Which Is Better, AP or Dual Enrollment?

Three high school/college students sitting in a classroom looking up at the teacher

Which Is Better, AP or Dual Enrollment?

Published February 27, 2024

Three high school/college students sitting in a classroom looking up at the teacher

Over the past few years, there’s been a significant increase in the number of high school students who take college-level courses, whether via AP classes or dual enrollment (DE).  

Both have the potential to save students time and money, and both can help them begin to develop a college identity, giving them a boost of confidence in their ability to succeed in college and beyond.

Price Is a Consideration

Nearly 90 percent of high schools offer dual enrollment, and more than a third of U.S. students take AP classes in high school. In the vast majority of cases, dual enrollment classes offered through a student’s high school are subsidized, which means students can begin racking up credits for little to no money.

AP classes, on the other hand, have automatic fees attached — mainly the cost of the exam, which is administered by the College Board. Currently, fees for AP classes start at $98 and can reach as high as $146. 

Both can impact your GPA as many high schools assign more weight to college-level courses, but each school takes a different approach to this, as do colleges. It’s important to find out how the school you attend and the colleges you’ll be applying to asses GPAs so you have a full picture before you choose which one is best.

Who Teaches the Classes?

Some schools offer teachers additional money for AP classes, but requirements vary. At some high schools, AP teachers need to have master’s degrees. But at many others, no additional requirements are necessary. Dual enrollment courses are taught by college professors, usually at a local campus or online. 

Do Colleges Accept AP and Dual Enrollment Credits?

It’s important to note that not all colleges accept either of these credits — it depends on a variety of factors. If your child is likely to attend a state school or one that’s not quite as selective, the chances are high that dual enrollment credits will transfer, if not to meet requirements, at least as electives. 

Some private schools will not consider dual enrollment at all, but others will, hence why it’s important to consider where you’re likely to apply to college before deciding on the best path.

AP classes, however, are a different ball game. Students have to pass the end-of-year exam with a three or higher to even be considered for college credit, and even then there is no guarantee that the college they choose to attend will accept the credits. In 2022, the most recent year for which stats are available, only 22 percent of students scored a three or higher on an AP exam.

As far as improving the quality of your college applications, both demonstrate that a student was ready and willing to take on the rigor of college courses. “But neither is a guarantee of transferring credits to your college major,” said parent Denise T.

We asked her and many other parents in our Road 2 College and Paying for College 101 Facebook Groups to tell us which path they think is best, and the vast majority said dual enrollment. Here’s a look at their reasons.

Parents Say Dual Enrollment Credits Are Most Likely To Transfer

“My son took one AP class and will finish with nine university-level dual enrollment credits,” said Julie S.D. “I am a huge fan of DE over AP because it is a real college class. Students learn about the demands of less classroom time, professor office hours, choosing college classes, etc.”

Some parents said a lot of it has to do with the teachers who teach these courses. 

“College credit for an AP class rests heavily on a high school teacher who can teach well enough for the student to do well on one test,” said Brooke G.S. “Those are risky odds, in my opinion. Dual enrollment offers college credit for a student who took a class and did well enough to pass. That outcome predominantly rests in the hands of the student over a semester vs. one test.”

Christine B. agrees. “My twins took an AP English class while juniors in high school,” she said. “They were both great students and each had a 99 in the class, yet they both scored a two on the AP test and were shocked and disappointed.”

Most parents said the near certainty that a student will earn credits for college tips the odds in favor of dual enrollment. “Our daughter earned her associate’s degree while in high school thanks to dual enrollment and earned her bachelor’s degree in two and a half years,” said Iris G.

Many students opt to take both AP classes and dual enrollment courses, which allows them the ability to compare and contrast.

“My daughter was able to take advantage of both at her high school and I feel like the dual enrollment options gave her more bang for the buck,” said Abby C. “She started in August as a freshman with 16 credits on her record from dual enrollment. That’s an immense savings for us! AP classes helped as well, but those AP exams were quite stressful for her.”

The key, said many parents, is to consider what colleges you’re likely to apply to and do some research to determine how willing they are to accept both AP and dual enrollment credits.

