When I was in high school nearly 40 years ago there were three options for Advanced Placement: AB and BC Calculus and European History. I knew several people who took these classes. Most decided to repeat the class in college rather than test to get the AP credits. They thought that the decision would lead to an easier freshman year.

Today it’s not uncommon, even at very good state colleges and universities, to see students walk in with a semester or even a year’s worth of college credits. Presuming these students got excellent grades they are in an enviable position when it comes to choosing a college.

The first question a family should consider is: what was the motivation behind taking these courses?

Was it to impress the admissions office at a very selective school? Or was it to earn credits that could be applied to a bachelor’s degree? Was there a desire to enter college as a freshman at the school of their dreams? Or was it to get an early start on a career or further education? These questions have a dramatic impact on the choice of college. At some schools the student with a year’s worth of AP credits might be offered admission as a sophomore; at others s/he might enter as a freshman with no advanced standing at all. The variety of colleges is so great that practically any student can find the educational experience they want. As long as s/he does their homework.

The next question is: how did your student learn this material? Did s/he need to interact with the teacher often?

Did s/he need help with their assignments? Or did s/he breeze through the material on their own? Depending upon interests and abilities everyone learns differently. I know people who are entirely comfortable solving math problems or writing computer programs with no help from anyone. Such prodigies might find a college based on seminars and discussions to be a waste of time. Other people thrive on such challenges.

A third question: how are your family’s finances?

Honestly, if a student plans on further education, and finances are a major concern, the cost of the undergraduate experience should be as little as possible. The alma mater of their legal, medical or advanced degrees will be more expensive and s/he will need to rely on that school’s career services and alumni network to gain entry into their chosen field. I knew of at least two people in my college class at Rutgers who were admitted to Harvard Law School. As law students they competed successfully for the same positions as students who had earned their undergraduate degrees from the most selective private schools. And they probably owed less money.

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