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Articles / Applying to College / Will Too Many Credits Torpedo Freshman Merit Aid?

Will Too Many Credits Torpedo Freshman Merit Aid?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | May 22, 2010

Question: I have heard that there is a limit to the number of college credits gained during high school (AP, dual enrollment, community college courses) for an entering college freshman to be considered for freshman scholarships. We were told not to let our daughter accumulate one year of college credit or she could not be eligible for freshman scholarships.Is this true, even if the college considers all entering high school students,even those with more than one year of credit, as freshman?

I have heard of students (primarily home-schoolers) who matriculated in a community college and earned credits doing so. Then when they applied to college, they were told that they had sophomore standing (or other advanced standing). In such cases, it's possible that they were excluded from receiving merit aid earmarked for freshman. (Many colleges will not allow putative transfer students--or anyone with a year or more of college credits--to apply as freshmen, even if the students are willing to forgo all credits earned in order to start from Square One. This, however, rarely applies to students who have earned these credits via AP or IB. And many Dual Enrollment credits won't count ... see below.)

In the vast majority of cases, advanced standing is not granted until the student has successfully finished freshman year (or at least one full semester of it) and then elects to complete college in less than the typical four years. Thus, these students would not have to worry about being shut out at merit-money time.

Note, too, that many colleges--especially the more selective ones--do not give credit for dual-enrollment classes when the student received high school credit for them already ... which is the case with most D.E. programs. In addition, lots of colleges (again, almost always the most selective ones) do not accept credit for any classes taken at another institution prior to enrollment, unless the student was a matriculated student at that college and is officially applying as a transfer. Also, many high school students take classes that they are told are "for credit" (e.g., summer programs, accelerated courses sponsored by universities and given in their own high schools). But, in fact, the majority of colleges won't honor these "credits."( Sometimes the sponsoring institution is the only one to accept them.)

Thus, commonly students who think they'll be entering college with a lot of credits really have fewer than they expected, even if they've racked up good scores on multiple AP and IB exams. (Although AP and IB credits are the ones most consistently accepted by colleges, many schools are getting tougher about how much credit they are awarding. Institutions also commonly put a limit on the number of AP or IB credits they will allow.) Moreover, when the merit aid decisions are made (usually winter/spring of 12th grade) seniors commonly have not finished all their AP or IB testing, so the colleges won't even know how much credit each applicant has earned.

If your daughter has a specific college--or an entire list--in mind already, or if you have heard that particular colleges have imposed these scholarship restrictions, it would make sense to check directly with the colleges themselves, since I can't speak for every one. You can also ask if students with a lot of AP or IB credit are not permitted to enroll in certain freshman classes. This happens somewhat commonly but usually it's not a problem for anyone.

Another consideration is this: In many cases, the cost of a full year of attending college is greater than the merit money that the typical solid student will earn over four years. So sometimes accelerating can be a plus ... even if it means missing out on freshman merit money.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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