The Scoop on Advanced Placement vs. Dual Enrollment

Inspired Christian Parenting

scoopAs parents, shouldn’t childbirth, potty training and middle school earn us a lifetime pass? No so, my friend! If you are lucky enough to survive the drama and changes of middle school your reward is the joy of figuring out high school and what your kids will need to be ready for college! The pressure is on and the rules have changed since we were navigating these waters. When did kids start getting 5.7 GPAs? I thought 4.0 was perfect? Not. Any. More!

Here are a few tips from a battle-scarred mom who is working on her 4th child’s high school experience and still has one to go! Wow, I’m tired just typing that! LOL! You will find my opinions in pink below. These are just my personal opinions as a parent and my professional experience as an educator. Feel free to take these with a grain of salt!


Produce a healthy, well-adjusted graduate that is college/work ready.


Identify potential directions that fit your child and make sure as many of their options are still open to them by the time they graduate as possible. These paths can include vocational/tech training, Advanced Placement, Dual Enrollment, International Baccalaureate Programs along with sports, music and other extracurricular activities.

Let’s focus on two choices today: Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment.

What is Advanced Placement (AP)? – Advanced Placement is a national program run by the College Board. Yes, the same nonprofit that administers the SAT.  Believe it or not, it dates back to the 1950’s. Read more on the history. An Advanced Placement or AP class is a college-level course taught at your child’s high school or with an online provider. The goal of an AP course is to expose students to high academic rigor to prepare them for college-level work. The reward for taking these types of classes is a weighted grade in high school (Read more about this in an upcoming post. GPAs are an article of their own!), a college credit if the AP exam is passed and the potential of advanced placement in college because you can skip the lower level courses you took as AP and go on to courses in your chosen field of study. Accepting AP credit is up to the university or higher institution. We have found that they accept (matriculate) the credits but not always for the courses taken. Many times the university counted the credit as a humanities or elective credit. English, math, psychology and history courses were the most widely accepted in our experience. The higher level and more specific the course the greater chance it became an elective or humanities credit.

Who should/can take AP classes?  Most schools offer a select group of AP courses. There are 38 AP courses listed on the College Board site but your child’s school won’t offer all of these courses. It is common for there to be an application process or nomination process at a school to select students who are academically ready for the AP experience. In my opinion, you should evaluate your individual student and place them in classes where they are strong and gifted in that subject area. AP classes are hard and demanding and can stress kids out. Studies are showing that teens rate their stress level at a 5.8 on a 1 to 10 scale. This is actually HIGHER than the average 5.1 adult rating of stress. The trend is to put academically strong students in all AP classes. I believe that this isn’t necessary and many times harmful. Choose courses where your child excels or a subject they enjoy. AP courses are great but your child doesn’t have to take AP Calculus if they are struggling with math. You can pick and choose what courses your child takes so don’t do the shotgun method. Remember your objective is to have a healthy, well-adjusted graduate. 

What is dual enrollment/concurrent enrollment? Dual enrollment, also called concurrent enrollment, is a program usually overseen by the state that allows students to be enrolled in two academically related institutions. So basically they are taking one course that counts for high school and college credit. They would be enrolled in both the high school and college institutions. The goal of a dual enrollment course is to help students transition into college level work. The reward for taking these types of classes is a weighted grade in HS (Read more about this in an upcoming post. GPAs are an article of their own!), a college credit if the class is passed and a greater course selection. There is also a financial incentive to take dual enrollment courses so that you can earn college credits free during high school. If you pass the courses you may not have to take those courses when you transition to full-time college attendance. In our experience, dual enrollment courses are easier to transfer to other colleges because they are coming from an existing higher education institution. It is college to college rather than just an exam grade.

Who should/can take dual enrollment/concurrent enrollment? Students who are showing initiative and high performance in high school level courses and are organized are great candidates for dual enrollment. The biggest struggle when taking dual enrollment courses is getting used to the college work format. Assignments are given in a syllabus and students are expected to keep up with the expectations and requirements without close teacher supervision. This is a new dynamic for many high school students. Many states have a grade level eligibility requirement as well as a GPA requirement. Our experience with dual enrollment has been positive. The structure was a huge adjustment and the transportation was a challenge. We have also struggled with adapting to the different approach some college level teachers take compared to the high school teacher interaction. It was a great learning experience. Online dual enrollment courses are an amazing choice for those who don’t want their younger students on a college campus or for those with schedule or transportation issues.

Advanced Placement Dual Enrollment
Where is it taught? Usually the local HS or an online provider. Usually on a college campus but can be taught by a qualified HS teacher at the local school. Can also be taken online through the college.
How long does it take? Most courses take a year of HS classes to count for a semester of college. One semester for each course
Cost Some states pay for the AP exam but if they don’t the exam costs $85. Free for public school students in states that offer dual enrollment. Home school and private school kids may have to pay for their books.
Who oversees the program? National non-profit College Board Usually a local agreement between a state/county and the local junior or state colleges
Transportation Taught at school so the students don’t have to go off campus Students fit going to the college into their daily schedule. The parent or student are responsible for getting the student to the college campus. Online dual enrollment classes are wonderful if you have a transportation issue or concern about your student being on campus.
Credit Weighted high school GPA credit and college credit if the exam is passed and a college accepts the credit Weighted high school GPA credit and college credit if the class is passed.
Rigor AP classes tend to be very hard and usually have a lot of homework preparing the student for college. However, the teacher is tasked with helping the student to grow academically during the year to learn to perform at a college level. The quality of the teacher seriously impacts the students’ performance on the AP exam. You can ask about a teacher’s pass rate for the exam. This isn’t out of line or rude. There are books written to help students pass the AP exam if they don’t feel prepared by the class experience. Almost all AP courses help students learn to write and answer essay questions well. Students are expected to perform at a college level right off the bat. There are no exceptions or modifications made for dual enrollment students. Many times the teacher doesn’t even know the student is a HS student. Once again, the level and rigor of the class depend on the teacher.
Class Choices 38 approved AP classes available. Hundreds of class choices based on the agreement between the state/county and the colleges
States that offer the program From what I can tell, any student can take an AP class but it may not be offered or paid for by the state. Many online providers offer AP courses that families can pay for on their own. 25 states have funded AP programs. 46 states have active programs.
Greatest Benefits Organization of information and the ability to take a cumulative test. Great writing skills are developed in almost every AP class. Colleges like to see AP courses on a transcript. Autonomy needed to succeed in college. Adjusting to the college format and lower supervision of daily work by the teachers. Shorter time for each course so you can fit in more college credits during high school. Colleges like to see that a student has taken dual enrollment courses.

The bottom line is that I am a fan of both AP and dual enrollment if used correctly. I have found that the school guidance counselor is a great resource. Make friends and reach out to them often. They can help you find the right fit for your child and will know how to sign up for each type of course. Guidance counselors are super busy but love it when parents engage in the process.

Feel free to comment below with any information or questions you may want me to address. I love to learn from you! Please share this article (FB, Twitter buttons below) with other parents dealing with “High School Overwhelm!”

Join the Inspired Christian Parenting Network and get future articles and updates sent right to your inbox. In addition, click on the button below and get my “Difficult Conversations Cheat Sheet” free today! Are you tired of fussing and arguing with your teen? Check out this amazing cheat sheet that has changed my life and my relationship with my kids forever!

Learn More