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Advanced Classes Challenge Students

Oakland Catholic High School
Oakland Catholic High School

Advanced placement classes, also known as AP classes, are a nationally identified selection of courses a student can take in high school that can translate into college credits. The AP program is sponsored by the College Board (the same organization that develops standardized college testing, such as the SAT and ACT tests).

Most public and private high schools offer the opportunity for students to take an assortment of AP classes in a wide variety of subjects, including languages, math and science, computer science, arts, English and history. When a student takes such a class in high school, that class culminates in a standardized AP exam at the end of the school year. A student may score anywhere from 1-5, and depending on the college in which a student matriculates, the AP class will count toward college credits. Typically, a student needs to earn between a 3-5 on the final exam in order to obtain college credits.

Oakland Catholic High School offers 21 AP courses in all subject areas, and while it is not required, the majority of students take at least one AP class, according to Kelly Lazzara, the school’s president.

While a student can take AP classes as early as sophomore year, she said that ideally, juniors and seniors are best suited for these types of classes. At Oakland Catholic, a student would work with the school counselors and the college counselors to recommend the best course load for them.

“Some students may be interested in art and only take AP art, or some may have an affinity for math and science. The course selection can really be customized to the individual students’ interests and academic strengths,” said Lazzara.

So why would a student who may already be taking a rigorous set of classes pile on an additional challenge? “One main reason is to just get a taste or sense of the academic rigor they will have in college,” said Lazzara.

Another quite practical reason is to complete college credits even before setting foot on campus. “Some students have earned enough credits to complete an entire freshman year of college while still in high school,” she added. That, of course, can be a great financial benefit. “If you get your Gen Ed classes completed, it allows you more time in college to either take additional courses you are interested in, or you could have a lighter semester or two,” she said.

Dual enrollment programs, also called concurrent enrollment, are another way that a high school student can get ahead in college. Oakland Catholic, for example, partners with University of Pittsburgh, offering eight dual enrollment courses for their students. Because of its proximity to the university, the students do physically go to Pitt classrooms for tests and utilize the laboratories at Pitt for some of the classes. “Our students get to fully experience being a Pitt student while being enrolled at OC,” said Lazzara.

La Roche University has several dual enrollment options for high school students. Its most common is the Scholar Program (also known as CHS: College in High School).

La Roche partners with 25 high schools for the current school year and currently has 142 high school courses as part of its Scholar Program. Last year, La Roche’s Scholar Program served 1066 area students. Beginning sophomore year through senior year, students may take up to three courses per academic year, enabling them to accrue up to 27-30 credits through the program. There is a fee per class.

La Roche University
La Roche University

“Scholar partner high school courses (and teachers) must be approved by the appropriate academic department or division chair and provost in order to be offered for La Roche University credit. Schools can opt to adopt the LRU course syllabus, or submit a detailed course outline of their equivalent course and list of textbooks and any other instructional materials used for the course,” said Coordinator of Dual Enrollment & Secondary School Programs, Leah Conway.

Students can take classes in numerous topics, from accounting to graphic design and modern languages. “The most heavily enrolled courses for the 2022-2023 school year were Intermediate Spanish levels I and II; three different types of U.S. History courses; Pre-Calculus and Analytic Geometry & Calculus I math courses; General Chemistry I and Lab; Intro to Psychology; and Race, Class, and Gender: Intro to Sociology,” said Conway.

La Roche also offers a Scholar Credit Initiative Program, in which students take actual college courses, either on campus or online. “This is the program for homeschooled students, those attending a high school not partnered through Scholar, or those looking for additional course options outside of their high school’s Scholar partnered courses,” said Conway.

A student does not have to attend La Roche in order to earn college credits for classes taken under the purview of these programs. Rather, students can order their official La Roche transcript to be sent to their chosen college or university and meet with their academic advisor to determine which classes will transfer.

Like AP courses, dual enrollment can also help ease the transition into college by “…giving them the experience of increased academic rigor in a familiar and convenient setting, enabling them to earn college credit while also fulfilling high school graduation requirements, shortening the length of their college enrollment at a fraction of the cost of standard tuition while reducing the debt created by pursuing higher education goals. Scholar students surveyed also report increased confidence, discipline, and learning potential,” said Conway.

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