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Is Dual Enrollment a Better Option than AP Classes?


I received the following question on Facebook:

Is Dual Enrollment a better option than AP classes?

Great question! There is a growing trend to earn college credit early, but we should always step back and ask ourselves which tools best fits our circumstances (or if early credit even makes sense for your situation).

To best understand this question I want to quickly summarize what each of these tools are:

Dual Enrollment: Where you take a college course while still in high school, with the goal of earning both high school and college credit.

AP Classes: An advanced, college-level high school course created by College Board that is designed to prepare you to take an AP exam and possibly earn college credit.

AP Exams: A test that is designed to be taken at the end of

It's important to realize that while both of these tools have become increasingly popular, they still are very specialized college prep tools that are not required and do not make sense for all students! To help you better determine if one of these tools is right for you let's take a look at the pros/cons of each one:



Dual Enrollment Pros:

  • You earn college credit (which will hopefully transfer to wherever you end up)!
  • You get the experience of learning what a college-level class is like, but while still at home and with the academic support system you have in place.
  • You probably will end up with both high school and college credit (though some colleges do not accept or require you to count it only for high school credit).
  • Good grades from a Dual Enrollment course look great on college applications!

Dual Enrollment Cons:

  • College courses generally run twice as fast as high school courses, so what would be covered in a year in a typical high school class would be covered in one semester in a college course.
  • If you don't get the grade you want you are still stuck with that grade showing on your transcript (and likely impacting your GPA).
  • If taking a Dual Enrollment class in-person, you as a high school student will be attending class/socializing with mostly college-age students. Are you ready (maturity-wise) to do that?
  • Just because you take a Dual Enrollment course doesn't mean your credit will count towards your ultimate general study requirements. You need to confirm with each college that you plan on applying to and make sure that they will accept the credit and that it will properly count for your general studies (see my article on this here).

AP Courses/Exams Pros:

  • You get the advantage of being exposed to college-level courses while still in high school, but at a slower pace and without the worry of your grades impacting your ultimate college transcript/GPA.
  • If you score high enough/the college you apply to accepts your AP Exam, you have the possibility of earning college credit for your studies.
  • Good grades on AP Courses/Exams can help you on college applications.

AP Course/Exams Cons:

  • AP Exams are not accepted everywhere, and even if they are each college has their own policy on score requirements and the credit that is awarded (you can check out my article on AP details and CLEP tests here), so you need to know which colleges you are considering and check each of their policies before heavily utilizing AP.
  • There is no credit given for AP courses, only exams, so you have to take the test and need to be a good test-taker to earn credit.
  • Some schools only offer elective credit for AP Exams, and you still have to take their general studies courses (eating away your elective options and forcing you to have to take a similar course again).
  • AP Exams have a strict timetable, typically only being offered in May of each year. If you miss that test or don't get the score you want you are out of luck until the following year.

Ultimately, if you don't have an idea of what college(s) you are considering, it's probably too early to be heavily utilizing these tools (unless you are simply taking the courses to have a more academically rigorous high-school). Get an idea of where you're headed (why I suggest Phase 2: Career Exploration before getting too far into exams/DE), and then do your research to determine which of these tools would be best.

Want more tips on college prep? Check out our blog and grab our FREE High School Resource Guide.

Want more guidance on creating a plan for success for high-school? Schedule a FREE 30-minute consultation with Matthew Bullington about your situation and to talk about the resources we offer to help you explore career options in-depth and make sure you are on the right path!

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