Alternative Higher Education How to "HacK" College to save time and money

College costs can be intimidating, especially when job prospects look slim. Fortunately, there are ways for academically motivated students to “hack” college; graduating faster, cheaper, and looking more impressive by doing so.

Grace Bush is the poster child for success with early college. The sixteen-year-old earned her high school diploma and her Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice in the same week through Dual Enrollment.

The Dual Enrollment program allows students taking approved classes to receive local college credit for courses they pass in high school.

For some, these classes can also be Advanced Placement (AP) classes. AP courses are college-level courses taken in the high school in place of regular-level courses, and can be a huge time and money saver if passed. The 36 AP tests are graded on a 5-point scale, and the lowest score accepted by colleges is a 3.

The good news for AP students is that AP courses are sometimes also dual-enrolled. This means that if they fail the AP test, but excel in the class, they still receive Dual Enrollment credit. Alternatively, if they pass both, they can receive the same credit twice, cutting down on general electives in college.

AP tests cost $91 each, as of 2015, which may be a financial roadblock to students; though some schools offer discounts. Test-availability is also a deterrent. Some schools offer all 36 tests, some offer none. And even if they’re offered, students may be rejected from the course due to too low of a grade in a previous related course.

But this does not necessarily inhibit students from taking the tests. Regardless as to if the course was offered, students can self-study the material with test-preparation books and take the test. If the school is ill-equipped to provide the test, students may take the test at another school.

For those willing to self-study at home, another option is to test out of college classes by taking CLEP tests.

The College Level Examination Program (CLEP) test is designed for adults to test out of classes that teach the things they already know. There’s no age minimum on the CLEP, and students can take any of the 33 $80 tests at their local college if they sign up and arrange a test date through http://clep.collegeboard.org.

One little-known time-saving strategy is to take college classes while in high school. Students can take a course or two in the evening while still in high school or over the summer, and some high schools even offer to pay for these courses.

Unfortunately, going to college before filing the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) does not make students eligible for financial aid, and students under the age of 18 may have difficulty applying for loans or renting textbooks. But there are independent scholarships offered at any age, and textbooks can be bought online.

For those looking for the full-college experience, another option is Bard College at Simon’s Rock. A private school in western Massachusetts, Bard boasts that it “is the only four year college in the United States specifically designed to allow bright, highly motivated adolescents to fully realize their intellectual and creative potential by beginning college immediately after the tenth or eleventh grade.”

Students who enroll at Bard College must drop out of their high school, unless they can arrange for the Bard College credits to transfer back into a high school diploma. Other students may get a GED, but are not required to. Students are required to move to the college and dorm there; off-campus housing is only offered to students who still live with their parents and can commute by doing so.

The college costs roughly $64,000/year according to College Board, including the required room and board; but an average of 75% of tuition is covered by financial aid, and full scholarships are offered.

Scholarships are especially useful for those of average economic status considering this route: early college costs can rack up fast. Although tests and early college may save time and money, prudent students beware: they can just as quickly cost time and money if the tests are failed or non-transferrable courses are pursued.

It is crucial to know the ins and outs of school policy before attempting to graduate college before high school.

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