Pros and Cons of Dual Enrollment in High School

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Growing numbers of high school students across the United States are enrolling in college courses through dual enrollment and concurrent enrollment programs provided by their school districts. Not only are they 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.

For many students, these programs have enormous payoffs, including reducing overall college costs, higher GPAs during their first year of college, early graduation from college, and early acceptance into masters degree programs. But, there are some downsides too, like less exposure to the core curriculum and the potential that a high school junior isn't ready yet for the college environment.

Plus, many parents question whether or not dual enrollment or more traditional AP courses are the best paths for their students.

The Difference

There are several ways in which high school students can prepare for college. For instance, there are AP courses, dual enrollment, concurrent enrollment, and in some schools, IB courses. Knowing what is best for your student begins with knowing what exactly these courses are, how they are measured, and what they provide.

Advanced Placement (AP)

AP courses are run by the College Board, the same organization that designs and administers the SAT and SAT Subject Tests. Since it is a United States-based program, most colleges and universities within the country recognize AP courses for their rigorous and college-level curriculum.

These courses typically require more work, independent learning, and higher-level thinking than standard high school courses. Plus, there is a test at the completion of the year-long course where students can demonstrate their mastery of a particular subject.

Although scoring a 3 is considered passing for an AP course, some colleges only give credit for the course if the student scores a 4 or a 5, with 5 being the highest possible score a student can receive.

In fact, some schools only accept the score of a 5 for college credit, while some of the elite schools do not accept any AP courses for credit. Still, college admission officers of these schools expect to see these types of courses on a student's transcript.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

Less common in high schools in the United States than AP courses, the IB diploma program is an international program for youths ages 16 to 19. It is designed to create intercultural understanding and respect and focuses 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.

Students in the program also fine-tune their research skills and participate in community outreach. If students opt for the IB program, most college admissions officials suggest that they complete the full program in order to receive the diploma at the end.

Dual Credit/Concurrent Credit

Most dual credit and concurrent credit courses are offered through a student's high school where they actually earn college credit upon successful completion of the course. 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.

Typically, college credits for dual and concurrent credit courses are awarded by community colleges like Columbus State or Central Ohio Technical College in Ohio, or Houston Community College or Lone Star College in Texas, and so on, depending on the state and the area.

The credit from these courses then ideally can be transferred to other colleges and universities.

Parents often like dual credit programs because students can earn college credit before graduating high school.

In the end, this can save the student and their family time and money.

The Pros and Cons

When determining whether or not your student should consider dual enrollment, it is best to weigh the pros and the cons. Most admissions counselors indicate that if you plan strategically, taking either AP, IB, or dual enrollment courses can benefit the student tremendously.

The key is determining what is recommended by the colleges and universities that your child is interested in. Here is an overview of some other points to consider before making a decision about dual enrollment.

Advantages of Dual Enrollment


One of the biggest advantages to dual enrollment is the fact that it helps close the college affordability gap. There are many public school districts across the country that are not only offering dual enrollment, but they also are covering the cost of those classes, including fees and books. As a result, college becomes much more affordable for a number of students. It also helps reduce the amount of debt a student could potentially need to take on in order to pay for college down the road.

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. Additionally, some private colleges within the state also will accept the credit. However, it is always important to confirm this ahead of time.

Builds Confidence

One of the benefits of dual enrollment is that students enrolled in the courses begin to view themselves as college-capable. In other words, they recognize that they have the ability to do well in a college-level course, and it builds their confidence for future college courses.

Makes College Attainable

For many low-income, first-generation, and minority students, dual enrollment can make college more attainable for them. Not only is the program offered through their high school improving their ease of access, but it also is often fully funded by their district. For some marginalized students, dual enrollment helps make college attendance possible.

Allows 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.

As a result, a student may discover that they no longer want to pursue nursing but would rather pursue education instead.

Dual enrollment allows a student the opportunity to try things before they enroll full-time in a university.

Graduate Early or With a Double Major

Since students begin accumulating their college credit in high school, they often enter college with a lot of the required courses completed. Consequently, this leaves more time for electives and double majors. It also helps students graduate early if they enter college as a sophomore instead of as a freshman.

More Likely to Continue Education

Students who enrolled in community college classes were more likely to continue their college education compared with those who do not participate in dual enrollment. In fact, according to a Columbia University study, 88% of dual enrollment students continued on to college after high school.

Consequently, researchers concluded that getting even a small head start in high school can have a significant impact on future educational choices.

Disadvantages of Dual Enrollment

Credits May Not Transfer

Although dual credit courses taken at a local community college will almost always transfer to a state school within the same state, the same may not be true for private colleges. It is always best to check first. Additionally, if your student wants to apply to schools out of state and you opt for dual enrollment, you need to realize that many of those hard-earned credits may not transfer.

