What’s the Difference Between Dual Enrollment and AP Classes?

 August 26, 2020
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Dual Enrollment vs. AP

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Imagine arriving at your campus already halfway to your bachelor’s degree. By using college credit programs — there are differences between dual enrollment and Advanced Placement (AP courses) — high school students and their families could accomplish exactly that.

Let’s look at dual enrollment vs. AP and compare the pros and cons of each to decide which is best for you.

Dual enrollment vs. AP courses: What are the differences?

Many students might be more familiar with AP courses that, like concurrent enrollment, allow them to earn college credit without leaving their high school classroom. Each program could also allow students to boost their grade point average.

Before signing up, however, it’s worth considering the differences between dual enrollment and AP courses.

Dual enrollment AP courses
Cost ● These tend to be more expensive, depending on where you live.
● They can be covered by grants from your state and 529 college savings plans.
● Courses are free, and exams are $95.
● They can’t be paid for using 529 plans.
Credits ● Credits are awarded in the form of a college transcript upon completion of the course.
● No extra exam is necessary, though you may need to record a passing grade.
● Credits are awarded upon passing the AP exam and receiving approval from the student’s college.
● Note that some schools require higher exam scores than others, although registering a 3 out of 5 is generally enough to pass.
Unique benefit ● You can get a sneak peek at the college experience as a part-time student.
● You have access to college resources that your high school may lack, such as a university library and an esteemed professor’s office hours.
● You can enjoy the lower cost and greater convenience of staying on your high school campus.
● Colleges will see it as a positive that you took on the extra responsibility of completing an AP course, the most difficult class option available.
Potential problem ● You might not be able to transfer the credits to a new college, given that dual enrollment programs vary from school to school.
● Many top schools, such as Ivy League programs like Harvard and Yale Universities do not accept dual enrollment credit and would require you to apply for first-year admission if you’re coming straight out of high school.
● You might not achieve an exam score that qualifies for college credit at your preferred college or university.

Among the most important differences between dual enrollment and AP courses is that the latter is much closer to universal acceptance among colleges and universities. Managed by the College Board, AP courses are generally viewed as college-level work.

The bottom line: Given that AP courses are more often accepted by schools, they’re generally a safer alternative to dual enrollment. The lower cost of AP courses and exams is also a point in its favor. The only possible shortfall is not being able to score well enough on the exam to earn the credit.

With that said, it’s not a guarantee that either AP courses or dual enrollment will lead to college credits. So, if you’re intent on attending a specific college or university that offers dual enrollment, it can be a no-brainer, particularly if you have savings in a 529 plan to use. You won’t have to fret over an all-important exam either.

Just don’t be surprised if you’re not able to transfer the dual enrollment credit to another school down the road.

What about concurrent enrollment?

“Dual enrollment” and “concurrent enrollment” both refer to students taking college classes — and earning college credits — before they graduate high school.

The distinction is slight and relates to where the student takes those classes:

Dual enrollment Concurrent enrollment
This might call for you to drive over to the local college campus or use its online system. It’s “dual” in the sense that you’re enrolled in two schools at once. This often means taking high school and college classes in the same place and at the same time — or concurrently — as taught by a certified teacher.

You can learn about your state’s programs via the Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan nonprofit.

Your high school guidance counselor could also point you in the right direction.

Dual credit vs. AP course: Which is right for you?

One way to make it through college without unnecessarily borrowing student loans is to accelerate your degree. Both dual/concurrent enrollment and AP courses allow high school students to get that kind of head start. There’s no cheaper way to get college credits.

You can imagine the fast-tracking of that degree, but you don’t have to wonder about the savings: Consider the scenario of attending an in-state, public school with a College Board-estimated average price tag of $9,410. Graduating in three years instead of four would decrease your total cost of attendance by 29%.

You can score savings whether you enroll in your state’s program or sign up for AP classes on the College Board website — the point is to get going.

And as you weigh the pros and cons of each college credit program, make sure also to review other strategies to help pay for school.

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