Brianna Moore earned her associate degree while still in high school. Now she’s headed to university.

Courtesy of Brianna Moore

Coming from a low-income family, the cost of college can be a big worry, which is why I decided to take free college courses while I was still in high school.

When I was in middle school, I was introduced to the college and career program at 21st Century Charter School, the K-12 school I attend in Gary, Indiana.

At the beginning of eighth grade, I took an exam to see if I knew enough to take college-level classes. Even though my scores were high, I didn’t feel ready to start college until my second semester of ninth grade.

I knew that taking college classes would save me some money, but I never imagined that I would have earned 72 free college credits and an associate degree by the end of my senior year of high school. Among other college courses, I took: psychology, algebra, sociology, biology, and Earth science. Elsewhere, those credits might have cost me some $50,000. Given that I have to pay for college all on my own, the money I saved means a lot.

But the free education at. Ivy Tech Community College wasn’t easy. I spent countless hours doing homework, studying, and managing a high school and college workload — all while holding down a part-time job at a local McDonald’s. My normal day consisted of going to school at 8 a.m. and staying, sometimes, until 5 p.m. First, I attended my high school classes, then my college classes. After school, I headed to my 6-11 p.m. shift at McDonald’s. After work, it was time for homework and studying. Some days, my day wouldn’t end until 3 a.m. The most important thing was finding at least 5 minutes between classes and before work to focus on me — whether it was just a quick scroll through social media or closing my eyes for a few minutes to rest.

My fast-food job showed me that getting a higher education was a necessity for me. While there is nothing wrong with working at McDonald’s, I knew I didn’t want to stand behind a screen and take orders for the next 30 years.

If your school has a dual-credit program, I recommend you give it a try, too, especially if you’re worried about the cost of college. Start with one course and see. Some of my peers who thought college wasn’t for them changed their minds after taking their first college class.

The early college program opened new avenues of learning for me. I’d never considered being a psychologist until I fell in love with Psychology 101. Psychology taught me more about myself and others. It taught me about different disorders, and it helped me realize why I thought and felt the way I did about certain things.

The biggest misconception among my classmates was that college-level courses would be as easy as high school ones because we had more freedom around when and how we do our work. In high school, we were given strict rules: take notes that will be graded, turn in assignments by the due date, complete the study guide, finish countless worksheets, etc. In college, we weren’t required to take notes, complete study guides, and turn in assignments all the time. So my biggest challenge was self-discipline. I had to remember all the strict rules my high school teachers set for me and set them for myself. My professors at Ivy Tech considered me an adult, even though most of them knew I was still in high school. It was my responsibility to take notes, turn in assignments on time, and study without the same structure or constant reminders. It was hard to be a high school and college student at the same time, but the experience taught me many life skills, self-discipline being the most important.

I earned an associate of science in liberal arts in May of 2020, a year before earning my high school diploma. My family is very proud of me, and I’m happy to be a positive role model for my younger sisters and brother.

This fall, I’ll attend the University of Kentucky and have decided to major in pre-medical laboratory science. My Ivy Tech credits will transfer to the University of Kentucky and count toward my bachelor’s degree.

Earning these college credits saved me not only money but also time — making those long days, late nights, heaps of coursework, and missed social gatherings worth the sacrifice in the end.

Brianna Moore was born and raised in Gary, Indiana. At age 18, she earned her high school diploma from 21st Century Charter School. She holds an associate of science in liberal arts from Ivy Tech Community College.

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