The Early College Experience
My freshman year, in 2012, I happened to land in one of the first early college institutions in North Carolina. I always had desired to attend the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, but instead I chose Josephine Dobb’s Clement Early College High School (JDC Early College). I made my decision mainly because I saw more opportunities presenting themselves before I even decided to attend the school: I could graduate with two years of college credits and become more prepared for college through the experience. What I did not take into account were the many challenges that come along with the opportunities.
At JDC Early College, the goal is for students to complete the majority of their high school classes in two years; this is so students can participate in collegiate courses their last two years of high school. By the end of the program, students can be classified as juniors at North Carolina Central University (NCCU). Which institutions accept the attained college credits, and just how many of them they accept, depends on the specified institution. A typical high school experience at JDC Early College involves a freshman year of high school classes and two college courses in the sophomore year. Juniors have only one high school class per semester, and seniors take only college courses.
There are many great advantages to attending JDC Early College or any early college.
Exposure: Exposure is the main benefit. I have been exposed to teachers who had high expectations of me before even knowing me. Coming in my freshman year, I did not know what to expect. All of my classes moved at a rapid pace; one class in particular, English, was amazing. My teacher moved from slide to slide, topic to topic, in little time. I am grateful for that, because she prepared me for my current collegiate courses. I am on a college campus; I am used to “college life.” I think this will make my actual college transition much easier than what it would have been.
Family: I feel that my classmates and I have bonded a little more easily than at a traditional high school because my school is extremely small, and we all have come to the school on account of the same things: we all want to graduate with an associate’s degree, and we all are focused on competitive education because we know our school was very selective when choosing us to attend. We do have cliques in a sense, but for the most part everyone associates with everyone; we are going through the same program. We rise and fall together, which is something we inevitably bond over.
College Credits: Obviously, the reason most of us attend JDC Early College is for the college credits. We will graduate with two years of college courses. This will help many students financially, including me.
There are also some “glitches” to the early college program.
High School Experience: The typical high school experience is something an early college student will sacrifice. The school does not have sports teams or fraternities or sororities. Students can go to their home district schools for these events, which is what I did. I felt like it was not much of a sacrifice at all. I have met more people I can connect with.
Limited Space: Freshmen and sophomores are not allowed to leave the school building without permission. I disliked this rule entirely. I felt so limited and claustrophobic. There were occasions where our high school classes went outside, but it wasn’t the same as years three and four when we are integrated on the entire campus.
I strongly believe that a student who has attended JDC Early College has an advantage over students who have attended a traditional high school. Early college provides us with beneficial transitions from eighth grade to freshman year (starting a rigorous high school) and from sophomore year to junior year (starting college classes). We will have an easier transition into our four-year institutions because we already have been exposed to similar transitions. We can focus less on stress from the transition and more on our studies. Also, attending early college has forced me and all of my classmates to think about college careers, which is amazing. In a traditional high school, many students do not have that extra force pushing them toward college. Most of our students graduate; for those that do, attending JDC Early College has not made college after high school a possibility, but a guarantee.