Some teens in pursuit of a four-year degree might be undecided about their college major, want to save significantly on tuition costs, would prefer not to take college admission exams, or would struggle to meet minimum admission requirements. If any of these sound like your high schooler, we have good news—there are a number ways your student can achieve their goals!

Community, Two-Year, and Junior Colleges

One alternative is to start by taking general education courses at a community college (sometimes referred to as a two-year or junior college).

Community colleges require prospective students to take a placement test at an on-campus test center—usually the ACCUPLACER. This assesses students’ reading, writing, and math skills. Some community colleges now accept SAT or ACT scores in lieu of placement tests. Academic advisors use these test scores to determine what courses freshmen can enroll in, so the better your teen scores, the more course options they will have.

After completing some or all general education courses through a community college, your teen can transfer to a four-year college or university to complete their bachelor’s degree. Make sure you visit the admission page for any four-year college your teen is interested in to understand the college’s stated policy on acceptance of transfer students. The destination college’s transfer policy can help you and your teen select courses and determine the number of they need to earn prior to transferring to the four-year college or university. Certain in-state universities often participate with community colleges to grant automatic acceptance to students who maintain required GPAs at the two-year institutions.

Alternative Routes to College Credit

It’s not always necessary to earn college credit on campus. Some four-year institutions have independent study options, which can offer significant savings in time and money. Although certain majors require on-campus residency, many students can complete general education requirements through independent study. Colleges differ on whether and how they award credit or advanced placement for independent study, so always be sure to verify the policies at the college(s) your student wants to attend.

Some independent study options include:

  • Dual enrollment—Your teens can take on-site or online courses through a community college while still in high school, earning both high school and college credit—at a fraction of the cost!
  • Distance learning (DL)—Many universities and four-year colleges offer online courses that your student can take from home or anywhere. Although DL credits generally cost the same as onsite enrollment, your teen saves room and board and other costs associated with on-campus living.
  • Credit by examinationAP exams in various subjects are given in May at public and private high schools. Colleges require students to earn a certain minimum score on an AP exam in order to receive college credit. CLEP (College-Level Examination Program) and DSST tests (now open to civilians and available free to eligible military test takers) also enable students of any age to earn college credit. The score necessary to earn credit is determined by each college.