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Which is better: AP or dual enrollment?

High-performing students learn quickly that they can earn college credits while in high school, either by taking Advanced Placement classes or by participating in a Dual Enrollment program with their local state college. Both programs net considerable savings on tuition, look excellent on a college transcript, and give students a head start on college. In this win-win situation, which should you choose?

You probably can’t go wrong with either, but there are measurable differences between the two, and learning more may give one program the edge. Let’s start with some basic facts about each.

Advanced Placement: College-level Classes at High School

The Advanced Placement (AP) Program, administered by CollegeBoard (the non-profit organization that also runs the SAT and PSAT), offers college-level courses that you can take in high school. Students prepare all year to take the AP exam in May, which costs between $95 and $143. Many high schools even cover the exam cost!

The scores on an AP exam range from 1 to 5. It’s always at the college’s discretion whether to grant credit, but usually a score of 3 or higher is considered a pass and worthy of college credit. (You can search to see if your AP score will meet the minimum requirement — and how many credit hours it will net — at the college of your choice.)

“AP classes are wonderful and it’s a great option, but the AP exam is not a guarantee,” said Calandra Stringer, provost and vice president of academic affairs at Tallahassee Community College. “And while a lot of students score a 3 or higher, not every student does. If your child is not a great tester, that may be something to consider.”

About Dual Enrollment: College Courses on College Campuses

Under Dual Enrollment, students simultaneously enroll at their high school and a Florida State College, usually starting in their junior year but sometimes before. Under Florida statute, all tuition and fees are waived; even textbooks are free. Students must apply for the program, and qualifications include an unweighted GPA of 3.0 or higher and demonstrated readiness via an SAT score, ACT score, or P.E.R.T. score — the Postsecondary Education Readiness Test that is Florida’s customized common placement test.

Dual-enrolled high schoolers could even graduate from high school with both their high school diploma and an associate’s degree — earned totally for free. And if they don’t quite achieve their AA, they can still leave with several college credits on their transcript. While some Dual Enrollment classes may be available online or at your child’s high school — where the instructor is considered both a high school teacher and an adjunct professor — students will typically attend classes partially at their high school and partially on their college campus.

Some parents and students see that on-campus college exposure as a blessing, whereas others aren’t quite so sure, Stringer said.

“Dual Enrollment is a great way to introduce students to college life, the college atmosphere,” Stringer said. “When our Dual Enrollment students graduate and go on to college, they’re some of the better students because they’re already acclimated to the atmosphere.

“On the other hand, we do understand that you only get one chance to go to high school,” she added. “If you have that pep rally and you really need to get back to high school at 3, we want you to let us know. If you’re at school for half of the day you’re not really losing anything. You’re still there and still part of what’s going on.”

More Considerations

Just as not all universities accept all passing AP exams for credit, not all universities accept all college credits earned at a state college. If your child plans to attend an in-state public school, however, this isn’t a concern and may in fact be a tremendous advantage.

Graduating early because you earned college credit in high school? Apply your leftover Prepaid Plan funds to graduate school, or transfer them to a sibling.

“Florida, in general, is known to be one of the best states when it comes to a seamless transfer from the state college to the university system,” Stringer said.

Even out-of-state credit transfers have the potential to go smoothly, said Heather Dietzold, Director of K-12 Partnerships at Northwest Florida State College. Florida state colleges are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, one of six regional organizations recognized by the United States Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. There can be hiccups in either direction — for students entering or exiting Florida — but advisers do their best to accommodate credit requests.

“One of the pieces of Dual Enrollment that I’d love students to take greater advantage of is working with the college staff, the advisers, the tutoring services,” Dietzold said. “For students who think they’ve made determinations about what they want to do, working with advisers on campus can be key. For a student who says, ‘I want to be a doctor someday; should I take General Biology or Principles of Biology?’ We can say, ‘Take the Principles of Biology!’ ”

Another benefit of Dual Enrollment is the assurance it gives them that they are college material.

“For our first-generation college students or those who have not had much exposure to the college environment, they gain that confidence that they can do it, they can handle it,” Dietzold said.

Making the Decision

Here’s a recap of the factors that may influence your decision:

  • Cost. The Florida Department of Education covers AP exam fees as part of its agreement with the College Board, but private school students may need to cover their own. Dual Enrollment classes are free in Florida.
  • Not all colleges and universities offer credit for all AP courses. Similarly, not all colleges and universities accept credit for all courses taken at state colleges. A notable exception for students staying in state: All public Florida colleges and universities accept credit earned at Florida state colleges.
  • College choice. If the student is considering attending an out-of-state or private university, that institution may be less familiar with Florida state college offerings and put more faith in the standardized, nationally recognized AP exam.
  • If the student performs well in school but not necessarily on three-hour standardized tests, an AP course may not be the best choice.
  • Course preferences. Which AP courses are available at your high school? What are the Dual Enrollment options? Consider that at a state college, students can take a number of introductory courses, i.e. Intro to Engineering or Intro to Business, that can help them narrow in on a major.
  • Although some Dual Enrollment courses may be offered at your child’s high school or online, the most varied selection will be offered on campus. You’ll need to assess your comfort, preference and transportation needs.
  • Dual-enrolled students are college students with all the rights that affords, including access to their professor’s office hours, advisors, the college library, research databases and more.

No matter which program you choose, your student can earn college credits before they even set foot on campus, skip introductory courses in college, and possibly graduate early — which saves money and allows they to pursue the passions even sooner. That sounds like a good choice to us!

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