Image from Pexels.

Image from Pexels.

When colleges give credit for AP exams and dual-enrollment classes, it’s usually because they want to attract high-achieving students. On a practical level, it’s easy to see that “extra credit” has several advantages:

  • You can graduate early if it’s financially necessary.
  • You can avoid gigantic introductory classes and move forward to smaller classes in your major.
  • You might attain sophomore, junior, or senior standing in your first year. This will open up more possibilities for classes and internships.
  • You’ll have more room to take advanced classes in your major, which might allow you to work on a graduate degree along with your bachelor’s degree.
  • You won’t have as many requirements to fulfill. This means it will be easier to minor, double major, study abroad, or just take classes for fun. You’ll also have more freedom to take fewer classes during semesters when you want to focus on work or research outside of class.

There are several steps you can take to maximize your chances of getting credit for your coursework. For Advanced Placement:

  • Earn a score of 4 or 5 on the test.
  • Take the most advanced class available in a particular subject. For example, AP Physics C is more likely to garner credit than AP Physics 1 or 2.
  • Focus on core academic classes rather than newer electives like Human Geography or Environmental Science.
  • Take classes outside of your intended major field. Colleges often have separate introductory classes for majors and non-majors in a particular subject, and AP credit is more likely to count toward the classes for non-majors. As a non-major, you can use this credit to fulfill your general-education requirements.

For dual enrollment:

  • Earn a grade of C or higher.
  • Take the class on a college campus with college students.
  • Don’t use the class to meet high-school graduation requirements.

Many college faculty members believe that AP classes are equivalent to the classes offered at their institutions, and they want to reward high school students who succeed in them. Craig W. Gruber, a psychology professor at Northeastern University, argues that it “would be a tragedy to take gifted students and hold them back so that they can be in…introductory college courses.” He says, “Every AP class taught must have its syllabus reviewed to ensure that it is, in fact, equivalent…The rigor and depth of these classes is, in many cases, richer and more detailed than one would find in an introductory course in college.”

On the other hand, many colleges avoid giving credit for AP exams and dual-enrollment classes because they’ve realized that their own classes are more rigorous. These schools are deeply concerned with fostering cohesiveness in their student bodies; they want their students to take classes together and develop a common standpoint from which they can move forward. If many students have AP and transfer credit derived from classes taken at hundreds of high schools and colleges across the country, they will go into their upper-level classes with fundamentally different backgrounds and it will be difficult for them to work with each other and the instructor.

Michael Mendillo, a professor of astronomy at Boston University, argues that AP students “focus on remembering facts and, under the best possible situations, learning the methods of assembling and evaluating those facts.” He says, “The end result [of AP credit] is that in many introductory college courses, the top students are simply not in the classrooms. For them, faculty-student interactions are not possible and the overall value of a university education is diminished.” Of course, it’s important to note that the benefits of college-level classes go far beyond just college credit. The two professors seem to agree that “demanding courses in high school…should always be encouraged,” even if their rewards are intangible.

The lesson here is that colleges make their decisions about AP and dual-enrollment credit in the context of a larger debate about what it really means to be an educated citizen. When you look at the AP and dual-enrollment credit policies for a particular college, it’s reasonable to assume that its faculty members made the right decision for their institution. After that, it’s up to you to make the right decision for yourself.

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