DE SOTO, Wis. -- Ande Merendino is a junior at De Soto High School with big aspirations.
"Last summer, I went and visited Columbia University. It's my dream to go there," said Merendino.
Of course, competition is tough at Columbia. Of the almost 30,000 students who applied to attend the university this fall, only 6% were accepted.
So, while Ande decides which universities she will be applying to, she's already starting to prepare for her college career. "I am taking college biology, college psychology, college chemistry and college writing," said Merendino.
What's even more impressive is this 16-year-old is taking these college classes on her high school campus as part of De Soto High School's Dual Credit Program.
"What we're trying to do is expose the student to the rigors of a college course and the criteria and the requirements that's required of a student for a college course, said Martin Kirchhof, De Soto Middle and High School principal. "We have experienced so many students and other schools have, too, across the nation, where they'll go to college and they're just not ready for college."
Beginning this year in the De Soto School District, Juniors and Seniors, who qualify, can take college courses at their high school and receive both high school and college credit.
"When they take a transcripted course or a Dual Credit Course, they get a real transcript from that institution that we're partnered with," said Kirchhof. "It's just the same as they had went to college right on campus there."
De Soto has partnered with Viterbo University and Western Technical college. Students can earn up to 22 credits from Viterbo and 14 credits from Western. This 4.0 student decided to take advantage of this opportunity and challenge herself.
"Taking these classes...it was kind of a change from last year to this year...like a big jump," said Merendino. "It really is more preparing you for what high school is kind of supposed to do, and to go to college having a lot of homework and try to manage your time."
"I think Ande, having this experience, is helping her to understand what the college demands will be for her classes...for her academics," said Lisa Senior, Ande's mom. "And I think it's setting the pathway for her to be successful."
Because not only do these classes show students how tough a college course can be, they also provide a little added support which most college students won't get from a professor with hundreds of students in a big lecture hall.
"It's a wonderful transition for these kids to experience here in the high school because we are there to help them," said Peggy Miller, De Soto life science teacher. "There are study halls that we can work with them. There's afterschool programs that we can work with them. We see them every day, not every other day, or one to two hours a week."
And it's this type of support and exposure that the high school principal hopes will help improve the statistics of a student's success rate in college.
"A lot of students who don't have siblings or parents who didn't go to college, or siblings who haven't been to college, they just don't know what's waiting for them. My goal is for them to leave here knowing," said Kirchhof.