How can you get four years of college for the price of two? How can you make sure all of your community college credits transfer to your four-year college? How do you get scholarships for freshmen as a transfer student? The answer to all these questions? Dual enrollment.

Dual enrollment programs allow students to enroll simultaneously at a community college and a four-year college. For the first two years, they attend the community college. Typically they are guaranteed a spot at the four-year college upon completion of two years at the community college. In many cases, students can participate fully in student life at the four-year college and be eligible for scholarships otherwise reserved for freshmen when they enter the four-year college. Even better: many states allow students to combine free community college programs with dual enrollment, allowing students two tuition-free years of college.

Students often learn the hard way that starting at community college and then transferring to a four-year school doesn’t actually save them money. Why not? Students transferring between public schools– for example, from community college to a four-year state college– lost an estimated 37% of their credits due to the four-year college not accepting credits. That can translate to an additional semester or even year of college.

In addition, most colleges are far less generous with scholarships for transfer students than for incoming freshmen. For example, the University of Utah offers merit scholarships up to $12,000 annually for incoming freshmen; the maximum scholarship for transfer students is $5,000 annually. The University of Florida offers merit scholarships to 12 transfer students each year, and recipients must reapply for the scholarship each year. By contrast, approximately 10% of incoming freshmen receive merit awards each year.

In a dual enrollment program, the student identifies their four-year college upfront and typically the four-year college establishes a set of criteria for the student to transfer directly in after completing two years of community college. As long as the student hits those markers, they are granted admission– often without applying. In addition, dual enrollment programs often provide academic advising to ensure that the student’s course plan meets the requirements of their intended major at the four-year college.

Dual enrollment requirements vary by state, so you’ll want to check with your high school guidance counselor for details on how to enroll. In addition, most states that offer both free community college and dual enrollment allow students to take advantage of both– but again, check with your high school’s guidance counselor.

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