Teen taking college courses in high schoolAbout 70 percent of the 2.9 million high school graduates in the U.S. will be heading to college, says the U.S. Labor Department. For high school students intent on that goal, taking college-level classes on a college campus is one way to get an academic head start and an early taste of campus life. While some teens are able to double up and take these classes during the regular academic year, most students take advantage of the summer months and programs offered at that time that are designed just for them. Some colleges and universities may even offer free or discounted tuition to students who are ready to dive in.

High school students can take classes to work on academic subjects, or develop their skills in sports or music. They can focus on an interest in the arts, humanities, or sciences, or explore new fields of learning. They can improve their transcripts, and perhaps increase their chances of getting into a competitive college. They may earn college credit and expand their social network.

If your teen is interested in this option, start looking around to see what’s possible in terms of programs, costs, and travel time. Planning ahead is critical: Registration for summer classes may start in the winter, and your teen’s guidance counselor may need to approve an application.

In terms of jump-starting the transition to college, though, taking college classes in high school really is a smart move.

Some College Offerings for NJ High School Students

1. The Governor’s School of New Jersey is a unique summer program committed to meeting the educational needs of academically talented high school students who have completed their junior year. Emphasis is placed on problem solving complex issues that exist on a local, state, national, and international level, and leadership training. The Governor’s School is a full-scholarship residential learning experience held on two college campuses in the state. There are no grades or academic credit.

2. The College of New Jersey’s Office of Summer Programs offers blended learning courses that combine face-to-face with online instruction. Students who take blended learning courses during Summer 2011 will meet on campus with their class once a week for six to eight weeks.

3. Rutgers New Brunswick Summer Session invites high-achieving high school students to take classes on campus. Credits in a broad range of fields—from art history to women’s studies—can be applied to a university degree. With the recommendation of a guidance counselor, students may qualify for a High School Summer Scholars Scholarship to cover 20 percent of tuition for up to 6 college credits.

4. Here are some additional programs in New Jersey. Check with community colleges and universities near your home to see if they have similar offerings for high school students:

Carol Lippert Gray is the editor of Raising Teens, a New Jersey Family publication.