How to Earn College Credits in High School

College Credits in High School

How to Earn College Credits in High School

Published September 8, 2019 | Last Updated March 31st, 2024 at 10:08 am

College Credits in High School

Earning college credits in high school is a great way to save money, get a head start on your college education, and increase your chances of getting into a good college. There are a few different ways to earn college credits in high school, including:

  • Advanced Placement (AP) courses
  • International Baccalaureate (IB) courses
  • Dual enrollment courses
  • College-Level Examination Program (CLEP)

Advanced Placement (AP) courses

AP courses are college-level courses that are offered at high schools. If you pass an AP exam, you can earn college credit for that course. AP courses are a great way to challenge yourself academically and prepare for college.

International Baccalaureate (IB) courses

IB courses are also college-level courses that are offered at high schools. IB courses are more rigorous than AP courses, and if you pass an IB exam, you can earn college credit for the course. IB courses are a great way to challenge yourself academically and to prepare for a rigorous college program.

Dual Enrollment Courses

Dual enrollment courses are college courses that are offered at high schools. If you pass a dual enrollment course, you can earn college credit for the course. Dual enrollment courses are a great way to get a head start on your college education and to save money on tuition.

Dual enrollment allows high school students to take single classes that earn both high school and college credit, usually taught at a local college or at a high school by a professor from a nearby college. Ten states require school districts to offer Dual Enrollment classes. Some states have comprehensive Dual Enrollment plans (e.g. Minnesota) while some have more limited plans (e.g. Texas.)

College-Level Examination Program (CLEP)

CLEP stands for College-Level Examination Program. It is a series of standardized tests that allow students to earn college credit for demonstrating knowledge in a particular subject area. CLEP exams are offered in a variety of subjects, including English, history, math, science, and foreign languages. Students can take CLEP exams at any time, and they do not need to be enrolled in a college or university to do so.

CLEP exams are a great way to save money on college tuition. If you pass a CLEP exam, you may be able to earn credit for a college course that you would otherwise have to take. This can save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

CLEP exams are also a great way to get a head start on your college education. If you take CLEP exams in high school, you can enter college with more credits already earned. This can free up your time in college to take other courses or to participate in extracurricular activities.

If you are interested in earning college credit through CLEP, I encourage you to talk to your school counselor or to visit the College Board website.

Benefits of Earning College Credits in High School

There are many benefits to earning college credits in high school, including:

  • Save money on college tuition: One of the biggest benefits of earning college credits in high school is that you can save money on college tuition. If you earn enough credits in high school, you may be able to graduate from college early or you may be able to take fewer classes in college, which can save you money.
  • Get a head start on your college education: Another benefit of earning college credits in high school is that you can get a head start on your college education. If you earn credits in high school, you will have fewer credits to take in college, which can free up your time to take other classes or to participate in extracurricular activities.
  • Increase your chances of getting into a good college: Earning college credits in high school can also increase your chances of getting into a good college. Colleges like students who take hard classes and show that they can do college work.

How to Earn College Credits in High School

If you are interested in earning college credits in high school, there are a few things you need to do:

  • Talk to your school counselor: Your school counselor can help you learn more about the different ways to earn college credits in high school and can help you choose the right options for you.
  • Research different AP, IB, and dual enrollment programs: Once you know what you are interested in, you need to research different AP, IB, and dual enrollment programs. There are many different programs available, so it is important to find one that is a good fit for you.
  • Sign up for classes that you are interested in and that you think you can succeed in: It is important to sign up for classes that you are interested in and that you think you can succeed in. If you are not interested in the material, it will be difficult to succeed in the course.

Here’s the fine print for parents: Not all colleges and universities will grant advanced standing or credit for all classes taken per the programs listed above, but many do.

So, how do you know which option (or options) might work best for your high school student?

Luckily, many savvy parents within the Paying For College 101 Facebook group shared their stories of how their high school students earned college credits.

Is it Worth it to Take AP and/or IB Classes?

Advanced Placement (AP) is a program of the College Board pursuant to which many public and private high schools offer core subject classes such as AP Biology, AP English Literature and AP U.S. History containing college-level content.

After the course ends, a student may – for a fee – take the subject AP exam.

Less common than AP is the internationally-based IB program offered by some high schools. A student may take one or more IB subject classes, but to earn an IB diploma, a student must take a full set of IB courses in a range of subjects emphasizing broad knowledge, global education, and critical writing skills.

Colleges and universities vary in their policies as to their grant of advanced standing, placement or credit for high scores on AP exams or receipt of a full IB diploma.

Even if credit is not granted, colleges do consider taking AP or IB classes as evidence of a student’s willingness to challenge himself or herself academically.

Which Colleges Offer Credit for AP Classes or an IB Diploma?

Shannon Lowry, an Oregon parent, explained in the Paying For College 101 Facebook group that the IB program in Oregon allows students to enter the University of Oregon or Oregon State University as a sophomore if the student receives an IB diploma in high school.

The daughter of New York parent Kathy Ewald took AP classes in high school and after taking the AP exams, received 12 college credits in college.

