Earning College Credit in High School

Ambitious high school students often have a variety of options to get a head start on college. They can earn college credits by scoring high on AP (Advanced Placement) or IB (International Baccalaureate) tests or by taking courses at local colleges. Earning college credit in high school can definitely help in college admission. But students should think carefully about what—and how many—college credit options they choose.

AP and IB

Many high schools offer AP and/or IB courses. Students in these classes complete advanced, college-level coursework. At the end of each course, they take a standardized test to prove they have learned the material. High scorers can receive college credit for the course at many colleges around the country.

Admission officers see AP or IB courses as a plus.

"What that indicates is that the student wants to take the most challenging coursework possible while they're in high school," says a representative from Hastings College (NE).

In addition, the standardized tests for the courses give admission officers a way to compare students from across the country.

"[The AP and IB tests] tell us not only about how that student performed in the course in their high school but on a national or international scale," says a representative from Rice University (TX).

Dual Enrollment Courses

A growing number of high schools are partnering with local colleges to provide dual enrollment courses. In these programs, students can earn college credit by taking the same courses as students at a nearby community college.

Dual enrollment programs can vary widely. In some programs, the dual enrollment classes take place in the high school during the school day. Others require students to attend regular classes on the college campus.

Because of dual enrollment programs' newness and variety, colleges may or may not accept dual credits.

"We ask a few questions to follow-up on [dual enrollment courses] to be sure we're clear on how much depth of material is covered, who taught the course, [and whether they] were in class with other college students or still inside the walls of their high school."

Dual enrollment credits, therefore, may not be accepted as widely as AP or IB credits. However, having dual enrollment courses on your application still shows that you're interested in challenging yourself academically.

Don't Overdo It

Colleges look for students who take the most demanding courses available at their high school. But they also expect students to do well in those courses. If your high school offers many AP or other advanced courses, it may be tempting to try to take them all. But beware of overburdening yourself: too many tough courses can lead to high stress and lower grades.

Instead, choose advanced courses in the subjects that you enjoy the most and can succeed in. If you're unsure of how much work you should take on, discuss your choices with your guidance counselor, the teacher of the course, or a parent.

"Have some good conversations about what this curriculum would mean senior year." You should leave room for other, nonacademic goals, like participating in extracurricular activities and just having some fun your senior year.

In short, balance is the key.

"Students need to feel confident in their ability to be successful in taking college-level coursework before they get into it. You still need to have some fun in high school and to do well in all your courses—and there are only so many hours in the day."

Back to: Guidance for Sophomores