For many high-achieving high school students, it’s natural to want to further your education with more difficult courses as you get older. Many high schools offer a wide variety of classes from honors to AP to dual enrollment opportunities for both underclassmen and upperclassmen. Understanding what all these courses entail and which is best for you can be difficult, especially when schools lack the proper resources to inform students about the weight of their decisions.
When it comes to earning college credit in high school, the two most common types of courses to enroll in are AP and dual enrollment. While they’re both often taken with the aim of getting college credit before graduating high school, the path to the credits varies astronomically, leaving the question: Which is better for you? Here are some key details about these courses and which may be more beneficial to your education.
Advanced Placement courses
Advanced Placement (AP) is a program created for the United States education system by the company College Board. The program provides high school students a college-level curriculum with rigorous coursework and assignments. High schools across the country offer a wide variety of these courses in a plethora of subjects—including Art History, English Literature and Composition, Psychology, and much more—with the intent of fostering higher levels of academic understanding for students, providing them with a challenge and an advantage when it comes to preparing for college and the application process.
At the end of each AP course, students take a final exam that’s scored on a scale of 1–5. The score represents your understanding of the subject, and you’ll be granted college credit by universities if you obtain a high enough score on the exam. The score required for credit depends on the school; many public institutions only require a score of 3, while some of the most prestigious private colleges require scores of 5. But in general, 3 is the minimum score you need for a chance at qualifying for college credit.
Another important aspect to consider about AP exams is the money it costs to take them. For the 2021–2022 school year, the going rate was $96 per test, according to the College Board. However, lower-income students may be eligible for price reductions depending on their income eligibility, and sometimes schools will cover a portion of the cost for students depending on financial need.
Related: Should I Take AP Courses?
Dual enrollment courses
Dual enrollment courses are real college courses that count for both high school and college credit. High school students can complete them online, in person on a college campus, or even at a high school if a teacher is certified to teach a college-level course. Unlike AP courses, dual enrollment gives you college credit automatically as long as you pass the course with a C or better. Dual enrollment courses count as part of your high school and college transcripts, which means even after you graduate high school, any dual enrollment grades remain on your permanent transcript through college.
Be aware that not all dual enrollment credits will transfer to every university. While you can typically get some level of credit from completing these courses at most institutions, you can’t rely on them transferring perfectly. Deciding to further your education at a private or public institution means classes are weighed differently. Furthermore, the cost of these courses can vary depending on your high school as well as the college you plan to dual enroll in. Many public high schools offer free dual enrollment for students who decide to go to a nearby public campus, and they’ll cover books and other fees as long as you pass the class. However, some private high schools may require students to pay for their college classes, especially if they’re at a private university.
Which is better for you?
Generally, dual enrollment courses are better for students who plan to go to the same university they’re taking the classes through, as your credits will automatically transfer and allow you to graduate sooner and likely save more money. If money is a big factor, free dual enrollment would be beneficial for completing as many college credits as possible for less than the cost of AP, which you may or may not receive credit for after taking the exam. If your high school doesn’t cover the cost of these classes, then it’ll be more expensive to take them on a campus.
If you don’t plan to attend the college that offers dual enrollment, another important consideration is whether these courses will transfer to your other college(s) of interest, as AP will almost always transfer as long as you score high enough on the exam. Ultimately, AP isn’t a definite credit for college without a good score but will transfer, while dual enrollment courses stay on your permanent record regardless of your final grade. To figure out which option is best for you, it’s necessary to investigate the regulations of your high school as well as those of nearby colleges.
Related: What's the Difference Between AP and Dual Enrollment Classes?
Regardless of your choice, both dual enrollment and AP programs are impressive and rigorous for students. Both types of courses are going to challenge you and give you a better understanding of what college looks like. It’s also fine to take a step back from these courses and keep with a standard high school curriculum if you fear these options may be overwhelming for you. Each student is totally unique in their abilities and goals, so what’s best for someone else may not be what’s best for you—and that’s perfectly okay.
If you need some help getting through advanced coursework, check out our video and accompanying blog on Tips for Taking College-Level Courses in High School.