Many high school students take advanced classes to challenge themselves, prepare for college, and become more competitive in the college admissions process. Depending on what is available at their high school, students might take Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), or dual-enrollment classes (classes offered in partnership with a local two- or four-year college). However, another reason students may take such classes is because they hope to earn college credit for them, thereby reducing the cost of their college education.
But does taking these classes actually save students money? The answer, as with so many aspects of college admissions, is “it depends.” In order to get college credit for an AP or IB class, students must earn a certain score on the corresponding exam, and the minimum score varies from college to college and course to course. Generally speaking, more selective colleges are less generous in awarding AP and IB credit than are less selective colleges.
For example, at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU), a student can get 8 semester hours of biology credit (the equivalent of two classes) for getting a 4 or 5 on the AP Biology test. No credit is awarded for scoring a 3 on the test. In contrast, a 3 on the AP Spanish Language exam is worth 3 Spanish credits (1 class) at CU. At the more selective Colorado College, a 4 or 5 on the AP Biology exam is worth 1 unit (1 class) of biology credit. On the Spanish Language exam, a student must score a 4 or 5 to get 1 unit of credit.
Some of the nation’s most selective colleges have stopped awarding AP and IB credit altogether. According to a 2016 study, nine of the top 153 colleges ranked by U.S. News and World Report do not offer AP credit at all. Dartmouth “grants credit on entrance [to the college] for AP and IB examinations” and puts these credits on a student’s transcript, but the credits do not count toward the college’s graduation requirements. Brown does not award any credit for AP; its policy for IB is more complicated.
The situation is even more complicated with dual-enrollment classes. A recent Wall Street Journal article reported that far more students are taking such classes than they were just a few years ago. Typically, school districts foot the bill for these classes, which makes them all the more appealing. While students are guaranteed credit if they enroll in the college or university through which a dual-enrollment class is offered, they may not get credit at another college. As with AP and IB, more selective colleges tend to be less likely to give students credit for dual-enrollment classes.
According to the aforementioned article, as high schools have expanded their dual-enrollment course offerings, the way in which these classes are structured has changed. In the past, students took such courses on a college campus with a college instructor, and their classmates mostly were college students. Now, it’s much more likely that a dual-enrollment class will be taught at a high school by a high school teacher to only high school students.
Not surprisingly, some colleges are skeptical of the latter type of dual-enrollment classes. According to The Wall Street Journal, Tulane University “will consider awarding credit only for dual-enrollment classes taught on a college campus, by a college professor, and intended mainly for college students.”
The bottom line is that there is no guarantee that you will actually get college credit (and thereby save money) by taking AP, IB, and/or dual-enrollment courses. If you’re interested in certain colleges, you can check their websites to learn about their policies for awarding credit for these classes. Yet, regardless of whether you’ll get credit, it is still advisable to take such courses if your high school offers them, as they can help you prepare for college and make you a more attractive applicant.