The costs associated with attending college are rising while most parents’ paychecks are not. Some ambitious high school students are attempting to save money on their college tuition by getting core college classes out of the way before they even graduate from high school. Advanced Placement courses, generally called AP courses, are available in various subjects at most high schools. If a qualifying score is earned on the AP exam for each particular subject, the student is most likely eligible for college credit and will not need to take (and pay for) the class in college. Dual enrollment programs are another option in which high school students take college courses, typically at a local community college, before they begin attending a four-year university.
The Advanced Placement program is administered by the College Board. It allows high school students to participate in college level courses. These classes are obviously more challenging than their regular high school counterparts (i.e. Advanced Placement English Literature does not have the same curriculum as the English classes that most high school juniors and seniors are required to take). Although the AP courses offered vary from high school to high school, AP courses are available in multiple subject areas.
AP exams are graded on a numeric scale of 1 through 5, with 5 being equivalent to the letter grade A and 1 being equivalent to the letter grade F. Grading AP exams is a pretty complicated process. Multiple choice questions can be graded by a computer, but the free response sections in which students must supply their own answers and the essay questions must be graded by an actual person. Trained AP Readers are the people that provide grades on those portions of the test. The scores for the written portions and the multiple choice portions are combined into one overall numeric test score, and students need to receive a certain grade on each AP exam in order to receive college credit. The policies vary, but most colleges typically accept scores of 4 or 5 for college credit, giving the student an A for a score of 5 and a B for a score of 4.
If your high school offers enough of them, it’s possible to take quite a few AP courses at once. Sounds great, but it’s important to remember that the courses can be very demanding. I took an AP English course during my senior year of high school and I’ve got to admit I purchased a lot of Cliffs Notes. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t earn a high enough score on my AP exam to earn college credit, but I did learn quite a bit in the course that helped me substantially in English class as a college freshman.
Homeschooled students are also allowed to sit for AP exams, as well as students that did not take the AP course during the school year. There is a required fee to take AP exams, which are offered once per year each May, but many school districts and various school programs pay for all or some of the costs involved.
Dual enrollment is another way for students to earn college credits before they graduate from high school. If a student is attending high school while also enrolled at a local community college or university, they’re considered to be dual enrolled. They’re usually able to earn both high school and college credit for the courses taken.
This is an advantage because it also gets college courses out of the way ahead of time, and it can help prepare you for what to expect when you get to college. Costs vary, but community college tuition is much lower than that at a traditional four-year university. Participating in dual enrollment also shows that students are determined and willing to work hard in order to succeed.
Dual enrollment may be a strain on your schedule, because you will need transportation to two different schools, and you will have to deal with two separate sets of friends and instructors. It may also cause tension in some of your relationships with other high school students that do not quite understand what you’re doing or why you’re doing it.
You will need to ensure that the college(s) you plan on attending will accept these dual enrollment credits once you are enrolled at that school. This varies from college to college, so doing the correct research ahead of time is a good idea. Critics of dual enrollment programs also argue that community college courses are not as challenging as courses taught at four-year universities, and the environment is so drastically different than that at a four-year school that it does not, in fact, help prepare students for a real college experience.
Just like everything else in life, both AP courses and dual enrollment programs each have their pros and cons. It is up to you to decide if the benefits outweigh the risks. You might want to just go ahead and take the plunge! After all, what’s the worst that can happen— you learn something new?
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Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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