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Earning college credits for free while still in high school sounds like a dream. However, it is a reality for students who enroll in the Ottawa Area ISD Early College program in partnership with Muskegon Community College.

Ottawa Area ISD Early College allows students in participating districts to earn up to 62 free college credits while still in high school through the addition of a 13th year.  On top of giving students a head start on college financially, the program prepares them for the college workload and sets them up for success.

Students apply to the Early College program as sophomores and in their junior year participate in a blended model of high school and college-level classes. As students transition to their senior year college classes take up more of their time through their 13th year.

Advisors like Susan Tater from Ottawa Area ISD walk alongside students throughout the program.

“Students are supported by their sending schools, the Early College program and MCC with the college admission process, career counseling and general help staying on track and focused with their classes,” Ottawa County Early College Advisor Susan, says.

The goal of the program is for students to enjoy their Early College experience and enjoy their high school years.

“They have the rest of their lives to take college classes and only have one opportunity to be in high school,” Susan says.

Ryan M., an Early College student from Grand Haven Area Public Schools, says Early College gives him a good look into what college is going to be like. “The workload is a little bit bigger which is something I’m not used to but it's great to get to know that before I go into a four-year program,” Ryan says.  

“It’s a tailor-made process,” Susan says. “Whatever the students want to do we help them to identify that plan and stick with it.”

“In Hamilton, we believe in students getting tons of experiences and experiential learning opportunities,” Mat Rehkopf, Director of Teaching and Learning for Hamilton Community Schools, says. “These experiences help students make decisions that set them up later in life (to avoid) financial hardship because of jumping right into college or not going to college.”

Those who have completed the program said it gives them an academic edge along with the knowledge, skills and confidence to help start their future.

“Early College really helped me get ahead,” Early College graduate Austyn from Coopersville Area Public Schools, says. “I’m attending Grand Valley State University in the fall, and I only have two and a half years of school left to earn my teaching degree.”

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