(Ed. note: High schools are cutting back on Advanced Placement offerings nationwide, ranging from NYC’s LaGuardia HS to Stamford, CT to Washington state to the University of Chicago’s Lab School. In addition, some NYC middle schools are trying to get rid of honors math, while California looks to detrack all math classes.)
TL;DR: You should take College Now courses.
College Now is a program that allows NYC high school students to take free classes from CUNYs (City University of New York) for credit. Almost every undergraduate CUNY college offers College Now courses, and an extremely wide range of classes are offered. Some topics offered as College Now courses include, Sociology, Anthropology, Statistics, Personal Finance, Journalism, Philosophy, and much, much more.
There are minimum eligibility requirements that may vary between courses and colleges. However, I strongly recommend applying regardless of whether you meet the requirements or not. It’s completely free to apply, and it doesn’t require any teacher recommendations, so there is nothing to lose, except about 10 minutes of your time.
Some CUNYs partner with particular high schools and offer College Now admission preference to students from that school. Make sure to find out if any CUNYs are partnered with your high school, but apply to every College Now program that offers the classes you’re interested in. And, although you are only allowed to take one College Now course per semester, if you ask nicely, the College Now coordinator at the CUNY where you’ve already been admitted into a College Now course, might let you take two. (Particularly useful for homeschoolers who have more flexible schedules.)
Before applying to a College Now program, there are a few risks to consider. You will be taking a college course, you could fail, and if you do, that will likely be on your official CUNY transcript forever. (Although, you might be able to get it erased.) The courses will not impact your GPA in college, but any CUNY you apply to will definitely see your College Now grades.
If you’re willing to take that risk however, the benefits are significant. You can earn up to 15 credits through College Now, which is one full semester of college. The credits will apply at any CUNY as well as most colleges throughout the country. (If you know what college you want to go to, you might be able to ask them if they will accept transfer credit from a specific College Now course, even before you register for it.) Being able to complete an entire semester of college for free will save you a lot of time and money in college.
Before you apply to a College Now program, make a list of every course you would be interested in taking. That may seem like a difficult task, but there are only 17 websites to look through. Some of their websites may be difficult to navigate, but it’s worth it for the opportunity of free college credit.
Next, eliminate any course that is taught in person at a location that is too hard to get to. Luckily, a lot of courses are being offered online at the moment. Then, eliminate any course that would interfere too much with your school or extracurricular schedule in a way that you wouldn’t be able to reasonably manage. Most College Now classes during the Fall and Spring semesters are offered after school or on Saturdays, although some classes are entirely asynchronous. Summer classes are typically offered during the day, when it doesn’t interfere with high school classes.
Once you’ve narrowed down your list, apply to College Now at every remaining college. Most of the applications are very short and easy to complete.
I’ve applied to College Now programs at many colleges, but I’ve only taken courses at Lehman and Baruch. I took a statistics course at Lehman college over the summer, and it was an unexpectedly pleasant experience. We didn’t spend too much time in class on Zoom. The assigned videos taught us what we needed to know. The teacher was helpful, and the tests and homework were straightforward. Overall, I have no complaints.
At Baruch College, I took a Sociology course and I am currently taking Critical Health Issues. At Baruch, I could clearly tell that the College Now coordinator cared about the students. She always responded promptly and helpfully to questions, and made sure that people were getting into the classes they wanted. The courses themselves are perfectly fine, and they required significantly fewer hours per week of work than any class I took while at Stuyvesant. The Sociology class, like the Statistics class, took place entirely over Zoom. The Critical Health Issues class, however, is asynchronous, so all interaction takes place online via Blackboard and email, and I can decide when I do my assignments.
In addition to the free college credit, there are other perks to participating in College Now, including a student ID at whichever college you’re studying which can get you all kinds of discounts and library access. You will also probably get an official student email address at the college, and the perks associated with that like a free Windows 365 subscription.
I strongly recommended taking as many College Now classes as possible as soon as you can. They’re just an extra class, but the return on your investment is much greater than that on any of your high school classes.