in college, but I always made better friends with adults anyway.
The minimum age for dual enrollment varies based on state and school (some set it at sixteen, some allow teenagers under sixteen to join in). One thing I learned from being dual enrolled is that no matter your age, your teachers (who don’t necessarily know your age) are probably going to treat you like an adult. That can end up a double-edged sword for a teenager: the independence of being treated like an adult can be enriching, but the heavier-than-normal load of responsibility can be uncomfortable, especially for younger teens.
My recommendation: If you’re a parent of a teenager who’s considering dual enrollment and you feel they are too immature or irresponsible to handle themselves in an adult environment yet, it might be best to have them hold off. At the very least, talk it over with them extensively.
While it’s true that any kind of high school curriculum requires some degree of self-management to succeed, schedules and responsibilities outside of homework are often clearly laid out for high school students, especially homeschooled ones. In college, it’s a little different: you do go to class and have specific homework assignments, but everything beyond that is your problem. How are you going to handle transportation to and from school? How are you going to keep track of the events and important dates related to your schoolwork? Who’s going to frown at you when it’s discovered you’ve been slacking on your homework?
Well, as for that last one, my parents made frowny faces at me whenever they found out I was procrastinating on college homework. Aside from that, though, college itself can teach any student – dual enrolled or otherwise – self-management skills through failure. Learning to self-manage may be more difficult for a sixteen-year-old than a nineteen-year-old, but both of those age groups will be horrified when they realize that putting off the research for their final project until the last moment caused them to get a C in the class.
My recommendation: Teenagers aren’t going to learn to manage their calendar if their parents do it for them. As a parent, letting your teenager learn self-management the hard way is not a bad idea. Barring that, telling them to pay you back for that class they failed is always a wake-up call.
It should be remembered that these difficulties (aside from age difference) are going to be quadrupled when and if a homeschooled high schooler becomes a full-time college student. That’s why dual enrollment exists: even though it’s a big leap for a high schooler to start taking college classes early, it’s a good way for them to test the waters, learn life lessons faster and earn college credits earlier than anyone else. Even though it can be stressful and a major change from homeschool, I would recommend dual enrollment to anyone as a great way to transition into being not only a college student but also a responsible adult.