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What Is Dual Enrollment: Save Thousands on College Tuition

Help Your Teen Get Ahead With Dual Enrollment

Did you know there’s a way to earn college credit in high school, besides taking advanced placement classes?

It’s called dual enrollment and, these days, more than 40 states offer these programs.

Dual enrollment classes let high school students take classes at public universities.

These classes count toward a student’s high school graduation requirements, but they also count toward a bachelor’s or associate’s degree. For example, in Ohio, students taking classes through the state’s College Credit Plus (CCP) program can earn credits that transfer to any public institution in the state.

And these classes are usually free.

Here are the eight things you need to know to send your kid to college before they finish high school and earn those free college credits.

1. Find the dual enrollment program in your state.

Check the list of participating states to see if there is an eligible program in your state. Then find out the rules of your state’s dual enrollment program. Some things to look for:

  • Deadlines: In Ohio, students must let a high school know by April 1 that they intend to enroll in College Credit Plus.
  • Score Requirement on ACT or SAT: In Ohio, participating institutions typically require a certain minimum score on the ACT or SAT to qualify.
  • GPA: In many states, students must have good academic standing at their high school.

2. Save college tuition dollars.

Dual enrollment saves you money because your student gets to take college-level classes for free. Say your student takes a foreign language class through a dual enrollment program. When she goes to college, she takes those credits with her.

That’s one class you won’t have to pay for, unless your student is not planning to attend an in-state public institution (See #2). “Assuming the college will accept credits, you can really save yourself some money,” says Mandee Heller Adler, founder of the Florida-based International College Counselors. “My sister graduated from college in two years because she did all the dual enrollment classes.”

3. Save the most with in-state public institutions.

In most states, public institutions are required to take credits earned through dual enrollment. However, private colleges are not required to take these credits nor are out-of-state public institutions. That means your student may still have to take—and you will still have to pay for—that foreign language class she took via dual enrollment, if your student attends a private or out-of-state institution.

That said, some institutions may still accept the credits if a student can show evidence that a class met the institution’s own criteria. “That’s why I always tell students to save their syllabi,” says Debra Lamm, academic advisor and College Credit Plus coordinator at Kent State University in Ohio.

4. Grades will also transfer.

Yes, your student gets the credit. But she also gets the grade. Low grades in dual enrollment classes can impact your student’s college grade point average (which can be harmful if your student wants to apply to graduate school, especially in a competitive area like medicine).

5. Lighten your teen’s college academic load.

In addition to cutting your student’s tuition, earning college credit in high school can also take some pressure off of your student when he gets to campus. Credits earned via dual enrollment are classes your student won’t have to take in college. This can free up time to study, work, or pursue internships. “You can take the bare minimum that is required to be on financial aid, instead of what some students do, which is take 18 credits a semester,” notes Lamm.

6. Give your teen an opportunity to explore an interest or even a major.

“For example, you’re a student who is really interested in music and there’s a cool music class at the community college,” says Heller Adler. “Or you want to take Arabic, which your high school doesn’t offer.”

Dual enrollment allows you to pursue those subjects. Meanwhile, dual enrollment is also a way to explore particular majors for free, while still in high school. Switching a major while already in college—which studies show happens for the majority of students—costs time and money. “Students can explore when not so much is at stake,” explains Lamm.

7. Give your student a chance to take more challenging classes.

Not all high schools are equally rigorous, and then some students are just ahead of their peers. Dual enrollment enables students who have already completed what their high school offers in a particular subject to continue in that subject at the college level.

“Say you are at the end of what your high school has to offer in math,” says Lamm. “It makes sense to come take advantage of what a college has to offer.”

8. Consider whether dual enrollment is a better option than AP.

Students who plan to attend selective private or out-of-state institutions can still take advantage of dual-enrollment programs like College Credit Plus. But they need to tread somewhat carefully. A general rule of thumb for these students is that it’s better to take the AP-or-equivalent class offered at your high school than to take a dual-enrollment class. At the most elite colleges, dual enrollment may be perceived as taking an easier academic route.

“If you want to apply to Harvard, and you want to replace all your core classes with dual enrollment, you’re not fooling anybody,” cautions Heller Adler. “That can be a big red flag.”

Still, for students who plan to continue at an in-state public university — even the most selective in their own state —dual enrollment can be a better bet than AP because the credits are guaranteed to transfer.

“In order to get college credit for an AP class, the student must get a particular score on the AP test,” points out Kent State’s Lamm. “Typically they have to score a 3, 4, or 5, depending on the institution. But with College Credit Plus, it’s a college class and they will get the credit.”

Diana Simeon

Diana Simeon is an editorial consultant for Your Teen.