Dual Enrollment Courses vs. Advanced Placement: What to Know


Sep 30, 2022
student walking into her dual enrollment courses

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No matter which institution you choose, attending college after high school is expensive. That’s why many students decide to enroll in courses that will help them earn college credits while still in high school, typically bringing significant savings. The two most popular options for gaining college credits in high school are dual enrollment courses and advanced placement (AP) classes. 

What Are Dual Enrollment Courses?

Dual enrollment courses allow students to take legitimate college classes while still in high school. Students can enroll at a reduced cost and earn both college and high school credits. Some programs even offer these courses for free and can cover the cost of your books and supplies. 

You’d need to have a way of getting to the university for class each week and fit it into your high school schedule. Your guidance counselor can help you figure out all the logistics if you’re interested in taking one or more dual enrollment courses. 

What Are AP Courses?

Advanced placement classes are another way to earn college and high school credits simultaneously. Students complete coursework in the classroom with a high school teacher. You pay nothing to take the class. It works the same way as a regular high school class, except at a higher difficulty. 

If you want to get your college credits, you’ll need to register for an AP test at the end of the year. The tests are scored on a scale of 1-5. Most state schools will grant credit for a three or above, while private schools usually require a four or five. Ask your guidance counselor to help you find information for specific schools you’re considering. 

Benefits of Taking Dual Enrollment Courses

Earning college credits through dual enrollment courses can give you a great start toward college readiness, with a host of benefits. 

1. Cheaper Way to Take a College Course

Dual enrollment classes can cost up to $400, but before you get sticker shock, consider the savings. Even at the highest price, your 400 covers the price of a whole course which would be three or four credit hours worth. Four-year colleges charge an average of $396 per credit, so multiply that by the number of credits in the course. The savings add up very quickly. 

2. Explore Fields Not Offered in High School

Large high schools with plenty of funding have broad course catalogs, but for the average school, options are limited. If you have interests in a particular field your school doesn’t offer, taking a dual enrollment course can help you decide if you’d like to further pursue that area of interest. Colleges will have a longer list of available dual enrollment courses than high schools can afford to provide. 

3. Helps Students Feel Capable

Dual enrollment courses allow you to see what a college course feels like without shelling out thousands of dollars. Taking a college class in high school is a lower-pressure environment with plenty of built-in support from your guidance counselor and teachers. After a successful dual enrollment term, you’ll gain confidence and believe you can keep going. 

Benefits of Taking AP Courses

Taking AP courses is a comparable alternative to dual enrollment, but the benefits certainly make it worth considering. 

1. More Widely Accepted 

Not all colleges accept dual enrollment credits. In fact, most Ivy League schools and many private colleges won’t take them at all or have strict limitations. AP credits are more widely accepted because they’re highly standardized, and schools will know the knowledge that is necessary to earn credit.

2. The Cheapest Alternative

If you thought the cost savings of dual enrollment were impressive, you’d love the price of getting AP credits. The class itself costs nothing and works just like a typical high school course. The only cost is paying for the exam and any study materials you want. AP exam registration costs $93 per test, and since a high score can equate to a whole college course depending on the institution you choose, the savings are astronomical. If you take all AP courses during your junior and senior years, you could start school with enough credits to skip your first year of college. 

3. Get a Boost to Your High School Grades

Most schools weigh AP classes heavier than their traditional counterparts because of their higher degree of difficulty. If you’re trying to earn valedictorian or salutatorian, taking an AP class could help you rise above the rest.

Which Is Best for You?

This decision is mostly up to personal preference and the type of college you want to attend after high school. Talk to your guidance counselor about your top choices and research how they handle AP and dual enrollment classes. As for savings, AP classes are cheaper but don’t give you any actual college experience. 

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