Earning College Credits in High School

Published by Wendy Nelson on

You can save a lot of money on your child’s college education if your child starts earning college credits in high school.  There are several ways to do this.  The most important thing is to thoroughly investigate both what your high school offers and what your child’s potential colleges will accept for credit.

Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate

Of course, you often hear about AP and IB classes, but neither of these are guaranteed college credit.  Some of the drawbacks are these:

  • Students must pass AP exams with specific scores – most colleges require a score of 4 or 5, but some less competitive schools will accept a 3 for college credit.
  • Some colleges only take specific AP classes for elective credit and your student may still need to take another course to meet a school requirement.
  • Some schools do not treat the passing of IB exams the same as AP exams.

Dual Credit and Dual Enrollment

The more guaranteed method of earning college credits in high school is through dual credit and dual enrollment courses.  These are usually offered through a partnership between your high school and a local college.  Your student will earn both high school credit and college credit at the same time.  Many colleges offer a discounted tuition rate for high school students taking these courses, making them a very affordable way to earn college credits.

Key Considerations for Dual Credit/Dual Enrollment:

  • Will your student’s chosen college accept these courses for credit?  This is something to research with potential colleges.  In my state, Illinois, there is something called the Illinois Articulation Initiative.  This is an agreement between a majority of the state’s two-year and four-year colleges to transfer in general education courses from another member college for full credit.  This includes dual credit/dual enrollment courses earned in high school.  Ultra-competitive colleges are probably not going to accept a lot of dual credit courses, but most others will.  Check with admissions officers early in your college search.
  • The cost of the course and materials – Make sure you are prepared for these extra costs on top of the normal high school fees.  Books can usually be purchased online for a substantial savings over the campus bookstore.
  • Are these the best course options for your student?  High school juniors and seniors have many class options that often include honors, AP/IB and dual credit.  One of the most important admissions characteristics that colleges look at is high school strength of schedule.  This becomes more important when looking at more competitive colleges and when competing for top scholarships.  This is another thing to check with admissions officers about early in the college search.  Find out if they have a preference for certain types of classes.  Are honors courses judged to be better that dual credit or the same?
  • A year-long high school class is equal to two college classes.  That can mean 6 credits or more for two semesters of dual credit earned in high school.

My middle daughter will be a junior in high school this fall.  She has just finalized her schedule for next year.  It includes two dual credit classes – one is straight dual-credit, the other is both dual-credit and AP.  It also includes one dual enrollment class, online college Spanish, because high school Spanish would not fit within the rest of her schedule.  Assuming she passes all of these, it will give her 18 college credits (assuming they are all accepted at her chosen college).  She is also taking one AP class (a potential for 3 more college credits).  Her planned schedule for senior year includes two dual credit classes and three more AP classes.  That gives her the potential for 21 more college credits.  She will easily have a year of credit going into college if she chooses a school that accepts all of her dual credits.  That can mean paying for three years of college instead of four and that is definitely realistic.  We know several bright students who are graduating college a year early and they are able to do that thanks to earning college credits in high school.