Many, if not all of the credits earned at a community college will not transfer to an Ivy League school as well as a number of other elite schools. As a result, if your student is headed down that path, you may want to opt for AP courses instead.

Difficult to Determine the Rigor

Many officials regard AP courses as a mark of a school's rigor and use these courses as a guide to determine a school's quality. AP courses can be judged by a more consistent standard through the national exam, whereas it can be difficult to determine the quality of a dual credit course. For many colleges, especially the more selective ones, AP courses are still the preferred courses.

Courses Become Part of the Transcript

If your student feels like they will not succeed in or does not wish to take a particular dual credit course, by all means, there's no reason to force him/her them to take it. Every grade the student earns becomes part of their official transcript. As a result, doing poorly in a particular subject could hinder a student's chances of being accepted to their target universities.

May Miss Out on Internships and Study Abroad Opportunities

Many colleges and universities have their internship programs structured for a junior year with application deadlines occurring during sophomore year. If a high school student enters college as a junior, they may miss out on these opportunities due to missed deadlines.

Provide Student With Less Repetition

Although students are gaining college credit for certain courses, they may be missing some important course repetition, some critics argue. In other words, when a student takes a dual credit composition class in order to meet a high school English requirement, that is one less English class the student takes in the end. To some parents and educators, this is a big deal that can have a significant impact.

Limited Choices

Sometimes the options offered through dual enrollment are limited. As a result, the student has to take what is offered. Even though they earn college credit for the course, they 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.

Declare a Major at a Young Age

For students graduating with two years' worth of college credit, they are entering college as an 18-year-old junior among 21-year-olds. The lack of maturity and experience can put them at a disadvantage in their courses, especially if they are already immature for their age. They also are forced to select a major without much time spent growing up.

Miss out on the Process of College

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. Rushing this process can result in them missing out on a number of social and emotional developmental milestones that occur during four years in college. As a result, they enter the workforce at a younger age and with less experience.

May Impact Athletic Eligibility

If your student is an athlete, you need to be sure that the dual enrollment courses do not impact athletic eligibility at the high school. Additionally, if your student-athlete is being recruited by a college, taking college-level courses may impact college eligibility as well. It is always best to research these areas in your particular state before committing to an education plan.

How to Decide

When deciding whether or not dual or concurrent enrollment is the right option for your child, you need to consider a host of factors.

First, ask your student what they hope to major in as well as where they would most like to attend college.

Keep in mind that every institution has its own set of guidelines as far as what will be accepted as credit and what will not be accepted. For instance, some elite universities do not award college credit for AP exams; some will not accept credit for dual enrollment courses.

Meanwhile, a number of admissions officers admit that they still like to see AP courses on an applicant's transcript. They view the courses as a sign that the student can handle challenging coursework, even if they do not award credit for the exam. As a result, the best thing to do is to make a list of your child's target schools and determine what their requirements are as well as what they accept credit for. This will help you determine what the best option might be.

So, if your student has their heart set on attending an Ivy League school, it might be better for them to take AP courses with a few dual credit courses here and there. But, if your student plans to attend a state school and major in business or computer science, it might be better to opt for mostly dual or concurrent credit courses with just a few AP courses here and there. The key is to do your research, ask questions, and formulate a plan as early as possible.

Another option is for you and your student to meet with an advisor or professor at their preferred college to determine which avenue is most recommended. The professor can provide insight into what types of courses the student will be taking once they are enrolled so that they can make wise selections while in high school that will complement the college's coursework.

A Word From Verywell

The decision on whether or not to choose dual enrollment or AP courses, or simply stick with the basic high school curriculum, is an extremely personal one. Remember, no two students are exactly the same. As a result, what works for one student will not work for another. For this reason, it is best to meet regularly with your school's counselors and the administrators facilitating the program so that you and your student can make a decision that is not only informed but also one your student is comfortable with.

Remember, just because you have a desire for them to graduate high school with a high school diploma and an associate degree does not mean that they will be on board with it. So, be sure you make a decision that everyone can agree to. You will all be much happier, and your student will be more successful in the end.

9 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Community College Research Center. What Happens to Students Who Take Community College "Dual Enrollment" Courses in High School?.

  2. Barnett E, Maclutsky E, Wagonlander C. Emerging early college models for traditionally underserved students. In: New Directions for Community Colleges. Wiley Periodicals, Inc.; 2015. doi:10.1002/cc.20131

  3. College Board. AP Credit Policy Search.

  4. International Baccalaureate. Diploma Programme.

  5. National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships. What is concurrent enrollment.

  6. The Brookings Institution. States be aware: Cost savings for dual enrollment elude state ledgers.

  7. Community College Research Center. The Dual Enrollment Playbook: A Guide to Equitable Acceleration for Students.

  8. National Council of Teachers of English. Dual enrollment: promises and problems.

  9. NCAA. Guide for the College-Bound Student-Athlete.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.