Are High Schoolers Ready For Early College?

Dual degree programs are a trend that have been picking up traction across the country for more than a decade. Charitable foundations, such as the one run by Bill and Melinda Gates, have donated well over $100M to establishing early college high schools, since 2001.

Not necessarily billed as gifted programming, instead at-risk students and teens living in poverty are getting the opportunity to graduate with both a high school and a community college degree – for free. PBS News Hour just ran a segment on one such early college program down by the US-Mexico border in Texas.

On the surface, this seems like an amazing opportunity for students. But, not everyone’s a proponent.

What happens to many of these early college students when they get here and they walk in their first day of class and they’re in junior and senior level courses is they do not have the critical and analytic thinking skills. They do not have the reading skills. They cannot handle the reading load. They don’t have the writing skills. They cannot write. ~ Samuel Freeman, University of Texas-Pan American Professor

What Makes You Ready for Early College?

Whether you agree with Dr. Freeman or not, he begs the question: What critical skills should high school students have, if they’re considering early college? Gifted, at-risk, or somewhere in-between, certain skills beyond a passion for learning are necessary for success in early college.

  • Reading
    The ability to read and comprehend high-level texts seems like a no-brainer prerequisite, but some auditory learners (the kids who can watch a video or listen to a lecture and remember every detail) actually aren’t always independent readers. Many college lectures supplement – but do not replace – what is written in the textbook, making reading essential.
  • Note-Taking
    Note-taking is a 2-part skill. First, does the student know how to take effective notes, rather than writing down everything verbatim? And second, do they have the stamina to keep up with the pace of note-taking during a lecture? Assistive technology exists to help with this, but it’s not always free or available.
  • Writing
    “Dog ate my homework” – or the modern day equivalent of “My computer crashed and I lost everything” – is not going to fly in an early college class. If a student doesn’t like writing assignments, how’s the work going to get done? Negotiating alternative assignments might be worth a try, but I’ve heard of very few professors who agree to that if there’s no official accommodations in place.
  • Non-Academic Skills
    Time management and being able to handle embarrassment from being wrong in front of college peers are just a couple of non-academic skills to consider in the readiness equation. Take a look at this early college readiness checklist for teens, as well as this one for students under the age of 13 for other considerations.

Tell Us What You Think
Should every high school student attend early college? What critical skills should a student have before starting?
Should exceptions be made?



Alessa Giampaolo Keener, M.Ed. works with clients around the world in developing individualized learning plans that value the strengths and weaknesses of the whole child. While her focus has long been on the social-emotional needs of the gifted child, Alessa also works with governmental agencies in helping to meet the educational needs of children in foster care, as well as those involved in the juvenile justice system. Alessa lives in Maryland, where she homeschooled her kids into college. You can email Alessa at (at)