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What are the Benefits of Dual Enrollment vs AP Classes?

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Many high school students are focused on getting accepted to a college or university, but an increasing number of students are looking ahead and earning college credit before they even arrive on campus.

This can happen through two primary actions: dual enrollment and AP classes. So, what is dual enrollment, what are AP classes, and what are the benefits of each? In this guide, we answer these questions and more.

In short, dual enrollment means a student takes a college course to earn high school and college credit. On the other hand, AP classes are high school classes with college-level curricula created by the College Board. (In some cases, completed AP classes count for college credits, though it depends on the college in question and the student’s score on the AP test.) 

Taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes or enrolling in college-level classes as a high school student (dual enrollment) are options for students to stand out on an application and jump-start college.


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The benefits: dual enrollment vs. AP classes

Below, we explore the benefits of AP and dual enrollment classes, the differences between each option, and the factors to consider before enrolling. Both options are great as they allow students to gain college credit while in high school, which facilitates graduating with less debt and finishing their degree faster.

What is dual enrollment?

How does dual enrollment work? For high students, dual enrollment means taking a college course (usually at a local college or university) to earn both college credit and high school credit.

Dual enrollment allows high school students to begin undergraduate classes for credit. Unlike Advanced Placement (AP) classes, which award credit based on a test, dual enrollment courses award credit as long as the student passes the class

Dual enrollment benefits

For high-school students looking to get a headstart on college, there are several dual enrollment benefits in the short term and the long term. Need a few reasons to consider dual enrollment? Here they are:

Higher grades - Research has shown that dual enrollment can lead to higher grades in high school and make students more likely to complete an undergraduate degree.

Exposure to college-level instruction - Enrolling in a postsecondary institution while in high school gives students the experience of taking a college-level class. Although certified teachers teach AP classes, college professors or other faculty members teach dual enrollment classes.

Better prep for success in college - "College classes can be more challenging than high school ones," said Litza F. Echeverria Rubio, dual enrollment coordinator at the University of Florida.

“One of the main benefits of a dual enrollment program is how it prepares students for the rigor of college coursework,” she said. “If classes are chosen carefully, students are able to get themselves ahead in their quest for college degrees.”

In addition, if a university offers online classes, students can get a good idea of what will be required of them on campus and make connections with professors before their freshman year.

On the negative side, this option might be more expensive, depending on whether your school, school district, or state subsidizes dual enrollment programs. The price of a college class can range from free to several hundred dollars. The current cost of an AP test is $97.

But knocking out high school classes now can help you save on college tuition later. 

High school students are not eligible for federal aid. But in some cases, high schools, school districts, or certain colleges will subsidize the classes. Some community colleges offer classes for less than $100. In any case, students should ask the college and their admissions counselor about scholarships they could be eligible for.

How to move forward with dual enrollment

"Students interested in dual enrollment should talk to their guidance counselors," said Marian Anderfuren, a spokeswoman for Tidewater Community College, which has 1,600 students in its dual enrollment program.

Whether or not dual enrollment is the right option for a student “Depends on the student, academic load in their high school, and how many extracurriculars they are involved in,” she said.

A college counselor also can help students determine what requirements they need to meet to enroll in college classes. In some states, students seeking dual enrollment must pass a proficiency test. Some colleges require high school students to be at a certain grade level.

What are AP classes?

Advanced Placement classes (or AP classes, for short) are high school courses with college-level curricula and examinations created by the College Board. In some cases, students can earn college credit by taking and successfully completing an AP class. (Not to be confused with honors courses)

Unlike dual enrollment classes, which are typically taught by college professors on college campuses, AP classes are taught in high schools by high school teachers. 

While they count for high school credit, they do not count for college credit per se. In addition to passing an AP class, students must typically pass the AP test with a score of 3, 4, or 5 to earn college credit. 

Many colleges only accept 4 and 5 scores; some only accept 5 scores. There are also some schools that have a limit for how many AP classes a student can use to claim college credit, while other schools may not accept AP scores for college credit at all (though these are rare). 

Benefits of taking AP classes

The benefits of AP classes can range from earning college credit to bolstering high school GPA. (After all, AP class grades are calculated on a 5-point scale, so they significantly raise a weighted student’s GPA with an A or B grade.) Here are just some of the advantages of AP classes:

Easy to integrate into a schedule - Instead of having to go to a college or block out time to take online classes, most AP classes are offered at high schools, sometimes by teachers with whom students are familiar.

“All or nothing” approach - With AP classes, receiving college credit is based on the results of a single test taken at the end of the semester or year, which can be bad for students who ace homework assignments and class projects but freeze when the pressure is on. 

Get a leg up in applying for a specific school - If a school offers dual enrollment, attending classes at that institution can help a student stand out amongst other applicants. Also, if you do well in a class, you can ask your professor for a letter of recommendation.

More resources for test success - AP classes and their associated AP tests are created by the College Board, which means they follow roughly the same curriculum wherever they’re taught. 

Since tens of thousands of high schools nationwide offer AP courses, there is no shortage of study and test prep materials out there. This is but one of the many benefits of AP classes for students looking to earn college credit or bolster their GPAs.

A wider pool of transference - Many colleges recognize AP scores. Some colleges, however, do not accept credit from dual enrollment courses. Be sure to check with the colleges you’d like to attend before choosing whether to take an AP class or pursue dual enrollment.

How to move forward with taking AP classes

Adding an AP class to your schedule is (almost) as simple as registering for any other class in high school. The only major difference is the AP classes may require a prerequisite or two (though some do not, and students may elect to take them in place of other similar courses).

In some high schools, it comes down to a choice on the part of the registrar, school guidance counselor, or teacher offering the class—so be sure your commitment is apparent. (A good GPA is helpful, for starters.)


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Dual enrollment vs. AP classes - which should you choose?

AP or dual enrollment? It’s possible to have come this far in the guide and still not be sure. To help make your decision a bit easier, we’ve distilled the biggest differences between the course options in a short, unordered list. 

  • In AP classes, the results of 1 test determine whether or not you receive college credit. In dual enrollment, multiple factors count towards a student’s final grade.
  • Dual enrollment tends to be more expensive than the cost of the AP test
  • AP classes may be easier to add to a student’s existing schedule; dual enrollment is not as standardized in accessibility
  • Taking dual enrollment classes at a specific college may help you stand out in your application to that college

Learn your chances of getting into any school 

Now that you know the major differences between dual enrollment and AP classes, you are one step closer to creating a high school schedule that works for you. Both are great ways to earn college credit and give yourself options when applying to college, so either can be a major asset.

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