Sama Abou Elkheir is a Business Administration: Information Technology major at North Carolina State University
Who I am
I am a first-generation college student and U.S. citizen in my family. I am a self-starter and passionate, motivated young woman, and I am excited to share my story.
Why did I dual enroll?
The pandemic brought me a lot closer to my laptop. I started taking coding boot camps to pass the time. With this personal technological progress, I stumbled upon my local community college’s website. I had heard of high school students taking college classes and I used to think I could never be one of them. They seemed far too intelligent, and I typed with chicken fingers. But in reality, I was smart enough and worthy enough to dual enroll! I told myself to just apply and the worst that could happen is I get rejected.
To my surprise, I was accepted, and for my final year of high school, I was officially a college student. I was astonished. In a world full of uncertainty, I found purpose again. Sure, I stayed home 90% of the time and my life became dedicated to school, but it was well worth it.
I chose to dual enroll for many reasons. I wanted to earn college credits towards my degree, be active at a college campus, and learn what the college environment is really like.
During my time as a dual-enrolled student, I met professors who genuinely changed the way I think. I received more than just some college credits, I became a person with strong morals and an open mind, and an expert communicator. There is a reason why people say to keep in touch with your professors. They are truly the people who change the world and create educated generations to come.
Challenges I faced as a dual-enrolled student
I had no prior college experience and neither did my parents, making me a first-generation college student.
No one prepares you for the formality of college life. You don’t always properly address your professor with Dr., Mr., Ms., or Mrs. Good luck hearing back if you don’t follow the proper rules. For example, at my university, professors may not answer your emails if you don’t put the course name with the section in the subject line. It truly is a new environment for high school students. Without being dually enrolled, I would be so much more frustrated now as a student at my university.
Simply attending my local community college as a dual-enrollment student was all so new to me. I was responsible for everything. There were no more spoon-fed, live, 20-person classes. Now there were fully online, asynchronous, 200-person classes. Although it felt less personal, by using the resources provided to me, I continued forming friendships and connecting with influential professors.
In order to have a positive experience with dual enrollment, I truly believe that each student must put in the work. This means reaching out to professors, reaching out to fellow students, engaging in meaningful discussions on online platforms, and overall, trying your best in everything you do during your time as a dual-enrolled student. If I had just gone through the motions and completed the classes, with no extra attention to maintaining or creating relationships, I do not believe it would have been as influential an experience as it had been for me.
Being a dual-enrolled student takes a lot of independence, motivation, and interpersonal skills. Being a college student, while also being a senior in high school, was one of the most challenging things I ever had to overcome. However, I am grateful to have done it. It paved the way for a peaceful, low-stress journey at my four-year university.
The benefits of dual enrollment
Many professors, parents, and students need to be made aware of the benefits of being a dual-enrolled student.
A study conducted in 2013, observing over 15,000 dual-enrolled students, found that students who participated in dual enrollment, on average, performed better in college than students who did not participate in dual enrollment.
The main benefit I received from doing this is that I no longer have to take more than 13 credit hours a semester to graduate on time. I will be graduating a semester early from my four-year institution. I had the option to graduate more than a year early, however, I chose to take 12-credit-hour semesters to enjoy my time at university. This way, instead of being extremely stressed and taking on too much, I have more time to work on myself, hang out with my friends and family, and complete internships. Ever since my sophomore year of college, I have had an internship almost every semester. Currently, I have multiple jobs within my degree as well as on campus. It makes for a great work-life balance.
With these benefits, I now have even more time to create interpersonal relationships with my professors at NC State. As I mentioned earlier, creating relationships with my professors became important to me during the pandemic and during my time as a dual-enrolled student. I am also retaining the teachings of my high-level classes, which will help me get a good job once I graduate. I have created time for the different sectors of my life, and therefore, I set myself up for success in all aspects of my life.
What would I have done differently as a dual-enrolled student?
In all great accomplishments, there are things that you wished you had done differently. In my eyes, that is how you know you will be successful. The ability to reflect and positively criticize yourself is a hard skill to achieve and something to be proud of. With that, here are some things I wish I had done while dually enrolled:
Shared my story
I do not know why, but for some reason, I never told a single professor I was a high school student and first-generation student/citizen, or how to properly pronounce my name.
This is important to me, because the people and experience changed my life. Coming from my high school where no one ever pronounced my name correctly or even cared to ask, I was used to just blending in and not ever taking the time to correct anyone. No one ever wanted to know where I was from, and if they asked, it was never for the right reasons. My dual enrollment school was different. I know that now. For the record, my name is pronounced like Emma, with an S in the front.
Become more organized
Okay, yes, I was successful as a dual-enrollment student, BUT, I would have been even more successful if I used an agenda. Seriously, why was it so embarrassing for me to use one? It’s not like anyone was going to see I had one―we were on lockdown. I would not have missed a single assignment and would have been so much happier if I just used one! I now use a physical agenda, Google Calendar, and create daily to-do lists online.
Taken an in-person class
This is tough, and truthfully, I do not know how that would have gone for me. It was terrifying coming back in person at my current university, and maybe the pressure would have been worse at a younger, more vulnerable age. However, I am disappointed I was not able to meet anyone in person during my time as a dual-enrollment student.
Many of the students I worked with, professors I connected with, and faculty I was advised by helped me become who I am today, and I would be lying if I said I do not miss my time with them. That era was so inspiring and really one of the first times I believed I was smart. I was so accustomed to my primarily white high school and its social norms, that I felt especially empowered once separated from it. At the end of the day, everything happens for a reason.
Kept up with certain professors
I know, I know―I just talked about how much I adored the instructors at my dual-enrollment school, but I was so shy. I thought after a class ended, all contact with a professor was prohibited. It wasn’t until I got to NC State that I realized professors are not so different from students. Many professors get sad at the end of the semester. “End-of-semester sadness” is a real thing for many people, including myself! Professors keep teaching for a reason. So, I made an effort when I got to NCSU to remind them of that reason. I will forever be grateful for the professors I met at community college and here now at NC State.
My dual enrollment takeaway
Dual enrollment helped me love myself, love others, and love life again. In a world where things can go so dark, so fast, it is up to us as individuals to come together and learn to shed light on those dark moments. With any journey to success, there are big risks, difficulties, and sacrifices, but the reward will almost always be worth it. 🙂
Like Sama, many dual-enrolled students don’t make their dual-enrollment status known. Lisa Heller Boragine shares what she has learned teaching dual-enrolled students and offers some tips to make the experience more successful.