Hello everyone! I know this is not at all related to either Minecraft or LOTR, but I also know that quite a few of you here are high school students in the middle of the college search / decision process, and I decided to write this blog in the hopes that it will be of use to those of you currently in that situation.

Please kindly take note...

  1. This blog was written specifically with students in the United States in mind, although some of it may also be applicable to the education systems in other countries.
  2. This is by no means an exhaustive list of questions one should ask potential colleges or situations that one may encounter, but is taken from formal training that I received to mentor high school juniors and seniors going through the college application process, my own experiences, and the experiences of my sisters and our friends. (I am triple majoring in mathematics, computer science, and economics. My older sister (whom I shall refer to as Adanel) majored in molecular and cell biology and minored in art, and my younger sister (whom I shall refer to as Beril) is pursuing a double major or possibly a double degree (difference to be explained below) in anthropology and international business.) Other current and former American university students, please feel free to add your own experiences, insights, and advice in the comments section!
  3. In this blog, I will use the terms “college and “university” interchangeably.
  4. This may become a multi-part series.

Credit Transfer

Many of you have taken AP courses or earned dual-enrollment credit. Before you commit to any particular college, it is imperative that you have at least a rough idea of how your credit will transfer (and, indeed, if it would even transfer at all). All colleges handle AP and dual-enrollment credit differently, so you should check with the admissions offices of each one you are seriously considering. If they cannot answer your questions, try to contact the registrar’s office. Of course, a college will not be able to tell you definitively how any credit you have will transfer until you actually enroll and they do a formal analysis, but they will usually have general procedures or can tell you what happened with students in similar situations. If you feel uncomfortable asking directly or neither the admissions office nor the registrar’s office responds to your questions (it can be difficult to get questions answered, especially at large universities), a college’s general guidelines toward acceptance of AP and dual-enrollment credit may be listed in their course catalog or student handbook, both of which are usually accessible to the public.

Dual-enrollment credit generally transfers according to the rigor of the university at which it was acquired versus the rigor of the university being entered. If you have acquired dual-enrollment credit at the university you are entering, it will of course be accepted and can be used toward fulfilling major-specific or core-curriculum requirements. However, if the university you are entering perceives that your dual-enrollment credit was acquired at a college of somewhat lower quality than their own, they may refuse to grant credit and require you to re-take their own corresponding course.

AP credit generally transfers according to the score you received on the exam. I know of no college that grants credit for a score of 1 or 2. Scores of 3 may be accepted, depending on the institution and often depending as well on what your intended major is and what the AP class was. For example, at my university, a score of 3 on the AP Calculus AB/BC exam will transfer as credit for Calculus I only if the student is not planning to enter as a mathematics major. If the student is entering as a math major, only a score of 4 or 5 on the AP Calculus AB exam will transfer to fulfill the Calculus I requirement; and a score of 4 or 5 on the AP Calculus BC exam will transfer to fulfill both the Calculus I and Calculus II requirements.

Scores of 4 or 5 on an AP exam are often accepted as credit for the corresponding course. It is important to note that sometimes a score of 5 will grant you credit for both courses in a two-part sequence, while a score of 4 will grant you credit for only the first part of the sequence. For example, at my university a score of 4 on the AP Lang & Comp exam will grant credit for Composition & Rhetoric I, while a score of 5 on that exam will grant credit for Composition & Rhetoric I as well as Composition & Rhetoric II. Many times, especially in more elite universities, only a score of 5 will be accepted to gain credit for a course. At times not even this score suffices – for example, MIT does not grant credit even for a score of 5 on the AP Biology exam because the material covered in AP Biology only represents the first few weeks of MIT’s own biology course sequence. In cases where a university will not grant credit for a high AP exam score, it sometimes will offer placement into a more advanced level of the corresponding course instead. Finally, if a college has no course corresponding to a certain AP exam, students with high scores on those exams may be given free-elective credit.

This brings us to a very important point – the difference between being granted free-elective credit (credit that can only be applied toward fulfilling the number of general, unspecified courses required for graduation) and being granted credit for a specific course or courses. If an admissions office or registrar’s office employee tells you that your credit will transfer, make sure to ask them if it is likely to transfer as free-elective credit or as credit for its corresponding course! You do not want to enter university with the false belief that your AP and/or dual-enrollment credit will transfer to fulfill certain specific courses when, in fact, they will only transfer as free electives. This is what happened to my sister Beril – she entered her university with 51 college credits earned in high school (equivalent to more than 1.5 years of college education) and initially was assured that they would transfer. None of them would have fulfilled requirements for either of her intended majors, but they should have been able to transfer as courses that would fulfill some of her university’s core-curriculum requirements. And for an ordinary student, this would indeed have happened. But Beril was accepted into her university’s honors program, which replaces the university’s core-curriculum requirements with its own required honors-level courses. Beril’s previously-earned college credits were not honors-level, and thus she was finally told, after entering, that they could not transfer to fulfill core-curriculum requirements intended to be replaced by honors-level courses. All of her credit transferred simply as free electives, thus not saving her any work at all, very unfortunately.

