ESSENCE Early College Program

What is ESSENCE?

The ESSENCE (Early Support for Students ENtering College Education) Program is designed to give high academic achievers the opportunity to earn college credits while still in high school. To participate in the ESSENCE program, each student must be 16 years old and have a 2.5 high school GPA. ESSENCE students can be in local high schools, local private schools or homeschooled. Students are in the ESSENCE program regardless of where (at HCC or an off-campus location including local high schools) or how the courses are offered (traditional, hybrid, or online).

The College and Career Readiness and Completion Act of 2013

  • The College and Career Readiness and Completion Act of 2013 requires HCC to give each WCPS student a 25% tuition discount. WCPS will then pay part of the tuition for ESSENCE students for the first four courses a student enrolls in, and HCC will cover a portion of the tuition for the first 12 college level credits a student takes.
  • The total discounts give each WCPS student a 50% tuition discount on their first 12 college level credits.
  • In most cases, students will be responsible for all fees and the cost of books and other materials needed for a particular course. WCPS students who are in the Free and Reduced Meal Program (FARM) do not pay tuition for their ESSENCE classes. FARM students pay the registration fees only. To apply for Free and Reduced Meals, go to You may apply by August 15 for the fall semester and December 31 for the spring semester.
  • Students who do not receive Free and Reduced Meals and who are interested in applying for scholarship assistance, can apply for the ESSENCE Scholarship. (Note: This scholarship is only for non-FARM students).
  • Private and homeschooled students who reside in Washington County will also receive a 25% tuition discount and can apply for the ESSENCE Early College Opportunity Fund Scholarship which will result in the total discount being 50% on their first 12 college level credits.
  • Out-of-county and out-of-state ESSENCE students will receive a 25% tuition discount on the first 12 college level credits a student takes with HCC while they are still enrolled in high school.

How to Become an HCC ESSENCE Student

  1. Fill out and submit an application for admission to HCC. You can fill out the application online or pick up a paper copy from the counseling office at your high school.
  2. Submit high school transcripts and SAT/ACT scores (if taken) to the Office of Admissions, Records and Registration.
  3. Fill out the HCC ESSENCE Program (Early Entry) Application Form. This form is available online and can also be found in the counseling office at your school or picked up in person from the Office of Admissions, Records and Registration at HCC. This form must be submitted each semester a student is in the ESSENCE Program.
  4. Complete HCC placement tests or have the required SAT/ACT scores to exempt you from testing. A student is exempt from placement testing if they have a score of 500 or higher on SAT mathematics and/or SAT critical reading; 21 on the ACT mathematics and/or ACT English; or completion of college-level courses in mathematics or English. Learn more placement testing or view Web-based tutorials on the Testing Center page.
  5. Call 240-500-2238 to schedule a time to register. ESSENCE students can't register online. Registration for classes offered at local high schools will be conducted in the classroom when the class begins.

Other Early College Programs for High School Students

  • STEMM Technical Middle College
    High school students interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math or Medical) Programs can attend HCC full time during their junior and senior years and earn college credit, which can be applied towards certificates or associate degrees. Learn more at
  • TRiO: Upward Bound
    Upward Bound is a year-round college-preparatory program made possible through a five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education. HCC’s Upward Bound program will serve 70 students annually from North Hagerstown, South Hagerstown, Williamsport high schools, and Hancock Middle Senior High School. Learn more at