Going to college for that coveted bachelor’s degree—whether at an online college or a traditional one—is a very serious investment. Not only does it cost a lot of money, but it also takes hours and hours of work over a four-plus year period. It is not something that should be put lightly, yet many college freshmen are shocked to find how unprepared they actually are.

Many freshmen are finding the first couple of semesters a rude awakening and spend an extra semester or two trying to retake courses and get their GPAs back up to par. Unfortunately, too many think about dropping out of college. And many do. In fact, 25 percent of college freshman in the U.S. drop out before the end of their first semester. That number represents dreams shattered and career opportunities lost.

So then the question becomes, how can you or your student avoid becoming one of these statistics? How can you prepare for college in such a way that making the jump to college seems like a natural (instead of overwhelming) progression?

Here are a few tips to get your (or your student) revved up and ready for the rigorous academic experience of a four-year college:

1. Dual enrollment

These are classes taught in a regular high school class by a teacher that has been certified to teach at the collegiate level. These class not only cover the high school requirements for graduation but also give you real college credits. Yes, you read that right. Real college credits. These classes are advanced enough to give you transferable college credits that will go toward a college degree, but, more importantly, they get you ready for the level of work you will be doing in a college classroom.

In other words, dual enrollment classes let you take college courses while you’re still in high school. We can’t think of any better way to get ready for the college experience. It’s a great way for high schoolers to experience the work ethic needed to survive and thrive in a college class.

As for the price, some come with a small fee but many are covered by their respective school districts. Various classes are offered according to the particular high school’s availability.

2. College Before College

If your high school doesn’t offer dual enrollment classes, or if you want to take a certain class that they don’t offer, you might consider taking a community college course in the evening, during the summer, or even online.

Many colleges will offer freshman level classes to the public. Many of these classes are taught by college professors or master’s degree students looking to earn credit for their degrees. These classes are not easy and, unlike dual enrollment programs, will cost you money. But they will definitely give you the experience you need to be prepared for the real thing.

3. Online Colleges

As of late, online schools have proven especially useful for this purpose. Jeff Livingston, a senior vice president of education policy and strategic alliances at McGraw-Hill Education said this about online education:

“It’s clear that in today’s environment a huge proportion of students who go to college are not prepared for college-level work. Taking an online course gives students a glimpse of what is expected in college so they won’t be among those who are unprepared and therefore less successful.”

Without its accessibility and flexible schedule, it’s easy to see why online classes would be a great way for potential college student to get a taste of college without too much cost or risk. From their bedroom, your student could take a few courses during their senior year of high school, learning from a real instructor out of real textbooks. This is a ton easier than having to drive to a college campus after you’ve already done a full day of classes at the high school.

4. AP Courses

You know what these are, we hope. While they often seem like just another glorified honors course at your high school, they also can shorten the time your child has to spend in college. If your student passes the AP exams administered in each course, they get college credit and don’t have to take identical courses once they start college.

As a bonus, they’re also worth more on the GPA scale, so they can get that GPA up and looking good on your student’s college application.

Making Cents of Early College Courses

Aside from mental preparation, starting on college courses just makes sense financially. Some diligent high schoolers are able to get their associates degree before they even graduate high school. This means they can go on to get their bachelor degree in about two to three years. That’s is saving them at least two to three semesters of tuition, which is a lot, considering the rise in college tuition has grown some 40 percent to 50 percent in the last decade.

Starting college classes before you graduate high school might not seem very appealing to some. It does take effort and most high schoolers are not willing to give up their weekends and parties to take college classes. However, if you are serious about college and want to save yourself some money, you will need to start preparing for the vigors of college now.

Keep in mind, that many U.S. employers report they cannot find enough employees who possess the basic skills necessary for the jobs they want to fill. And, unfortunately, high schools tend to focus on making their students “college-eligible” as opposed to “college-ready.” So, it is up to you if you want to find yourself ready for the college experience which inevitably will get you the job you want for a successful career. This will require you going outside of the norm and looking for opportunities to prepare yourself for the big league college experience.

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