Colleges list their AP and IB policies on their websites. These policies may vary from school to school and department to department within a single college or university.

For example:

  • The University of Maryland (College Park) encourages applicants to seek AP credit but notes that credit is not granted equally across all departments.
  • The University of Michigan offers “Advanced Standing” to students who earn 3’s, 4’s or 5’s on certain AP exams, but these policies vary by department. A 3 on the Biology AP exam gets a student credit for Biology 100 and lets a student enroll directly in a higher level Bio course at University of Michigan. A 4 or 5 on the French AP exam earns credits which can count toward a major or minor in French.
  • New York University usually grants credit or advanced standing for AP exam scores of 4 or 5 and IB scores of 6 or 7 on higher level exams.
  • Towson University gives full IB diploma recipients 30 credits.
  • Neither Dartmouth College nor Brown University grant credit towards graduation for high scores received on AP or IB exams. However, at both schools, high exam scores can earn a student exemption from having to take a low-level intro college course or placement into a higher level one.

You can also search for credit acceptance policies for AP courses by using a search tool on the College Board website. The IB organization community blog describes credit policies at https://blogs.ibo.org/blog/2018/05/05/getting-ib-credit-at-university/

Is Dual Enrollment Worth It?

Yes, says Noriko Kantake, a parent who lives in Ohio. Her state has a dual enrollment program called College Credit Plus (CCP) for high school students which offer free college courses. A student can earn up to 120 college credit hours before high school graduation, but Noriko notes “that’s an extreme and requires a lot of planning.”

Noriko’s daughter, now a first-semester high school junior, has already earned 13 college credit hours through dual enrollment. “But figuring out the college course offering and alignment with the high school schedule” is not easy,” says Noriko.

The State of Washington offers a Dual Enrollment program called “Running Start” that allows juniors and seniors in high school to take tuition-free college courses at the state’s 34 community and technical colleges, earning both high school and college credits. Sherridan Poffenroth’s son did one year of the high school program, earning nine credits that will allow him to graduate from Washington State University in three years.

Georgia has a “Move On When Ready” program which allows for Dual Enrollment. Jessica Floyd Oliver’s son took university courses while in high school and started his freshman year at Georgia Tech with 52 credit hours.

Not every college, particularly not all private colleges, will accept Dual Enrollment credits.

Virginia is one state with school districts offering Dual Enrollment courses, but the state’s four-year colleges and universities do not uniformly accept the credits.

At private New York University credit “may” be awarded for college courses taken while in high school if certain criteria are met: the grade is a “B” or better, NYU offers a corresponding course, the course was taught by college/university faculty and the course was not used to satisfy a high school graduation requirement.

How to Choose Between an AP or a Dual Enrollment Course?

An AP course and its corresponding exam have content standardized by the College Board. The content of a Dual Enrollment course will depend on the high school or college that offers it.

In some cases, Dual Enrollment will give a high student a chance to study a subject at a higher level than a high school AP class could offer.

Dual Enrollment (depending on the subject studied) may also be perceived by a College Admission Officers as providing a more rigorous academic challenge than a high school AP course can.

Take a Free CLEP Subject Exam for College Credit

The College Board offers 33 subject-based exams that cover material your student may have already learned in high school. More than 2,900 U.S. colleges and universities grant credit for CLEP exams, says the College Board’s website.

Francine Massiello’s daughter took Spanish 3 in high school, then took a CLEP test in French and received language credit in college.

Kerri Cook Halligan of Florida reminds other parents that CLEP exams are free to take. Her high school daughter is now studying for two CLEP exams in the hope of earning college credit.

Of course, colleges vary in the number of credits offered and for which CLEP exams credits can be given.

For example, the College of Charleston (Charleston, South Carolina) offers a varying number of college credits for high scores on CLEP exams in foreign languages, history, and social sciences, science, and math.

The University of Maryland (College Park) grants credit for certain scores on the CLEP financial accounting, sociology, macroeconomics, microeconomics exams, calculus, among others.

Why Earn College Credits While Still in High School?

Of course, it is worth it to earn college credits while still in high school, say students able to use such credits to graduate early. Why not save tuition, get out of college a semester or two early, and get a jump on the job market?

If a student can skip an intro course because of an earned college credit, that will save textbook money, too.

But graduating early because of college credits earned in high school isn’t the only motivating reason.

Some students may want to challenge themselves by taking higher level courses as soon as they can. If they earn college credits while in high school, they can skip some or all of freshman year in certain cases, or bypass intro level college courses and get right to the advanced classes they want to take.

Having an AP or IB credit in the bank might also allow a student the flexibility to study abroad for a semester or explore other courses outside of his or her major.

And a personal note: After my daughter had a serious car accident in October of her senior year in college causing her to miss weeks of classes, her AP credits helped her graduate on time with her class.

Earning college credits while in high school can cut costs, let you skip intro courses, or enter college as a sophomore. It also shows the colleges to which you are applying that you a serious student, ready and able to take on the challenge of college.

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