My experience with dual enrollment: a head start on college credits

By Sydney O’Gwynn
Staff Writer

 UWF offers high school students the opportunity to be dual enrolled here and at their high school. Photo courtesy of WVTF.org.

UWF offers high school students the opportunity to be dual enrolled here and at their high school.
Photo courtesy of WVTF.org.

I can still remember my first day of college. I packed my books into my backpack and trekked across campus, struggling to find my classes and not understanding why buildings of similar numbers weren’t always right next to each other. I felt like a small fish in a big pond, but I also felt a newfound independence.

My first day in college sounds like a lot of other students’ except for one difference: I was a dual enrollment student.

“Dual enrollment is an opportunity for qualified high school students to take college courses that will enable them to not only meet the requirements for high school graduation, but it’s also a way for them to earn college credits early,” Eddie Rogers, associate director of Enrollment Affairs at the University of West Florida, said. Rogers acted as my connection to UWF. He helps students register for classes, something he has done for the past four years.

“They have to meet certain requirements,” Kelli Lowe, a guidance counselor at Pine Forest High School in Pensacola, said. “You have to have at least a 3.0 GPA for Pensacola State College and UWF, and you have to have certain test scores.”  The test scores I had to have, since I decided to dual enroll at UWF, were those of the ACT.

Lowe was my adviser when I attended Pine Forest and helped in ensuring the classes I signed up for were not only meeting my college requirements, but my high school ones, as well. We would pick out the classes together and then, after the paperwork was signed by her, my mom and I, she would send it off to Rogers and he would register me for classes.

There are several advantages to being a dual enrollment student, the arguably biggest being that the student does not have to pay for tuition or books.

“It’s free college,” Lowe said. “You can’t beat that.”

I had to get my books through the UWF bookstore, but once I picked out the books, all I had to do was sign paperwork and I received my books at no cost to me. The only thing I had to pay for was the parking decal and the transportation to get to the college.

“The biggest benefit to dual enrollment is certainly getting that head start in earning college credits,” Rogers said. “Financially, it’s a way to get college credits without coming out of pocket.”

Not only did I have to have a 3.0 GPA, but I had to maintain it every semester I was in college. From that moment on, I had to have the mindset of a college freshman, not a high school junior.

“You always have to make sure that the students understand that they have to prioritize,” Rogers said.

When I decided to dual enroll, I decided to stop going to high school altogether and spend my days fully at UWF. I remember having to really think about it, since this would mean I would miss out on some high school experiences.

“You’re not actually attending high school,” Lowe said. “You might miss some of the things that go on, especially in senior year.”

But students do have the option of dual enrolling part time, where you spend half the day at your high school and half the day at the college. This way, you get the college experience while also holding onto high school memories. This also allows students in high school programs, such as band, ROTC and chorus, to stay in the program while still being able to get exposure to a college campus.

“There are pros and cons, but I think if a student really wants to get both they can go part time and still get both sides of it,” Lowe said. If a student decides to go full time, however, he or she has the ability to receive the associates degree at high school graduation, Lowe said.

Some high schools offer dual enrollment courses at the high school to go along with their Advance Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, but Rogers said that UWF courses can only be offered at the university.

“For those students who don’t have those accelerated methods, sometimes dual enrollment students are ahead of the game,” Rogers said. “They are also more comfortable in the college environment.”

Unlike when I dual enrolled, where the program was only open to high school juniors and seniors, students as early as freshman can now start taking dual enrollment courses.

Once you complete registration and step foot on campus, you are a full-fledged college student.

“The instructors really don’t know the difference between who’s dual enrollment and who’s a regular student,” Rogers said.

And that was true. Though I registered differently, I was at the same level as every other student on campus, just like when I walk across that stage April 24, I will be walking across that stage with my peers.

When I signed up for this program, I had no idea just how it would impact my entire life. It wasn’t always easy; I saw my high school friends slowly disappear and there were times I felt alone. But I wouldn’t trade my time college experience for any high school memory. I might have missed out on a part of my life, but, in the process, I developed a better future for myself.

And some people may think they are missing out on too much by dual enrolling full time, and there is nothing wrong with that. Dual enrollment, especially full time like I did it, isn’t for everyone. I certainly believe that if you have the opportunity and are considering it, dual enrollment is definitely the way to go; because I may be two years younger and my beginnings may be different, but my degree will be the same.