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Usually, in the heady days after receiving college acceptance notifications, students face a tough choice: picking the right school to attend. Inevitably, some will wish and wonder, "What if I could go to two at the same time?"

In many cases, the surprising answer is that you can. You may have heard the term "dual enrollment," which sometimes refers to high school students who are also taking classes at a local college. However, dual enrollment can also refer to students attending two colleges. Students can opt to simultaneously take classes at a community college and a four-year university. In some cases students also take classes at two four-year universities.

But, how does dual enrollment work? Also known as co-enrollment, simultaneous, cross or concurrent enrollment, students who study under this arrangement still choose one four-year school as their home (degree-granting) college. Any classes students take elsewhere should be transferred over to their main school to count toward graduation requirements.

"Co-enrollment receives considerably less attention than the traditional model of students transferring between community colleges and state universities," says Thomas L. Harnisch director of State Relations and Policy Analysis for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU). However, "co-enrollment offers exciting opportunities for students to have simultaneous access to college at the community college and university level," he says.

It does take a bit of careful strategizing to make sure you handle dual enrollment correctly. Still, after you do your homework on this approach, there are a number of very good reasons to consider attending two colleges at the same time.

Benefits of Concurrent Enrollment

By choosing concurrent enrollment you may:

  • Save money: You may pay less for your college degree if you take some less expensive classes at a community college rather than all of them at your four-year university.
  • Give yourself more scheduling options: What if two of your required classes at your main school meet at the same time? You may be able to take one of them at a community college or different university instead — either in person or online.
  • Expand your course options: You can choose from course catalogs at two schools instead of just one.
  • Get the four-year college experience: If you're trying to cut costs by taking community college classes, but you want to start at a four-year school rather than transfer later, concurrent enrollment may solve your problem. You can take classes at both schools while formally attending your four-year university.
  • Earn double benefits: You may qualify for parking pass discounts at two campuses or be allowed to take advantage of student activities, facilities and the like, at both schools.

Community College Agreements

A number of colleges actively promote programs that expand students' opportunities to take courses at their own campus and elsewhere. For instance, the University of Oregon (UO) in Eugene, sponsors an active dual enrollment program. Students can take classes at UO as well as at one of two partnering community colleges and live in the UO's residence halls, just like other full-time students.

"We want our students to earn their degrees in a cost-effective way," says Roger Thompson, UO's vice president for Student Services and Enrollment Management, "so we try to make it easy and affordable for them to enroll in whichever classes work best for them."

Beginning this fall, the University of Missouri (MU) in Columbia will debut a similar arrangement. A pilot group of 30 students in good academic standing at Moberly Area Community College, a local school, will be able to co-enroll at MU. Students will start by taking most of their courses at the community college and will also take up to six credit hours per term at MU. Students will live on-campus at MU for their first two years to help familiarize them with the university from which they'll eventually graduate.

"By having access to the four-year university right away, students may find that there is less of a gap in their jump from community college to the university," Harnisch says. "Mixing courses from the community college and state university can help familiarize students with the culture and demands of each institution and eliminate some of the potential fear of later fitting in at a new school.

Cooperative Agreements Between Universities

Four-year universities that want their students to have access to a broad range of courses and faculty may offer "cross-registration" deals with other schools. This is a good thing to ask about when you apply for admission. For instance:

  • Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, lets its students cross-register for classes at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Babson College, Brandeis University and several other schools.
  • Located in the same Indiana town, Notre Dame University and St. Mary's College both allow students to cross-register for classes, with faculty advisers' approval.
  • The State University of New York (SUNY) system lets students from other private and public colleges take classes on its campuses if the student's home college doesn't offer those particular courses. SUNY students can take certain classes elsewhere as well.

What to Know Before You Enroll

If you're considering concurrent enrollment, here are some important things to keep in mind:

  • Understand the rules. Before enrolling in courses at two colleges you should always first consult with your main school's admissions or registrar's office or your academic adviser. They will help you fully understand how your school's concurrent enrollment arrangement works. You should especially make sure you understand what your costs will be at each campus.
  • Plan which courses to take where. Your primary four-year university will probably require you to take certain classes, including upper-division classes and courses directly related to your major, at their campus only. As such, you will probably want to take only lower-division classes and electives at other colleges.
  • Ask how financial aid will work. Your schools' registrar and financial aid staff members can help. This is important because loans and scholarships can only be applied to your tuition and fees at one school at a time. However, you may be able to set up a "consortium agreement" between your two schools, which allows financial aid to be disbursed first to your degree-granting college and then to your secondary college.
  • Carefully consider your goals. There are a lot of good reasons to take classes at a second school. However, if you're trying to get around the system — perhaps you're attempting to boost your grades by taking easier classes at a community college — you may want to reconsider. Some four-year schools will transfer your credits, but not your grades, from community colleges, says UO's Thompson. This means transferred credits won't improve your overall or in-major GPA . Thompson says UO also won't consider grades from other schools when bestowing graduation honors.
  • Double-check course transfers. Just knowing that credits from the second college transfer to your home school isn't enough. You also need to know how classes satisfy degree requirements at your home school. For instance, does the transferred class qualify as a "history" or "social sciences" credit? This information can help you avoid taking extra classes not required for your degree.

With some smart planning, taking classes at two colleges at the same time can end up being a cost-effective and creative way to earn your college degree.


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