Dual Enrollment vs AP Classes: Is One Better than the Other? (2021)

25 MAR 2021

One popular question we get at Crimson is “Should I take APs or Dual Enrollment?” You’ve likely heard that taking college-level courses, whether that be Advanced Placement (AP) or dual enrollment courses with your local community college will help your college applications. This is definitely true! But the two options are not interchangeable.

With many colleges going test-optional (read the full list here), demonstrating your ability to keep up with rigorous, standardized curriculum and testing is still incredibly important

Senior Crimson Strategist, Brice, shares his insight on this policy and how it affected the last admissions cycle: “Despite widespread test-optional policies, we noticed that the vast majority of STEM applicants (70%+) still submitted test scores in just the EA/ED round. Standardized tests are still considered a valuable data point for Admissions Officers and a strong score still helps students stand out. This is especially true for regions where the vast majority of students are submitting scores - you don’t want to be the one student without one! On the flip side, if your peers are all unable to test due to cancellations etc. then you are also fine in not submitting a score but this also provides an opportunity for you to stand out even further with a strong score (if you are able to safely take the test, of course).”

Opting in to take additional AP courses or dual enrollment courses can be a defining factor in your application that separates you from other applicants! 

Consider this situation: Two students who are considered equally competitive applicants apply to a competitive university. If one student has taken 10 AP courses and submitted strong AP scores, and one student hasn’t taken any APs or submitted AP scores, the student who took the courses and submitted strong scores (4s and 5s) will likely be considered a more desirable pick for the university as they have proven their ability to keep up in a competitive environment. 

Another benefit to taking AP and/or dual enrollment courses is the possibility of earning college credit in high school! This helps students that are looking to graduate early, double major, and/or save money! 

Advanced Placement (AP) courses are entry-level college courses offered as high school classes standardized and administered by the CollegeBoard. There are 38 different AP exams offered globally, though mainly in the United States, ranging in areas like Psychology, Art, Humanities, Science, Math, History, and Languages. AP courses are designed to prepare students for college-level work by offering a more accelerated approach to traditional courses offered in high school. 

AP classes differ from traditional classes in the sense that they are designed to prepare students for a standardized test each spring that’s developed by the CollegeBoard with the goal of demonstrating a student’s comprehension of college-level subjects. The standardization ensures that every student who passes the AP exam is actually able to keep up with college-level coursework! 

Due to this level of rigor, students who perform well on AP exams may be rewarded with high scores that can convert to college credit depending on what university they apply to. The AP exams are scored out of 5, and generally speaking, colleges and universities will offer credit for students who score 3 (sometimes 4) and above. One thing to note is that the rules that apply to one university may not apply to another. The number score on AP exams aren’t necessarily grades - think of them more as recommendations. A score of 1 would indicate that the CollegeBoard does not recommend a student as qualified to receive credit, while a 5 does indicate that the CollegeBoard would recommend that student as qualified. However, it is up to each college or university to make that decision based on their own requirements or qualifications.

If students do well in the course but not on the exam, there’s not necessarily a cause for worry. While a strong score, or recommendation, is beneficial to a student’s profile, it is not the end-all-be-all. It is equally, if not more, important that students submit transcripts where they’ve demonstrated the ability to do well in a college-level course. While receiving college credit is awesome, it’s not essential in the application process. So for those students out there who struggle with test-taking, don’t worry! There’s more to it than that final exam.

As for dual enrollment, the process is not as clear-cut. Dual enrollment courses are college classes open to high schoolers which can be listed on both high school and college transcripts, hence the name. They can be offered at a local high school, but more often they’re available at or through a (typically) local community college and taken through a type of hybrid program. Amidst the pandemic, it has become increasingly popular to take these courses online. Many students have opted in to take this route with the extra time awarded from online schooling. Unlike AP classes, students who pass dual enrollment courses are automatically awarded both high school and college credit.

The requirements for dual enrollment courses are a bit different than APs - students must be at least 16 years old, have a 2.5 GPA or higher, and must have written approval from their teachers, parents, and/or high school counselor. Because dual enrollment courses are rigorous, it’s important that only students who are capable of taking on the extra work enroll. 

It’s quite typical for students enrolled in a dual enrollment program to earn an Associates Degree (AA) when they graduate high school. Many times students that participate in these programs also complete their general education requirements before stepping foot onto their four-year college campuses. Like APs, dual enrollment is great for students who are looking to graduate early, double major, and/or save money!

Dual enrollment is great for high achieving students looking to take advantage of opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have on their high school campuses like research materials, access to a college library, community networking, and more! Being exposed to college courses and culture, students are able to explore different areas of interest before starting their formal higher education. This can help students get ahead with the exploration process so that when they begin at their four-year universities, they are already sure of what they want to study.

Similar to the AP courses and exams, passing a dual enrollment course does not guarantee that credits will transfer to the four-year university you attend. The reason for this is that some dual enrollment classes don’t meet the university’s standard for college-level work or because the dual enrollment class isn’t properly accredited. 

So you may still be asking “Is one better than the other?” There is no straightforward answer. However, due to the international standardization of AP courses that dual enrollment courses lack, it is safe to assume that AP courses are a better investment when it comes to your money and time if the reason you are pursuing this track is to stand out in college admissions. If you’re simply looking to get ahead or graduate early, you will need to weigh the financial costs and time commitments associated with each track.

As for the next steps… if you’re looking to get ahead and challenge yourself with college-level classes, your next step would be to conduct some research. If dual enrollment sounds like the better option for you, reach out to your high school guidance counselor and see what options are available at your school, or reach out to the admissions office at your local community college and see if dual enrollment is available in your area.

If you’re more drawn to AP courses and are looking for ways to take advantage of the Advanced Placement curriculum outside of your high school, check out Crimson Global Academy! At CGA, we believe in a learning approach based on competency and maturity, not age. This means students are free to unlock their full potential in studying advanced coursework.

To chat with a CGA enrollment advisor about available AP courses as well as the time and financial commitment, please fill out this form!

Shannon F.

Written by

Shannon F.

Shannon completed her Bachelors at Franklin University Switzerland where she majored in Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies & minored in Social Justice and Sustainability. Shannon has a passion for environmental and social justice and immersing herself in new cultures. Shannon has worked in higher education and now works as the Community Outreach & Engagement Lead with Crimson. Shannon currently lives in California and enjoys reading, water polo, hiking, yoga, and traveling.