With college tuition increasing every year, earning credits before you enroll can be a smart move. It could not only help you save money on tuition, but you could also graduate early and show college admissions officers that you can handle college-level coursework.
If you're interested in jump-starting your college education, you can get a head start while in high school. But even if you've already completed that part of your education, you may still be able to take advantage of some of these options—and all of their benefits.
Advanced Placement (AP) Courses
AP offers high school students more than 30 courses on a range of subjects, each designed to reflect the rigor of actual college classes. At the end of an AP course, students can opt to take an exam to demonstrate what they've learned. Some colleges offer credit, allow you to skip that course requirement, or possibly both if your AP exam results are high enough.
Interested in taking an AP course? You don’t have to be a "straight A" student—you just have to be ready for the challenge. Talk to your teacher or guidance counselor about the next steps. Even if you can't get into an AP class or your school doesn't offer the class, you can take the test by studying on your own. It's a great way to develop the self-study skills that can help make you successful in college.
The fee for each AP exam is $93, but students with financial need may be eligible for cost reductions and subsidies. The tests are administered at high schools each year in May. Just remember that every college has its own policies about AP credit. Before paying for the exam, check with the colleges of your choice to see if they accept AP credits and learn how they'll apply these to your education.
Dual enrollment means taking a college course while you're still in high school for high school and college credits. You may be able to take more than one course—some school districts even allow students to earn an entire 2-year associate degree by the time they graduate high school!
What you'll pay depends on the relationship your high school has with its college partner (some schools offer free courses). Because community colleges typically take part in these programs, the cost per credit is probably less than you'd pay at a 4-year college. Just keep in mind that you will not be eligible for federal financial aid while dually enrolled.
Besides potential tuition savings and early college graduation, college classes might better position you for an academic scholarship. And recent studies show that students who participate in dual-enrollment programs are 10% more likely to complete their bachelor's degree than those who don't.
The rules for dual-enrollment participation vary by state, so check with your guidance counselor to see if you qualify. If you do, make sure the class will transfer to the colleges that interest you (some colleges want students to take all their major courses at their college, for example). Each college has its own credit policy, so ask how many credits, if any, you'd receive for a dual-enrollment class.
CLEP And DSST
Whether you're in high school or attending college as a nontraditional student, you can receive credit for what you already know—and for far less money than a college might charge.
The College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) offers 33 exams in five subject areas, covering material taught in courses that you would normally take in your first 2 years of college. You can earn three or more college credits by passing a CLEP exam. The exact number varies by college, though, and some schools limit your total number of CLEP credits.
More than 2,900 schools nationwide accept CLEP credit. Still, before you take a test, you should still check with the colleges that you want to attend to make sure they will. Exams cost $80 and are administered throughout the year at 1,800 test centers in the United States and abroad.
DSST is a similar program to CLEP, offering students the chance to receive college credits by passing an exam. DSST offers more than 30 tests as well, with costs also as low as $80. Only 1,900 schools nationwide recognize DSST exams, though, so definitely review your college’s policy before signing up.