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The difference between AP courses and dual enrollment programs

Are you a high school student who wants to earn college credit before you graduate? Do you have parents who want to save money on college tuition? Advanced Placement courses and dual enrollment programs can help you do both by earning college credit at minimal cost while you’re still in high school.

The difference between AP courses and dual enrollment programs comes down to where you take your college-level classes, who teaches the classes, how much they cost and how you earn the college credit.

Save time and money by on college by earning college credit before graduating high school. Dual enrollment courses can count toward the requirements for both your high school diploma and your college degree.

Dual enrollment information

Advanced Placement courses

AP courses are offered within the high school curriculum and allow you to take college-level courses that culminate in an exam at the end of the academic year.

You take your AP classes at your high school from teachers trained to teach these advanced courses. The course material is approved by the College Board and required to meet their standards. This assures that you’re learning at the college level and your work can count toward college credits.

You’ll sign up for your AP classes through your high school and the courses are part of your regular class schedule. AP courses and availability are limited to what your individual high school currently offers.

To have your AP course credits count toward college credits, you take the AP exam for that subject at the end of your course. You must score a 3, 4 or 5 on this final AP exam to give yourself a chance to earn college credit.

AP exams cover the material learned in the course and determine whether you are eligible for college credit. AP exams are sometimes used by college admissions officers as a measure of your academic preparedness.

However, it’s important to note that scoring well on an AP exam doesn’t guarantee college credit.  Each college and university has its own policies on the scores they accept. The College Board has an AP Credit Policy Search tool to help you determine specific colleges’ policies on AP exam credits.

Dual enrollment programs

Dual enrollment programs are actual college courses you take at a local college or university or online. Some schools also bring college instructors to your high school to teach the courses. This is called concurrent enrollment and the process is the same as dual enrollment.

You enroll through the college or university that is teaching the course. Your high school counselor will help you with this.

Dual enrollment classes are more rigorous than high school courses, as they are taught at a college level, and can give you a taste of what college academics are like. The credits you earn can often be applied to both your high school requirements and college credits at the college or university where you enrolled for the course.

One of the major advantages of dual enrollment programs is that successful completion of the course(s), usually with a “C” or better, guarantees college credits. However, it is important to note that these credits may not be transferable to other colleges and universities. Be sure to talk about this with your school counselor before enrolling.

Costs for AP and dual enrollment courses

One of the key differences between the two programs is the cost to you.

AP courses typically require payment of a fee to take the exam. Current exam cost (in 2023) is about $100 per AP exam. Some high schools offer need-based assistance for this fee.

Dual enrollment programs frequently have a higher cost to the student, as they require paying for tuition, textbooks, and other associated materials. However, many states and local jurisdictions have programs that help to offset or eliminate these costs.

Dual enrollment in Michigan, where I am writing from, is overseen by the Michigan Department of Education. Here, school districts are required to pay an eligible student’s tuition and mandatory course fees, including technology fees, material fees (including textbooks) and registration fees, as long as the college course meets certain requirements. There is a maximum limit on this spending allowance determined by the Michigan Department of Education each year. In Michigan, dual enrollment is kept at minimal cost to the family.

Be sure to check with your school counselor to determine what costs are covered in your area.

Flexibility of AP and Dual Enrollment courses

Another factor to consider while making this decision is the flexibility of these programs.

AP courses have a schedule and structure that can provide a foundation with focus and discipline. There are currently 39 courses to choose from, many in subjects that count toward the general education courses required of all college students or introductory courses required by your major.

On the other hand, the Dual Enrollment program allows for more freedom in course selection and building an area of interest. They’re ideal if you’re looking for a wide-ranging and in-depth college experience while still in high school.

AP courses last the full school year. The courses are integrated into your regular class schedule. Start times, vacation days, and location are the same as all your other classes. So, with AP courses, you could take two AP courses during one school year but you would take them both at the same time.

Dual Enrollment courses last for one college semester. You could take two Dual Enrollment courses in a year by taking one in the fall semester and a different one in the semester that starts in January. However, it may be more challenging to balance with the rest of your school schedule.

AP or Dual Enrollment: Which one to choose?

When it comes to making a decision about AP courses vs. Dual Enrollment programs, there is no one right answer. Each program has its own benefits, costs and requirements. The decision should be based on your own goals and needs.

And remember, you can do both.

Talking with teachers, school counselors and college representatives are the best sources for accurate information on:

  • What is available in your area.
  • What your costs would be. 
  • What will be considered for credit by the college or university you hope to attend.

Fire Up! Forward at CMU

At Central Michigan University, we have created a list of courses in a wide variety of subjects that we call Fire Up! Forward. These Dual Enrollment courses will be charged to your school district at tuition rates equal to the Michigan Department of Education per-pupil funding allowance for dual enrollment courses. That means dual enrollment at CMU for these courses will result in minimal cost to you if you are a Michigan high school student.

A bit of research with your high school counselor will go a long way toward your goal of starting college with credits already taken and at a huge savings over traditional tuition.

Blog: All Things Higher Ed posted | Last Modified: | Author: by University Communications | Categories: University Communications
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