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Pre-College Credit: How to Earn It and How It Transfers

There are plenty of ways to get credits for college in high school. Learn about different types of credits and how they might transfer with this helpful guide.

Most high school students will have the opportunity to earn pre-college credit. These courses can be great ways to get a taste of the college experience and will significantly expand your existing high school transcript. Taking college-level courses in high school can also save you money on tuition, speed up your course of study, and allow you to skip crowded prerequisites once you get into the college or university of your choice. For motivated students looking for a challenge, taking college-level courses in high school can be incredibly rewarding.

There are many ways to earn pre-college credit, and each method will transfer a little differently. To complicate the process, each individual college has its own unique way of transferring and awarding credits. Don’t be discouraged by these processes! Understanding pre-college credits and how they transfer is definitely worth it if you want a leg up in college. All the information you need to make an informed decision is widely available, and there are tons of resources to help you take your high school education to the next level.

AP classes

The most popular pre-college credits are Advanced Placement (AP) courses in high school. These year-long classes are taught by a certified high school teacher and are meant to reflect the workload and atmosphere of a real college class. AP credit translates to college credit based on the score you get on the final cumulative College Board exam. Your score, a whole number from 1–5, is completely independent from the grade you earn in the class.

Each college has their own criteria for which AP scores they accept and which of their existing courses that score will earn you credit for. Most schools will accept a score of 4 or 5 as equivalent to an entry-level course in the same subject. Anything under a 3 usually won’t earn you credit. After taking the AP test, you have the choice of whether or not to send your scores to a college. If you don’t think your score accurately reflects your competency in the subject, don’t send it. However, if your score qualifies you for credit, be sure to self-report it. To figure out which of your AP credits will transfer and what courses they’re equivalent to, search each individual school’s website. This information can usually be found in the “Undergraduate Admission” section. Or you can search the website for keywords such as “AP credit,” “AP transfer,” “advanced placement,” or “pre-college credit.”

Related: What You Need to Know About AP Tests, AP Scores, and Your Future College

Dual enrollment

Dual enrollment classes are courses from a specific college or university that are taught in your high school. They earn you both high school and college credit. On your transcript, these classes appear as two separate courses: one based on your high school criteria, and one based on the university or college that conducted the dual enrollment. Only the grade that appears on a college transcript will count toward college credit.

If you plan to attend the college that provided the dual enrollment class, you should have no problem transferring your credits. If you choose to attend another college, however, you’ll need to contact that school directly to see whether they’ll transfer the course you took. Each school may also have specific requirements for accepting dual enrollment classes. To find out whether a college accepts dual enrollment credits, look at the “Undergraduate Admission” section on their website or search for keywords such as “dual enrollment” or “pre-college credit.” In order to find out about your specific class, you will most likely need to contact the admission office directly.

College classes on campus

Another option for earning pre-college credit is through programs that allow you to enroll in courses on a college campus. Unlike dual enrollment classes, these courses will show up as one class from the college itself on your academic transcript. When you take these courses, you’ll be officially enrolled as a non-matriculated student. These types of courses offer you the most authentic college experience. You’ll attend class with other college students and learn on campus. You’ll be held to the same standards as other college students and may be asked to complete more work than your high school classes demand.

Transferring these credits is wholly dependent on the college you plan to attend. If you’re enrolling in the same school you took the pre-college course, the credits will likely transfer without issue. If you plan on attending a different college, you can look online to see if the school accepts these kinds of credits. Again, you can find this information by navigating the “Undergraduate Admission” section of the school website, or by searching for the keywords “pre-college credit.” Some more competitive schools will not accept this kind of credit at all or will have a limit on the number of credits you can transfer. To inquire about a specific class, contact the admission office directly.

Related: 5 Genius Tips to Prepare for Your College Classes 

IB classes

International Baccalaureate (IB) classes are college-level courses taught at a high school. They are similar to AP courses in that you earn a grade for the high school class in addition to a score (out of 7) on a cumulative exam. What makes IB classes unique is that they are internationally recognized. You can earn a full IB diploma or earn credit for individual courses. Each college has their own criteria for which IB scores they accept and which of their existing courses that score will earn you credit. Most schools will accept a score of 5, 6, or 7 as equitable to an entry-level course in the same subject. Anything under a 4 will not earn you credit.

After taking the IB test, you will have the choice of whether or not to send your scores to a college. If you don’t think your score accurately reflects your competency in the subject, don’t send them. If your scores qualify you for credit, again, make sure you self-report. To figure out which of your IB credits will transfer and what courses they’re equivalent to, search each individual school’s “Undergraduate Admission” section. Or you can search the website for keywords such as “IB credit,” “IB transfer,” or “pre-college credit.” Many schools will have a table listing the IB classes, accepted scores, and equivalent courses.

CLEP

The College Board offers college-level independent examinations that can be taken by students of all ages and transfer to college credit through the College Level Examination Program (CLEP). The 33 exams aren’t accompanied by an official curriculum but are designed to mimic the content taught in an introductory-level college course. Similar to an AP or IB exam, you’ll receive a numeric score based on your performance on the CLEP. The tests themselves are taken online at a designated testing facility, and you’ll receive your raw score immediately after completing the exam. Individual colleges have the power to decide which CLEP exams and what scores will correspond to courses at their school. To find this information, look at the “Undergraduate Admission” section or search the school’s website using the keywords “CLEP” or “pre-college credit.” If you can’t find the information you’re looking for, contact the admission office directly.

Related: CLEP Exams Equal College Credit

Take some time to look at what types of courses each college on your list accepts. Whether or not your pre-college credits transfer could be a determining factor in what college or university you choose to attend. The opportunity to save money, gain valuable experience, and improve your academic transcript with pre-college credits shouldn’t be ignored. If you’re interested in taking these classes, contact your guidance counselor during course selection and inquire about your available options.

Learn more about getting ahead in high school and college with the articles and advice in our Majors and Academics section.

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