How To Earn College Credits While Still in High School (and Why)

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How To Earn College Credits While Still in High School (and Why)

The number of high school students earning college credits before they step foot on campus has risen dramatically in the past decade.

There are four primary ways for high school students to get possible college credits:

  • Take College-level AP (advanced placement) classes & subject exams
  • Take IB (international baccalaureate) classes earning an IB diploma
  • Take a Dual Enrollment class earning both h.s. & college credit
  • Take an exam through CLEP (College Level Examination Program) – 33 exams covering already studied intro-level college course material

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 websiteThe IB organization community blog describes credit policies at https://blogs.ib.org/blog/2018/05/05/getting-ib-credit-at-university.

Dual Enrollment – Take a Single Class for Both High School and College Credit

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.)

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.

What is a CLEP Test?

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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By Nancy L. Wolf, a retired lawyer, published author, and college essay coach, tutors international graduate students in writing and teaches English as a second language at the Washington English Center. She previously mentored first-generation-to-college high school students through the Posse Foundation, College Tracks and College Bound in the DC area. In addition to her two grown children, grandson, and husband, Nancy is a devoted caretaker of Howie, her part poodle/part Jack Russell terrier rescue dog.


Road2College

Road2College

Debbie Schwartz is former financial services executive and founder of Road2College and the Paying For College 101 Facebook group. She's dedicated to providing families with trustworthy information about college admissions and paying for college. With data, tools and access to experts she's helping families become educated consumers of higher ed.
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