Reduce the Cost of College: Get College Credit Before College

Published by Wendy Nelson on

One of the best ways to reduce the cost of college is to get college credit before college. This can be done while your student is still in high school or during summers.

This past weekend, my middle daughter, who just finished her second year of college, showed me her excellent final grades for the semester. We then looked up her cumulative GPA and on her full transcript, saw the reminder of how many college credits she started with. She brought 31 credits in as a Freshman – enough to equate to a whole year of college.

While she did have enough credits for a year, the 31 credits did not equate to a one-for-one match within her major. Some of them just went towards electives. However, she decided that what she wanted most was to be done in three years, so she took 6 credits online last summer, 21 credits Fall semester, and 18 credits this Spring. She is registered for 18 credits again for Fall and it will be the start of her final year of college.

The savings from being done in 3 years instead of 4 equates to a year of tuition, room and board and other expenses. This can be huge!

To get the full payoff from college credit before college, it is important for your student to start mapping out this strategy early in high school. Meeting with a guidance counselor early and often will be important.

Ways to Get College Credit in High School

  1. Dual Credit Courses – Many high schools offer classes that count for both high school and college credit. These are usually offered through local community colleges. In fact some high schools are going farther and setting up programs for students to earn a full Associates Degree by the time they graduate high school.
  2. Advanced Placement (AP) Classes – These classes count as high school classes, but end with an AP exam that can give a student college credit if he or she scores well enough. Therefore, these classes do not offer guaranteed college credit and you will have to check individual schools to see what score is required. This varies by schools and varies by class. Highly competitive colleges usually require a score of 4 out of 5 to receive college credit. Less competitive schools may grant credit for a score of 3. The other variable is how well prepared your student will be to score well on the exam. Even though there are standards that must be taught for these courses, rigor  varies widely by high school and by teacher. It is possible to take an AP exam without taking the class in an attempt to “test out” of a college class. In that case, the student would need to be very well prepared and study AP test prep materials.
  3. International Baccalaureate (IB) Classes – The international baccalaureate curriculum is offered in many countries around the globe, including the U.S. Much like AP, IB credit is granted through exams and colleges determine what scores equate to college credit. Additionally, a student is able to take IB exams without taking the courses.
  4. College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) Tests – CLEP is a program through the College Board, the same organization that administers the SAT test. CLEP offers tests in many different subject areas. Colleges vary on whether or not they will accept CLEP credits and what/how many classes CLEP credit will equate to.
  5. Placement Tests – Most colleges administer placement tests for subjects like math, English and foreign language. Both my oldest and middle daughters tested out of 3-4 Spanish classes at their colleges. This allowed them to meet their colleges’ language requirements without taking college classes.
  6. Summer Classes – There is also the possibility of taking summer college classes from home at a much lower cost. Often, this can be done through local community colleges – just have your student make sure that the credits are going to transfer in. Even summer online classes through your student’s college may be more affordable if there is no room and board associated. This is something that can be done both before your student leaves for college and during the summers between his or her college years.

There are many ways to get college credit before college. Careful planning will be key to maximizing the number of credits your student may receive. Here are the steps to take to ensure success:

  • Map out a strategy to get maximum opportunities for college credit in high school. Have your student meet with a guidance counselor to make sure he or she is signing up for the right classes.
  • Assess areas where it might make sense to try to test out of classes – CLEP, AP, IB
  • Have your student check with all the colleges he or she is considering to see what AP and/or IB scores are accepted for credit, what dual credit classes are accepted (these usually just come in as transfer credits), and what CLEP tests are accepted for credit.
  • Once your student has selected a college, have him or her find out what placement tests are needed and make sure he or she is well prepared to do well in hopes of testing out of some intro level courses.
  • Once your student has selected a college, have him or her check into summer class offerings through the school, especially online. Also find out what can be transferred in from other colleges like community colleges if your student takes summer classes at home.

In my experience, public universities, especially in your home state, tend to be the most flexible with transferring in outside credits. Make sure you know the basic rules for any schools your student is actively exploring so that you can assess his or her opportunities to get college credit before college.


M · June 26, 2018 at 6:26 pm

This is fantastic information .
I just wish my private school would
Have guided my child better or earlier to do this they wait till senior year I think this should start in junior year so parents and kids can have this information and not stubble on it when it’s too late.

    Wendy Nelson · June 27, 2018 at 5:09 am

    Thank you! I agree. Junior year is the critical time to understand how to get prepared.


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