Whenever we talk about college with students, most specifically middle school and freshmen students, we tend to always plan around the “4 + 4 plan.” The plan refers to a two-part master plan. Part one involves strategically selecting classes and creating a schedule for all four years of high school that will prepare students to be college-ready and competitive. Part two requires the same strategic planning to ensure students are prepared to succeed in college by selecting classes that will meet his/her major requirements along with the general education requirements, which planned out correctly, will ensure a student graduates in an average of four years. While the basis for this plan is not always executed thoroughly (this has more to do with the lack of resources in public school settings with a 500:1, counselor to student ratio), it does shed light on the importance of planning ahead.
As I sat with my own little brother to plan out his last two years of high school, I couldn’t help but wonder why we didn’t talk more about how to use what we know to instead prepare our students to succeed with the 4 + 3 plan. This plan refers to using the four years in high school to meet the requirements to graduate high school while concurrently being enrolled at a community college to get ahead. Most people call this dual enrollment- I call it “getting ready to finish in 3.” I also call it “working now to save time/money later.”
I entered college with over forty unit credits. These credits were earned via two different methods: AP test credit and community college classes. I took my first community college course as a Freshman. I was eager to make high school a fun experience and so I chose to join ASB. While this meant I had a class dedicated to planning events for school, it also meant I would not be receiving credit for one of my performing arts required classes(which was the class I had exchanged for ASB). To allow me to have both, my mother enrolled me at the local community college where I took Art History for the semester. Every Saturday, I spent my days learning in a college level course, exposing myself to the world of college. The class allowed me to gain experience and visualize myself at a college campus, but most importantly, it allowed me to receive dual credit. This meant, I was able to receive college units for the course AND credit for my high school requirement of at least one year of performing arts. Every year after that, I made sure to sign up for at least one college course outside of my regular schedule. I was able to not only stick to my initial “4 year plan” but also add to it by slowly checking off some of the prerequisites to my college plan; this allowed me take care of one whole year of college while in high school.
In 2011, I graduated with my Bachelors. I was the first one in my family to graduate from a college institution and also the first one of my friends to graduate in three years. While many of my own classmates questioned how I was able to finish so early, the truth is there was no secret: all it took was planning.
Thanks to graduating one year early, I saved over $25,000 in tuition, room and board and provided myself an array of opportunities to work in my field of interest, as my fourth year was used to gain work experience.
I advocate for providing students all the guidance, support and resources necessary to ensure they are set up for success in college. Given our current college graduation rates, four years is considered success. Still, I can’t help but challenge everyone to think about it differently, to plan ahead. Time is money and while the college experience is valuable, the amount of time spent there is not as important as how one utilizes the time to gain experience and create memories.
Graduating in three years should not be an exception. Lets work to at least make it a personal option. Lets work to reform the way we counsel students and lets help coin the “4 + 3 plan.”
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