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Advanced Placement or Dual Enrollment: Which One is Right for You?

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Emily Sheldon College Advisor

Written by Emily Sheldonon July 11th, 2023

I came to College Coach after working as an admissions officer at MIT for 14 years. I started my career coordinating the transfer admissions process, and I continued working with transfer applicants – including community college students, non-traditional students, and U.S. military servicemembers – throughout my time there. I later became the admissions-office liaison to several departments at MIT, including athletics and ROTC, and I managed the portfolio review processes for art/architecture and music/theatre arts. My last role at MIT was leading all aspects of the undergraduate selection process, from the application review to committee evaluation.
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by Emily Sheldon, former admissions officer at MIT One question I am frequently asked is, “Which should I take: AP or dual enrollment?” The reality is that both AP classes and dual enrollment programs provide high school students with a great opportunity to take on challenging, college-level classes in their areas of interest. However, depending on a student’s post-secondary college or career goals, one may be a better fit than the other. Before we dive in to the question of fit, let’s provide some definitions of these two programs. What Are Advanced Placement Classes? Advanced Placement, or AP, classes are college-level classes audited by the CollegeBoard. Classes are offered in a variety of subjects, including art, English, history/social science, mathematics, and world language. At the end of the class, students may opt to take a standardized exam. Colleges may then award credit or allow students to place out of certain subjects based on the results of these exams. The CollegeBoard offers a search tool for students to find which colleges will offer credit for their AP scores. (The International Baccalaureate, or IB, is another example of a standardized high school curriculum. However, because it’s less common to find in U.S. high schools, we’ll focus on AP in this article. To learn more about the IB program, check out our recent episode of the Getting In podcast.) What are Dual Enrollment Programs? Dual enrollment (DE) programs are typically partnerships between school districts and local colleges that allow students to enroll in college classes while they are still in high school. In addition to earning college credit, DE can give students the opportunity to explore and prepare for their future careers. Many DE programs offer free or discounted tuition, which can reduce the overall cost of college. And, according to a 2017 report by the US Department of Education Institute of Education Statistics, DE positively impacts high school graduation rates and college enrollment and completion rates.

It’s important to note that not all high schools offer both AP and DE. Some offer one or the other, and if that’s the case for you, don’t worry! Students will not be penalized by a college for not taking something they didn’t have access to. So, which one is right for you? Dual enrollment can be an excellent option if the student’s top choice college is their in-state public university. Because of the agreements between school districts and higher education institutions, students can feel confident that the DE classes they take will be accepted for credit, potentially decreasing the time and money spent on their bachelor’s degree. For students whose post-secondary plans include careers requiring vocational training or an associate’s degree, DE allows them to get a jumpstart on that training while still in high school. However, some DE programs require students to travel to a nearby college campus, which presents not only transportation and scheduling challenges, but also affects their ability to remain involved in extracurricular activities. Additionally, the classes they take may not be accepted by out-of-state or more selective universities, as content in classes (and university credit policies) can vary widely. If a student’s primary goal is an out-of-state, private, or highly-rejective college, and they feel that dual enrollment is the right fit for them, they should focus on core subjects (English, math, science, history, and world language) because classes in these broad areas of study are more likely to transfer to a wider array of colleges. AP classes are generally a better option for students looking to apply to highly-rejective universities because the standardized curriculum means that colleges can feel confident in the content. Classes are also offered through the high school, which means they may fit more conveniently into schedules and students can remain involved community members. However, while colleges may accept credit or offer placement for certain AP scores, policies will vary widely. If a student is hoping to reduce time and/or expenses in college, AP may not always be the best fit. Ultimately, as with many choices in high school and beyond, there isn’t a clear right or wrong option. If students have the opportunity to decide between AP or DE (or a combination of both!), they should choose the classes that best support their academic strengths, interests, and college and career goals.

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