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Claudia Gay: One Month, Two Diplomas


Claudia Gay graduated from Cedar Rapids Washington High School on May 28, 2022 — two weeks after earning her associate’s degree from Kirkwood Community College.

“It was strange to finish my finals at Kirkwood, graduate, and then go back to high school,” she said.

Claudia, 18, was able to earn both degrees, and accumulate 65 college credits, through Kirkwood’s College Credit in High School program.

Kirkwood partners with several local school districts to offer opportunities for high school students to enroll part time in college-level courses. Credits earned through these partnerships count toward a student’s high school diploma and their future college degree. Participation in the program is free for students and their families, with their school districts covering the associated costs. Schools receive supplemental weighted funding through the state as outlined in Iowa’s Senior Year Plus legislation to help offset the expense.

Claudia’s Kirkwood experience started in fall 2019. One of her first classes was American Sign Language.

“I was a sophomore walking into a classroom filled with people older than me, but because it was sign language, there was no talking,” she said. “Once we learned how to share our ages, I signed my age: 15. They said, ‘Oh, I think you did that wrong.’”

Claudia is currently a first year student at George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, D.C. She’s majoring in Political Science, with a minor in Music, and plans to graduate in three years. After that, it’s off to law school.

“I always knew I wanted to go to law school, but I didn’t know what my undergraduate major would be,” Claudia said.

Kirkwood helped narrow her focus.

“I took all the dual-enrollment courses my schedule allowed. My high school paid for my classes, so this was my time to explore unlike George Washington, where I’m paying,” Claudia said.

At the same time, she gained practical knowledge in time management and note-taking, and quickly learned the differences between high school homework and college coursework.

“At Kirkwood, papers were due at midnight the day before your class meets, not the day of, so there was no frantic writing before class began,” she said.

Claudia wrote more papers with stricter guidelines at Kirkwood — she quickly became adept at using the Chicago Manual of Style — and saw her reading assignments more than double.

“Kirkwood was the first time I fully read a textbook front to back,” Claudia said.

College Credit in High School students can attend dual-credit courses on campus, online, or onsite at their high school. However, when COVID-19 hit, Claudia’s Kirkwood classes moved online along with her high school courses. It wasn’t ideal, but she wasn’t going to let the pandemic interfere with her plans. She even took summer classes in 2020, completing her finals and writing a paper at Panera Bread after her family lost Wi-Fi after the derecho.

Claudia completed six Advanced Placement classes at in high school, but she prefers dual enrollment because the college credit is based on the entire semester of work, not the outcome of a single test. Also, not every AP credit transfers to college. For instance, Claudia learned GWU would only accept up to 28 hours of AP credit, but all dual-enrollment credit.

Enrolling in college early can seem intimidating, but Claudia said the positives far outweigh the negatives.

“It’s always worth trying it,” she said. “Even if you don’t take as many classes as I did, you’re still earning credit and gaining experience that will help you financially and prepare you for the next step in your education.”