How to Hack College – Start Preparing Before High School

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My wife and I have 3 children and one of our goals is to teach them everything we can about personal finance. While we want them to make their own financial decisions and learn from their mistakes, we also want to give them the knowledge and tools to eventually become financially independent.

One very big financial choice they will all eventually need to make is college. If our children plan to go to college (which we are planning they do right now), then my wife and I need to work with each of them as a team on how to graduate debt free (or at least very close to debt free).

We plan to attack paying for college from multiple different sources. For example, almost 15 years ago we started a 529 college savings plan for our oldest son. Then we started another one over a decade ago for our second child. We decided not to start one for our youngest and instead use the money to fund other investment accounts.

The assets in these 529 plans will be used to partially pay for all 3 kids to attend college … along with other college hacks.

I think most other college hacking techniques come from actions taken just before you start attending or while in school. But as we recently found out .. there are some steps students can take while in high school. And even earlier … there are some steps you can take to prepare for college even before you start high school!

How to Start Hacking College Before You Start High School

Even though my wife and I opened and started to fund multiple 529 plans over a decade ago … the real planning and action steps of college hacking have just started for our family.

Our oldest son (14 years old at the time of this writing) will be starting his freshman year of high school in a couple of weeks.

Over the past year (while in the 8th grade) … he has taken several steps to start hacking college … and he can’t even legally drive an automobile yet.

First, he has set himself up to take one AP course during his freshman year in high school – AP World History. This isn’t always an option for incoming freshman at his school if you don’t plan ahead.

Second, he is entering high school with 2 earned credits before his first day of class. He had the opportunity to take two different classes in 8th grade that will go towards high school credit.

There wasn’t anything special that he did for either hack … other than a little bit of hard work and planning.

Here is a recap of both college hacks our son completed all before he started high school. Each college hack we find or complete is just an additional piece of the overall puzzle.

1. Prepare to Take AP Courses in High School

Without realizing it at the time, our son started to prepare in 8th grade to take an AP course his freshman year of high school.

In the school district our 3 children attend, they allow freshman a chance to take 1 AP (Advanced Placement) course. Since these are considered accelerated courses, it requires a recommendation from an 8th grade teacher. Our son was recommended to take AP World History as a freshman.

I’m sure every school district in the country operates a little bit differently, so it is important to do your research on the school district your children attend (or plan to attend when starting high school). This scenario worked for our son in the school district he attends … but may not work for everyone else.

It is our understanding that the AP courses offered at his high school are not necessarily harder material. But instead, the course moves at a much quicker pace and the expectations are higher for doing individual work at home … including tons of reading. For example, on the last day of 8th grade … he was sent home with an AP World History book with assigned chapters to read and questions to answer over the summer.

The expectations are for students to come the first day of class with these questions and reading assignments completed.

Hopefully if everything goes well, he will be fully prepared to take his AP World History exam next April and take his first step (as a high school freshman) in earning future college credit.

Note – We plan to provide updates on his progress towards earning college credit by taking AP courses in high school in future posts.

2. Taking High School Credit Courses in 8th Grade

In addition to taking AP courses in high school … our son took an additional step to hack college even before he started his freshman year.

During 8th grade, he took Math 1 and Spanish 1 … which are both considered freshman level courses at his high school. By passing both courses, he will enter the year with 2 high school credits. And will be taking Math II and Spanish II (sophomore level classes) as a freshman.

This may not seem like a huge deal when it comes to hacking college expenses … but it gives him options later on in high school.

For example, another college hack we plan to pursue with him during high school is dual enrollment. This is offered at his high school where he can start attending classes at our local Community College starting as a Junior. These classes will count towards high school credit and possibly college credit depending on where he decides to attend.

Or he may decide to focus on taking additional AP courses as a Junior or Senior in place of the classes he has already passed ahead of time.

In the end … he will start the year with high school credit … which gives him plenty of options in the future.

Our Plan to Hack College

When it comes to paying for college for our 3 children … we don’t have all the answers yet. Our goal is to have them each graduate with a 4-year degree and come out debt free.

We have already taken some steps in paying for college by setting up a couple 529 plans over 10 years ago. And now that our oldest child is getting ready to start high school … we are focusing more now on taking (and hopefully passing) AP level courses that could eventually be used for college credit.

Our focus will also eventually turn to learning more about CLEP testing and dual enrollment. These are additional options for students to earn college credit … before even attending. These options do cost some money … but nowhere near what an equivalent college course would cost.

And of course … many of these tools will depend on the college or University or children plan to attend and the scholarships they may be eligible for.

For our family … hacking college will come with a learning curve for sure. But we plan to take it one puzzle piece at a time and come out with 3 kids who earn 4-year college degrees and no student loan debt.

Have you used AP courses or any of the other mentioned techniques to help hack college? Or do you have children and are looking for opportunities to lower the cost of college? I would love to hear some examples that have worked.

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