What If Your Private School Counselor Says, "No"?
Whether you want to avoid taking a notoriously bad teacher, take more challenging coursework, or get ahead in a subject, many families feel stuck when their private high school's college counselor says that any class taken through another high school (i.e. over summer or online) or a community college will not count towards their high school GPA or appear on their high school transcript. However...
Colleges Follow Their Own Rules
College applications require you to report all coursework you've taken from all institutions. Then, each college accepts any and all legitimate coursework it deems transferrable, regardless of any policy your private high school has against you taking outside courses. Finally, the college will calculate its own aggregate GPA for you. Meaning, you'll effectively get the GPA boost in the end, even if your GPA remains unchanged on your high school transcript.
For example, this was a public Q&A response that was on the University of California website (as of February 2019) read:
"If a student takes calculus or statistics at a college/university but the high school refuses to give them high school credit for these classes, do these classes still qualify the students for UC admission even if the classes are not listed on the high school transcript?
Yes, as long as the college/university classes are transferable to UC they count toward UC's [high school A-G] subject requirement. Students should report this coursework and their grades on their UC applications."
That page link is no longer live. But it was replaced by a new page here that reads: "Students [can] also may meet [the A-G requirements] by completing college courses," and it now goes into a lot more detail about that.
Beyond the UCs, many colleges have similar policies: As long as the class is deemed acceptable and transferrable to the college, the college doesn't care which academic institution it came from. Yes, your private high school counselor might care; but colleges don't care. However, this doesn't mean you can take just any outside class that your heart desires.
Academic Electives Are Safer Choices
Be cautious and know your private high school's minimum requirements for graduation. Depending on your specific high school and the state you live in, these graduation requirements may resemble:
- At least four years of English
- At least three years of math
- At least three years of science
- At least three years of history/social science
- At least two years of a foreign language
Depending on your case, it might be best to satisfy these requirements at your private high school. If the administration is not allowing you to transfer coursework in from elsewhere, and you risk not earning enough necessary credits for your high school graduation, you should avoid trouble. However, once you ensure that you will ultimately satisfy your graduation requirements by the time of graduation, additional classes in these academic subjects are called "academic electives". While electives are technically classes that you can elect to not take, most highly selective colleges strongly expect you to continue enrolling in academic electives beyond your high school's graduation requirements.
Academic electives can be taken elsewhere without jeopardizing your high school's graduation requirements. You might also be able to take that extra class during any year of high school, as long as you satisfy your high school's minimum requirements by your graduation date. Just be mindful of the sequence of prerequisites that affect your planning. Further, there are other considerations to be mindful of.
Credit Limits on College Classes Taken Before High School Graduation
The advantage of taking college classes, instead of an extra AP class, is that college classes are equivalent to AP classes and you earn college credit instantaneously without needing to take an AP exam. It's a wonderful 2-birds with 1-stone opportunity. However, colleges may limit how many college classes a student can take before high school graduation that the college will count as college degree progress credit.
For example, here is USC's credit limit policy. Provided the qualifying conditions are met, USC will allow high school students to take up to 4 college classes (which equal 16 credits at USC) before you graduate from high school that they'll automatically accept and transfer in as degree progress credit at USC without question. Beyond those 4 classes, you will need to petition USC to see if you can be granted degree progress credit for those additional classes.
Before enrolling elsewhere, contact your desired colleges' admissions offices to ensure that the specific class you're taking elsewhere is categorically equivalent to the class you intend to side-step at your private high school. Lastly, some courses, like business or criminal justice, will transfer for college credit, but it won't boost your academic GPA. In some cases, students are better off taking courses in the right academic categories that will raise their academic GPA, which excludes non-academic electives in its calculation. In other cases, the student's academic standing is high enough in the eyes of their desired colleges so non-academic electives are fine to personally explore interest in a potential major of study.
Where Is Outside Coursework Offered?
Ensure you take coursework at a regionally accredited academic institution. A very short list of regionally accredited academic institutions includes, but is not limited to:
- Community Colleges
- UC Scout High School Courses (online by the University of California)
- BYU Independent Study High School Courses (one of the biggest online learning programs; however, if you're vying to be a recruited athlete: it's not NCAA approved)
- Online High Schools (examples include: Oaks Christian Online H.S., Laurel Springs School. Futures Academy, Forest Trail Academy, etc.)
The brand name of the institution where you take your class is of no importance to colleges. A regionally accredited class holds equally heavy weight no matter where it is taken. Therefore, prioritize the cost of the program as a driving factor when all else is equal. Additionally, if you have the luxury of choice, we recommend the college version of a class over the AP version so that you earn college credit instantly without the need for an AP exam.
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