BENTON -- When Andrea Rolwing arrives at the University of Mississippi next fall, she'll already have completed a few courses toward her pharmaceutical degree.
The 17-year-old senior at Kelly High School is one of many high school students taking advantage of dual enrollment, or pre-college credit, courses offered through Southeast Missouri State University.
An estimated 560,000 of the nations' high school juniors and seniors -- about 8 percent -- are taking college courses, according to the Institute for Education Inquiry in Seattle, Wash.
"Students can leave high school having earned up to 15-17 credit hours," said Kelly High School guidance counselor Rhonda Evans. "A lot of the students are taking advantage of it. Currently 12 of our seniors are enrolled for the spring semester."
In her junior year, Rolwing took college trigonometry and algebra through ITV classes. Last semester Rolwing took a college psychology course.
"I took the courses because I was interested in receiving college credit and it was a good opportunity," Rolwing explained.
Rolwing will take college English on Kelly's campus and is enrolled in a U.S. political systems class this spring.
Students at Kelly have the option of taking the following courses at the college level: English, trigonometry, algebra, biology, economics, psychology I and II, U.S. political systems, mass communication and American history.
A majority of the students take the courses online. English is offered by a certified teacher on campus and trigonometry and algebra are offered through Interactive Television (ITV) courses in conjunction with Charleston High School. The rest are available by Web through Southeast.
Students who take Web courses must meet GPA and ACT score guidelines, Evans said. Also, high school students who take online courses only have to pay 50 percent of the regular tuition fee, she noted.
Every school's pre-college credit system is different, but they all produce the same end results. Take for instance Sikeston Senior High School.
Students at Sikeston are given the option of taking dual enrollment courses through Southeast Missouri State University from trained on-campus Sikeston teachers who follow Southeast's curriculum. On-campus college level courses available at Sikeston include music appreciation, biology II and American history.
Students may also take classes at the Sikeston Area Higher Education Center as long as the course fits into their schedule.
"It's a good idea for those who know they want to go to college and can master the work," said Sikeston High School Counselor Susan Nothdurft.
In her seven years as a high school guidance counselor at Sikeston, Nothdurft said she's definitely seen an increase in student enrollment for dual enrollment courses.
Although dual enrollment classes are through Southeast, Nothdurft added, "Most colleges will accept the transferring credits -- maybe not for the same class, but at least as an elective credit."
Advanced Placement courses are another pre-college credit option Sikeston offers, Nothdurft said. They give students the chance to try college-level work in high school. If students get a "qualifying" grade on the AP Exam, there are thousands of colleges worldwide that will give credit or advanced placement for your efforts.
"The only difference between AP courses and dual enrollment is in the preparation of the AP exam at the end of the year," Nothdurft said. Certain scores on that make students eligible to be awarded credit for that class at any college."
College Level Examination Program and A-Plus programs are other forms of pre-college credit, Nothdurft said. If criteria is met with A-Plus students, they can have two years of junior college tuition and books paid for in full, she explained.
Taking the classes is just half of the process. Before students can enroll in the pre-college courses, students must have a focus on their future plans.
"We want students to make a plan. Even if they change the plan, it still works to an advantage for them. Students who have a plan are more apt to stay focused than if they didn't have a plan at all," Nothdurft said.
Sikeston Junior High School Counselor Charon Biggs said students take a career interest inventory so they can get an idea of the career field students want to choose.
Sikeston schools have also tried to increase parental involvement, Biggs said. Counselors explain to parents that encouraging students to think about their futures early on helps make a path for their future.
"Dual enrollment courses are good because they give students an idea of what they'll be faced with in college and some of the students may already be at a level where they need to be challenged more," Biggs said.
ITV and web courses have been offered at Kelly over the past three years. Dual enrollment courses have been available at Sikeston since 1990.
"Students have support from the faculty, but they do the work on their own," Evans said. "It's kind of like a weaning process."