Sweet Success, or How I Earned a College Degree While in High School

Hala Saedi is 17 years old and graduating from East River High School in Orange County this spring. But she’s also getting a jump on her college education – by earning her Associate in Arts degree at the same time.

Hala is one of a growing number of Orange and Osceola County high school students who take classes at Valencia College during their high-school years. The dual-enrollment program, which is free to students, enables them to earn college credits while in high school.

But some ambitious students like Hala take it a step further – and earn 60 college credits to complete their first two years of college while still in high school. During her senior year in high school, she spent all her time at Valencia and rarely went to her high school campus.

Hala’s older brother and sister went to Valencia – as did her father, after moving here from his home in Jordan – but none were dual-enrollment students. We talked to Hala to learn about her Valencia experience.

Q: How did you hear about Valencia’s dual-enrollment program?

A: When I was in 10th grade, there was a session at my high school. They talked about Orange Tech and Valencia’s dual-enrollment program. I was very excited about going to college while in high school. So I did a lot of research and discovered that you can take up to 13 credits each semester, but if I went to school in the summer, I could graduate from high school with my A.A. That’s when I embarked on my journey – I told myself, ‘I am going to do it.’

Q: Did you feel you missed out on the typical high-school experience?

A: Honestly, no. What was there going on that I would have missed? A few pep rallies? The prom? I wasn’t that interested in that anyway. Besides, I’m very active here (at Valencia). I was very active in Valencia’s Student Government Association and I joined the Future Medical Professionals club.

Because SGA organizes most of the events on campus, I was always there, helping to put up tents, encouraging other students to participate, doing all kinds of things. I didn’t have time to be an officer, but I was very active.

And the thing that I liked about the Future Medical Professionals Club is that you’re surrounded by people who want to do the same thing as you. And they bring in professors and medical professionals to speak to us.

Q: Do you have any advice for future Valencia students?

A: Make sure you ask questions. If you’re not clear about something on the syllabus, go ask. If you don’t understand something that was explained in class, go talk to the professor. Asking never hurts.

Also, I would stress the importance of time management. Use your planner. Things can get overwhelming.

And finally, get involved. It’s so important. At first, I thought, ‘Why should I join a club?’ But it was a real eye-opener. It taught me how to enjoy the college experience.

Besides, I’ve met so many different people – students and faculty, even faculty members that I did not have as professors. And because Valencia’s classes are so small, there’s a chance that you’ll meet people in your classes. I think the most important thing about getting involved is you’ll feel more comfortable on campus.

Q: What are your plans after graduating from Valencia?

A: I’m planning to go to the University of Central Florida to earn a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences and I hope to go to pharmacy school.

Q: Some people are very eager to leave home to attend college. Why UCF?

A: I think many people don’t think seriously about UCF if they’re from Orlando. But, when I thought about it, they have everything there – and it’s only five minutes away from my house! I wanted to save money and stay at home. My parents said I could go wherever I wanted and they would help me, but I have an older sister who has small children – and I’m the aunt who loves the birthdays. I feel like if I’m away at college, I’ll miss that. So I told my mom, ‘I don’t really want to go away.  I’ve never really had that urge.