Pros and Cons of Dual Enrollment

Many high school students are currently in the process of choosing their courses for the next academic year. High schools offer many course options for students, including several that allow students to earn college credit. A growing number of teens across the United States are choosing to enroll in college-level courses, such as:

  • Advanced Placement (AP). AP courses are college-level classes offered in your teen’s high school that require more work, independent learning and higher-level thinking than standard high school courses. At the end of the year, students are able to take a test to demonstrate their mastery of the subject. Although scoring a 3 is considered passing for an AP course, most colleges and universities only give college credit for the course if the student scores a 4 or a 5, with 5 being the highest possible score a student can receive. Regardless of whether your teen takes the test or scores highly, college admission officers look favorably on students taking these advanced courses.
  • International Baccalaureate (IB). Less common than AP courses, IB is an international program designed to create intercultural understanding and respect. The purpose of IB courses is to focus heavily on the integration of disciplines. When students enroll in an IB program, they are completing coursework over a two-year period and receive an IB diploma at the end of the program. IB students also take exams at the end of the academic year, and many colleges and universities will offer college credit in subjects where students received good test scores.
  • Dual Credit/Concurrent Credit. Most dual credit and concurrent credit courses are offered through the high school where the student actually earns college credit upon successful completion of the course (not dependent on an exam score). With many dual credit courses, students enroll in a local community college and take the courses online or at the college. Meanwhile, concurrent credit courses are often taken at the high school by an accredited teacher. The credit is awarded by that particular community college, which would apply towards a degree at that community college or ideally could be transferred to other colleges and universities.

Many parents like these options because, not only are students getting a taste of college coursework while in high school, but they also are earning college credits while simultaneously finishing their high school degrees. In fact, it is not uncommon for high school students to graduate with 20 or 30 college credits, which would then reduce overall college costs. However, there are also pitfalls in going this route.

Here is an overview of points to consider before making a decision about dual enrollment.

Advantages of Dual Enrollment

  • Cost-Effective. One of the biggest advantages to dual enrollment is the reduced cost of college. Many school districts cover the costs of dual enrollment, in essence providing free college credits. In addition, if your student enters college with several credits already, they can potentially graduate up to a year early, saving more money.
  • Graduate Early or With a Double Major. When students accumulate college credit in high school, they often enter college with a lot of the required courses completed. Accordingly, this allows them the freedom to either graduate early (saving money as discussed above), have the flexibility and time to take more electives, or more easily obtain a double major.
  • Credits Transfer to State Schools. In most states, the credits high school students earn while taking dual credit and concurrent credit courses are completely transferable to the state’s public universities.
  • Builds Confidence. One of the benefits of dual enrollment is that students enrolled in the courses begin to view themselves as capable of succeeding in college which builds their confidence for future college courses.
  • Facilitates Exploration. Since students are taking college courses during high school, they are able to determine whether or not they like a particular area of study without a lot of risk and cost. Dual enrollment allows students the opportunity to try different career fields before they enroll full-time in a university.
  • More Likely to Continue Education. Research has shown that high school students who enrolled in college-level classes were more likely to continue their college education compared with those who did not participate in dual enrollment.

Disadvantages of Dual Enrollment

  • Credits May Not Transfer. Although dual credit courses taken at a local community college will often transfer to a state school within the same state, the same may not be true for private or out-of-state colleges. If your student wants to apply to an Ivy League school or an out-of-state university, a better option might be AP courses.
  • Difficult to Determine the Rigor. AP and IB courses can be judged by a more consistent standard through the national exam whereas it can be difficult for college admissions officers to determine the quality of a dual credit course at a local community college.
  • Courses Become Part of the Transcript. Every grade the student earns in their college-level courses becomes part of their official high school transcript. Therefore, if your student is not ready for college-level work and does poorly in a particular subject, this could significantly hinder their ability to be accepted at their top-choice universities.
  • Missed Opportunities. By skipping freshmen-level courses in college, critics argue that students are missing important foundations and building blocks in their education that could disadvantage them later in their college coursework. In addition, they might also miss some valuable college experiences, such as community connection and preparation for internships or study abroad programs, that are built into freshmen year classes.
  • Limited Choices. The courses offered through dual enrollment are limited, and your student may be missing out on the richness of course offerings that would have been offered at the freshman level at the institution of their choice.
  • Immaturity. For students graduating with two years worth of college credit, they are entering college as an 18-year-old junior among 20-year-olds. The lack of maturity and experience can put them at a disadvantage in their courses and social interactions with classmates. In addition, they are forced to select a major without much time spent growing up or exploring options. Attending college is about more than just getting a degree. It also is a time when students come to know who they are and what their passions are.

How to Decide

The decision of whether to choose the basic high school curriculum, the IB program, AP courses or dual enrollment is a very personal one. Every student is different and it’s best to take into consideration your teen’s goals, preferred colleges and careers, and comfort level with advanced coursework. It’s important that you discuss the pros and cons of all course options with your teen, and that you really listen to what your teen wants. Ultimately, you will be much happier as a parent and your student will be more motivated and successful if you can come to an informed decision that best matches with your student’s interests and goals.

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