AP® courses and dual enrollment offer students a wealth of opportunities to:

  • Gain valuable knowledge
  • Build critical skills
  • Earn college credit in high school

But they do so in very different ways. While they both have their strengths and weaknesses, what you ultimately choose to do depends on you and what you’re looking for.

To begin, we need to take a look at both options—and see exactly what they have to offer.

What is an AP® course?

AP® stands for Advanced Placement. These are collegiate-level courses offered to high school students that are more rigorous and challenging than your typical high school classes.

At the end of the course, students must take an exam to test their knowledge on the coursework. The score they receive determines whether or not they receive college credit. AP® courses are scored on a scale of one to five, with one being the worst score you can get and five being the best.

Since AP® courses are scored on a five-point scale, students taking them can earn above a 4.0 GPA since most high schools score on a four-point scale.

A few benefits of taking AP® courses:

  • Wide variety of subjects. There are more than 30 AP® courses students can take that span a wide variety of subjects. Students can also opt to take AP® courses at a different high school.
  • Look good on your transcript. Colleges like to look at a high school student’s most challenging courses when considering their transcripts. With AP® courses, you can make yourself stand out as a candidate.
  • College credit. The chance to earn college credit without stepping onto a campus is great. Granted, you’re not assured college credit (especially if you get a low score), but if you get a three or better, there is a good chance you may be able to save on college tuition and earn college credit.

There are a few “downsides” though. It costs $94 to take each AP® exam. The coursework is also incredibly demanding and rigorous—something not every student is capable of navigating. Overall, it’s a fantastic option for any student looking to be challenged in high school while earning college credit.

What is dual enrollment?

Dual enrollment courses are college classes that are typically taught by an actual college professor. The term “dual enrollment” refers to how the student will be enrolled in a college course while in high school.

These courses can be taught and/or offered at the student’s high school, online, or at a local community college.

Many dual enrollment courses also come with some strict requirements. For one, students might have to be of a certain age (typically 16 years old or older) and must have a specific high school GPA.

And while AP® credit is determined by the score the student receives on their final exam, college credit from dual enrollment is determined by whether or not they pass the class.

A few benefits of dual enrollment:

  • College experience. Students get a much more accurate experience of what college will be like for them since they’ll be taking an actual college course taught by a professor. This often means going to office hours and leveraging collegiate-level resources like computer rooms and libraries.
  • Pass/fail. Rather than relying on a single exam to determine whether or not the student gets credit, they need to pass the course in order for it to count. Of course, this is easier said than done—but it can be a boon for some students.
  • Wide variety of subjects. Much like AP® courses, dual enrollment can offer a wide range of courses depending on what the school offers. Often this is much more than any high school can offer, which means a student can earn college credit while learning about something they’re passionate about.

Since you’re taking a college course, it can often be much more expensive than AP® courses—sometimes ranging into the hundreds of dollars.

Which should you choose?

When it comes to the question of which is better, the answer is simple: it’s up to you.

What really matters is what you’re looking to get out of your high school and even college experience (not to mention how your financial situation affects your decision).

Some good questions you should ask when thinking about AP® vs. dual enrollment:

  • Will my AP® or dual enrollment credits transfer to the school I want to go to?
  • Am I ready for a college-level course?
  • Am I a better test-taker? If so, AP® courses might be the way.
  • Do I want to get more of a college experience? If so, dual enrollment might be the way.

And if you want to get the full benefits of each, you can and probably should take both. There’s no rule against taking AP® courses along with dual enrollment.

Be sure to check out our resources for more help if you’re taking AP® courses.