This leads to another highly important point – if you are accepted into an honors program, try to find out what that entails! Honors programs generally involve special honors-level courses, which are sometimes complete replacements of a university’s core-curriculum courses, sometimes more advanced levels of general and major-specific courses, sometimes additional required enrichment courses, and sometimes a completely different situation. Such honors programs generally come with special benefits, often including being able to register earlier for courses and/or access to special housing. With some colleges, admission to an honors program is offered at the same time as admission to the college itself. However, with others, a special application is required, and the invitation to apply may come at the same time as a grant of admission or may come only after a student has officially entered the university. Thus, if you are granted admission into an honors program before your college decision is due (May 1 is National College Decision Day), do your best to find out what participation in the honors program would mean for you, especially in regards to fulfilling core-curriculum and major-specific course requirements.

Minors, Multiple Majors, and Multiple Degrees

As we have mentioned majors quite a lot in the above sections, it seems that it would be a good time to speak about them more specifically, although I am sure that most, if not all, of you are already quite familiar with the concept. A major is a field of study in which a student is eligible to receive an undergraduate degree, generally a bachelor of science (B.S.) for a more technical field and a bachelor of arts (B.A.) for a liberal arts field. For certain subjects such as mathematics and economics that represent the border between more abstract and more applied fields, a university will sometimes offer both a B.S. degree and a B.A. degree, with different requirements for the earning of each. Generally, 12-16 courses are required to earn a major. Some major requirements will be specific courses that every student who majors in the field takes. Other courses to fulfill major requirements may be chosen from lists of approved courses. Usually, it is not at all difficult to find each university’s requirements for the majors that they offer on their websites.

If a student wishes to study more than one subject and have this study officially recognized, there are several options to do so. The easiest option is by taking one or more minors. Generally, six courses in a subject area are required to earn a minor. As with majors, there may be more freedom in the choice of some courses to fulfill requirements than with others. Minors are often easy to add on, but less so when the minor is offered by a completely different school than the one the student’s major is offered in, as in my sister Adanel’s case. To add a minor in art to her biology major, she first had to apply officially for admission to her university’s art school, even though the art school would not be granting her a degree.

Likewise, adding one or more additional majors is another way to have one’s study of multiple subject areas be recognized officially and is much simpler when the two or more majors are related. When this is the case, the student does not have to apply for admission to an additional school of their university as would otherwise be quite likely. Moreover, many universities (but not all) allow you to use the same course to fulfill requirements of two or more majors, thus making it possible for you to earn an additional major without having to take 12-16 additional courses. For example, I only needed seven additional courses to add an economics major to my majors in mathematics and computer science, as calculus, statistics, and financial mathematics courses all fulfilled requirements of both the mathematics and the economics major.

Another less common option to pursue studies in multiple areas is the pursuit of multiple degrees. Earning multiple degrees means that upon graduation, a student receives a diploma in each of the different subject areas. In contrast, a student who earns multiple majors only receives one degree and thus one diploma which will only mention the student’s primary major. For example, although I have three majors, I will not receive B.S. degrees in all three areas but will only receive one, a B.S. in mathematics, as I have chosen that as my primary major. My other two majors will not be stated on my diploma and I will not be able to say that I have a degree in computer science nor a degree in economics. However, they will be noted on my transcript, as would a minor, and they will still have value to potential employers.

Earning multiple degrees is more difficult and prestigious than earning multiple majors. Generally, less overlap is allowed when pursuing multiple degrees than multiple majors, so that each course taken may only satisfy requirements of one of the subject areas, not both. Universities may also require more credits overall for a student to graduate with multiple degrees than for a student to graduate with multiple majors. For example, at Beril’s university graduation with a double major requires only 120 overall credits, while graduation with a double degree requires 150 overall credits (so essentially five years instead of four).

The conditions under which students may graduate with multiple degrees vary from institution to institution. At Beril’s university, a double major is only allowed if majoring in each of these subjects individually would lead to a B.A. degree. If either or both would lead to a B.S. degree, students’ majors will not be combined into one degree but rather must remain separate – students are required to obtain a double degree. At my own university, two degrees may not be obtained concurrently, but after graduation with one baccalaureate degree, a student may return to the university the following year essentially in the position of a transfer student with the core-curriculum requirements and some major-requirements already fulfilled. The student will then take at least ten additional courses, at least five of which must be used towards satisfying the requirements of a major in the additional subject area. Upon finishing the requirements for the additional major, the student may participate in graduation once again and receive the second baccalaureate degree. As you can see, these are quite different situations, so it is important to find out potential college’s policies regarding such things.

I hope at least part of this will be useful to some! I apologize sincerely for its great length and its possibility to be overwhelming. It really is crucial to have these factors in consideration during the college search and decision process, though.

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