“At our high school, the DE credits are from our state flagship university, so they can transfer easily, in addition to enhancing the application to that university and their competitive honors program,” said Beth S. “AP is a money grab.”

Even if all things were equal, many parents said they’d still opt for DE over AP. “Probably dual enrollment because college credit is awarded without the exam,” said Sheryl M. “This benefits many kids, especially if they end up in a community college for a couple of years.”

A three is a passing score on an AP exam, but many colleges will only accept a score of four or five, which makes it harder to achieve the credits. “AP credits have to be almost perfect to count,” said Pam Arner. “My daughter will graduate with an engineering degree in exactly four years, but the main benefit was she was able to enroll in her courses sooner as her DE classes made her a junior.”

Most parents said that if saving money is your main goal, DE will likely do more for a student than AP. “Our goal was to pay for college with the least amount out of pocket,” said Susan B.C. “Dual enrollment worked best for us by far.”

Dual Enrollment Introduces Students To College Life 

Because most dual enrollment courses are taken at actual colleges, these classes serve as a great intro to college, allowing students to better determine if that path is right for them. 

“My daughter was able to explore her area of interest as a potential major before actually starting college,” said Abby C.K. “It ended up clicking, and now she’s ahead of the game in school. I believe that this helped her stand out in her program and she has been invited to be a part of a couple of different academic honors groups.”

It’s important to note that there is no easy one-size-fits-all answer. “It depends on the student, target schools, and the college providing dual enrollment,” said Rebecca P.L. “Unless the high school has a standard path, it can be hard to find the time to physically go to the college campus for dual enrollment classes, especially more than one per semester. Highly selective schools are more likely to accept AP credits, while it can be helpful to transfer DE credits to less selective schools.”

That said, if the goal is to get a college degree as quickly and affordably as possible and you plan to go to college in the region you are taking dual credit, then dual credit is the way to go, said Stephanie O.M. “If you are taking the course for interest and want to get into a highly selective college, AP.  But you have to know that you may not get college credit depending on the college.”

Both DE and AP classes serve a purpose, so long as you understand how they align with your goals.

“A combo seems to be the best approach for us,” said Anne P. Some DE classes (that are also offered as AP classes) don’t transfer as DE, but they do provide credit based on AP score. Others that are DE don’t have an associated AP test. For maximum university credit, we’ll use both.”

The Pressure To Take College Classes In High School Is Reaching a Fever Pitch

Whatever your student chooses to do, many parents said the pressure on today’s high schoolers to get started on college-level courses is just too much. 

“They’re under so much stress as it is,” said Karen U.D. “When is enough enough? Let them enjoy high school in high school. If they want to do either of these then fine. Otherwise, don’t. Enjoy college in college. We are pushing the next stage of life onto these kids earlier and earlier.”

Pam S. feels so strongly about this that she stopped her student from taking any college-level classes, whether AP or DE. “You only get to be a kid once,” she said. “Our daughter wanted to do co-op. We said no, be a kid.”

Hearing from a parent with two children — one who took all AP classes and another who took DE classes — summed up the comparison pretty well.

“Both started college with close to 30 hours,” said Sonya W.R. “The answer to which is best lies with the student. If the student is a strong test taker, then AP is a great choice. If they suffer test anxiety, then relying on that one test score for college credit is too much pressure.”

In the end, she felt the son who took DE classes was better prepared for college.

“He learned how to interact with a professor and how the grading system differs at the college level. [As a result} he started college with more confidence than my son who only took AP.”

What do you think is a better path, AP or DE? Join this and other conversations with parents just like you by joining our Road 2 College and Paying for College 101 Facebook Groups.

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Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

What Is Dual Enrollment?

Pros and Cons of AP Classes

A Parent’s Guide to the Pros and Cons of Community College

JOIN ONE OF OUR FACEBOOK GROUPS & CONNECT WITH OTHER PARENTS: 

PAYING FOR COLLEGE 101

HOW TO FIND MERIT SCHOLARSHIPS

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