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Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests are a common way for high school students to earn college credits before they are even in college. Dual enrollment programs, although they are talked about less and vary by state, can also give you the opportunity to earn college credits. Unlike AP or IB classes that are taken at your high school, dual enrollment programs allow you to take actual college classes at a college campus. These classes can be taken at 2-year or 4-year colleges. Starting college with credits already accumulated saves money, and it can also enable you to graduate early or double major. Even though these programs share similarities, one may be a better fit for you depending on what you hope to gain.

Here are a few things to consider before deciding on a program so you can earn college credit in high school:

Future Education Plans

If you know you want to attend a 2 year community college after high school, whether it’s to earn an associate’s degree or finish your generals before transferring to a 4-year college, dual enrollment may be a better option. Taking classes at the community college you want to attend ahead of time will ensure that all the credits will count. Planning to attend an in-state 4-year college? If your dream college allows high school students to take their classes, this could guarantee that your credits will be of use. Contact colleges ahead of time to find out their policies on accepting this type of credit so you aren’t surprised later when none of your credits will count. Those planning to attend college out of state should consider that dual enrollment programs vary across the nation, so the program you take part in won’t be universally known. Out of state colleges may still give you credit, but not use them to fulfill their general requirements. AP or IB classes and exams can be a better option for these students because the programs are known nationally. Taking the IB path can be especially helpful if you hope to attend college outside of the country.

Earning Credit

Although both options offer college credit, the path to receiving the credit is not the same. AP and IB exams are taken in the spring towards the end of the corresponding class at your high school. Regardless of if you receive an A each quarter in your AP Literature class, your performance on the exam determines if you are eligible to receive college credit. AP exams can also be prepared for through self study. A score of 3 is consider the minimum to receive credit from a college, but many selective schools require a 4 or 5 if they give credit for them at all. Students are required to earn anywhere from a 4 to as high as a 7 to credit for IB exams depending on the college. Any credit you obtain will show up on your college transcript, but will have no letter grade attached to them. If you don’t do well with retaining information for overall exams, this might not be the best option.

On the other hand, dual enrollment classes will be similar to high school in the sense that your grade is a combination of your performance throughout the class, but the final exam may count more than you are accustomed to. If these classes transfer, while your grade may not be calculated into your college GPA, the grade will appear on your transcript. For all options, you will likely receive credit but colleges vary on the decision of accepting it as part of their core courses or general requirements. You will at least earn elective credits which could give you an advantage when it comes to things like signing up for classes or college housing based on your credit amount.

Social Life

The social aspects should also be considered when making a decision. If you’re heavily involved in your high school community such as being a president of a club or as part of student council, think of how being away from campus could impact your role. Would you be able to get back to your high school in time to still take part? Doing dual enrollment also means being away from your friends. While you shouldn’t make academic decisions based solely on if you can be with your friends, their companionship may be of great importance to you. Staying at your high school for AP or IB classes would give you a way to earn college credit while still being with your friends. If you take dual enrollment classes at the college you want to attend after you graduate high school, you could get a head start on joining college clubs. You’ll get to experience classmates from a variety of ages and life paths that you wouldn’t have met at your high school. Your daily schedule would also be different which could give you room to do an internship or part time job.

Ultimately, AP, IB, and dual enrollment programs are all beneficial because they give you a head start at obtaining a college education. All of the programs prepare you for college level work after high school. There is always the option of taking some advanced classes at your high school and some at a local college so you can earn credits.

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the author

Cara Claflin is a senior who attends a public school in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Even though she plans to stay in Minnesota, attending college in a state that doesn’t have snowstorms in May is starting to sound appealing. She hopes to double major in journalism and marketing. Cara loves helping high school students make the most of all the resources available to them. At school, she is an editor for her school’s newspaper and takes part in a leadership group. When she has some free time, she enjoys dancing, listening to music, reading, and watching music and dance competition reality shows.

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