Alexis O'Leary said taking dual credit college courses at Clovis Community College gives her a sense of independence and makes her feel grown up.
By completing dual credit classes at CCC, the Clovis High senior will be on her way to the Air Force Academy with 25 college credits under her belt after graduating in May.
O'Leary is one of 350 high school students in New Mexico earning dual credit through CCC, which it has offered since 1990.
The dual credit program allows high school students to earn high school and college credits while taking college courses. Tuition and textbooks are free for all dual credit students in the state.
CCC uses an Accuplacer placement test, ACT scores, teacher recommendations or high school grade point averages to determine if students are ready for college courses.
Once students go through admissions screening, they work with high school counselors to determine which college classes will work best.
Dual credit students take classes at the CCC campus during the day, at night and online. Students also use the CCC vocational school for disciplines such as welding, cosmetology and nursing. There are also dual credit classes set up exclusively for high school students.
O'Leary believes taking dual credit classes helps her with time management and pushes her to work at a higher academic level.
"My college class is once a week so I'm forced to teach myself to read without actually getting help," O'Leary said. "I feel like it's easier for me to take it (English) at the college because I won't have homework every single day. I'll just have one assignment for the week instead of several assignments everyday like at high school."
O'Leary said she has taken dual credit classes at CCC since 10th grade. She juggles CCC classes, high school classes, varsity soccer in the fall and track in the spring.
O'Leary said managing her workload was difficult as a junior, but she handles her academics easily as a senior. She plans to join the Air Force academy and major in aeronautical engineering.
According to CCC president Becky Rowley, students who have decided on their college major and plan carefully can complete basic college courses in high school.
Rowley said some students graduate from high school with 30 credits. She said she has seen students graduate from high school, take one or two essential summer classes and enroll in the nursing or radiology tech program directly after graduation.
Rowley said before the dual credit option, students would graduate from high school and spend at least another year completing prerequisite courses.
"It really does improve the success rates for students when they become full-time college students," said Rowley, who started her teaching career as a dual credit teacher.
"When you go to college as a full-time student when you're 18 and you've taken 15 or 20 hours of college credits, you're much more likely to be successful than if you're coming into college with no experience at all."