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College course options – what’s the best choice for you?

John Ke, Managing Editor

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information compiled and written by Peter Olson, Mikaela Warner, and John Ke

College. It’s why many students cram in as many AP classes as possible and stay up until three in the morning studying for the Calculus test. Their dreams are hopeful: go to a good college and earn a degree while paying as little as possible.

Unfortunately, it is easier said than done. Some who wish to go can’t because of the lack of money.

The Early College program offers a potential solution to these problems. The program – which will be implemented in Mounds View beginning in the 2013-2014 school year – will offer a chance for a wide variety of students (ranging from the middle to top third of their class) to earn an Associates Degree in High School.

According to Irondale’s website, this program could save students about $10,000 in a community college tuition and $14,000 in a four-year university.

Mounds View will not be adopting the early college program for another two years. For the time being, this still leaves students with several options for college credits: AP, Post Secondary Enrollment Option (PSEO), and College in the Schools (CIS) courses.

With so many options, it’s hard to pick out what classes to take.To help ease the decision-making process,  the Viewer has outlined the various paths to help you decide which courses to take, depending on your career path.


AP Courses

Advanced Placement classes are taught by Mounds View staff, and they require students to take a standardized nation-wide test in the spring to evaluate their learning. The score students receive, 1 through 5, determines whether they will receive college credit. AP classes offer students the comfort of being taught by Mounds View teachers with fellow classmates, and it allows for more face-to-face time with the instructor than they would in a college setting. This is partially because the class sizes are much smaller.

Despite these benefits, some teachers dislike the intent of AP classes. The AP curriculum for many classes are rigid and broadly defined, thus limiting teachers from delving deeply into specifics.

Students can take any of the 15 AP courses provided at Mounds View, or the other 19 courses provided by the AP Board, all for a flat rate of $87 per exam.

The amount of credit one can receive for an AP score varies on the college and the class. An AP United States History course could receive 6 credits of history at the U of M Twin Cities, while an AP Statistics course could only receive 4 credits of statistics. Both of these are provided that the students earns a 3, 4, or 5 on the AP test. Four or six credits is a considerable amount when a single credit at the U of M Twin Cities costs $448.08.

As the price of the education increases, so does the strictness of AP scores. St. Olaf College will only accept an AP score of 5 to get credit for a U.S. History course. The only course where a 3 is acceptable is AP Calculus BC, or the equivalent of Mounds View’s AP Calculus 2.

More information on how AP credits will transfer to college can be found on the AP Board website.


CIS Courses

Besides PSEO and AP courses, another available opportunity is the College in the Schools (CIS) program, which was created by a partnership between Minnesota high schools and the University of Minnesota. There are a variety of CIS courses available, ranging from University Writing to Beginning Japanese. Mounds View currently offers CIS University Writing and CIS English Literature.

CIS courses take the best of both worlds from AP courses and PSEO. Unlike AP, CIS courses actually guarantee college credit at the University of Minnesota. Unlike PSEO, a student doesn’t need to go to the university campus to take classes. CIS allows students to remain under the tutelage of their high school teachers, while also providing the atmosphere of a college classroom.

In fact, CIS courses are specifically designed so that the students will actually feel like they are taking a college course. Teachers are specifically trained for CIS courses, and everything from textbooks to syllabi mirror a college course.
Also, for one day during the semester, CIS students from all around the state gather on the Twin Cities campus to attend a seminar, where they are briefed on an upcoming assignment, and participate in activities that relate to the class they are currently taking.

The best reason for CIS courses is cost. There is no expensive test at the end of the semester or exorbitant amount of gas money needed for commuting and parking. The effective cost to student is nothing, which is a good thing, when one considers the amount of money saved from taking these courses.

CIS allows students to take actual college courses at no cost, while remaining in the familiar comfort of a high classroom.
There are a few drawbacks, in that other colleges are not required to accept CIS credit, despite the fact that it is technically a University of Minnesota college credit. In fact, they may choose to disregard it entirely. AP courses have the advantage here, as they are universally recognized, and even if they don’t provide college credit, most universities will allow students the opportunity to at least test out of a specific course.

Also, when compared to PSEO courses, CIS does seem a step lower. One won’t have the luxury to learn from actual college professors, who have received substantial preparations for their courses when compared to a high school teacher.


PSEO Courses

Some students find that the right option for gaining college credit is PSEO.

These classes offer a genuine college experience that AP classes cannot recreate; they are taught on a college campus, and a student attends class with college students. Class sizes will vary depending on the course and the college where a student is attending.

How well a student does depends on the level of that student’s motivation, which makes PSEO a great option for driven students who can stay on task.

Although it does take motivation, some students may still find some of the aspects of PSEO classes to be easy. Because professors do not have a strict curriculum to cover, they can dig in to specific subjects that students may enjoy delving into due to various interests. This being said, not having to go over a vast quantity of material quickly lightens the load of homework on students.

PSEO courses are free, which is astounding compared  to a full year tuition at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, which costs $13,060.

Though this is a great opportunity, it is one that is not available to all students. PSEO is only available to Juniors and Seniors with certain grade requirements, and even if you fit these ideal requirements, colleges have a limited amount of space for PSEO students. This means that many prospective students may be turned away.


Whether you choose PSEO, AP, CIS, or a combination of the three, all of these systems have their faults and merits. Ultimately, the individual student must decide whether they can handle the coursework and the environment of the options before enrolling in one of these accelerated courses.

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College course options – what’s the best choice for you?