The Pros and Cons of Dual Credit Courses

This post is part of a week-long series to help new high school and college students prepare for their freshman year. Throughout this week, visit the Varsity Tutors blog for advice, tips, and tricks for this critical transition.

High school poses many challenging choices—what extracurriculars to participate in, when to sit for standardized tests like the ACT and SAT, and which style of classes to take. In addition to general coursework, students can choose to take college-level courses in the form of AP, IB, or dual credit. As the name suggests, dual credit courses allow you to earn credits accepted by both high schools and colleges. Knowing if dual credit courses are the right choice for you is dependent on many factors. To ensure you’re making an educated decision, it’s key to understand the pros and cons of dual credit courses, including the ability to sample a college workload and the reality that not all colleges accept dual credits.  

The decision to take college-level courses in high school is based off of many factors, including course offerings at your school and individual goals. Keep reading to learn the pros and cons of dual credit courses.

Dual credit pro #1: you can gain a college advantage

Enrolling in dual credit courses while in high school can benefit you throughout your college career. First, dual credit courses are often significantly more affordable per credit hour than taking the equivalent class while in college. Second, these credits may count toward general requirements, and they may allow you to graduate early or to have more time in your schedule to take major-related or elective courses.

Additionally, dual credit courses can give you the competitive edge you need to boost your transcript and college applications. This is especially effective if your high school doesn’t offer AP or IB courses, or if the college you’d like to attend already has an existing partnership with a community college that you can take courses at.

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Dual credit pro #2: you can sample a college workload and course style

Dual credit courses introduce you to the expected workload of a college class. They give you an idea of what college-level courses will require of you, such as project and exam expectations. You’ll also be able to get a head start on developing college study habits well before your freshman year. Note participation requirements and the lengths of required readings in an effort to prepare yourself for what classes will look like in college.

College courses are offered in many different styles, and dual credit courses may offer you similar flexibility. Note that you may have the ability to take dual credit courses in a variety of formats, such as:

  • At your high school

  • At a local community college

  • Online

Taking dual credit courses on a college campus or online may give you access to faculty and resources at that particular institution. Examine all available options to decide which might work best with your preferred learning style.

Dual credit pro #3: you can explore your interests

While you may not know just yet what your college major will be, taking a dual credit course can allow you to explore classes in your areas of interest in a low-risk environment. Sometimes, regular high school courses can be limited in their offerings. If you have even the faintest idea of what you’d like to pursue in college, seek out dual credit courses that would support that. Spend time in those classes identifying whether or not this focus area is the right fit for you. Pinpointing areas of interest could save you time and money down the road.

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Dual credit con #1: not all colleges accept dual credits

This is one of the most important factors to consider when examining dual credit courses. Even if you do all of the work and perform well in the course, your intended college may not accept dual credit due to specific policies. Regardless of if you’re unsure which college you’ll ultimately attend, it can be helpful to gather as much information as possible on the topic. Contact the colleges to which you’re applying and ask about their acceptance of dual credits. Take this information and factor it into your decision.

Dual credit con #2: they may not provide the challenge you’re looking for

When deciding if dual credit courses are the right fit for you, don’t forget to consider how they may stack up against other options at your school, like AP courses. For example, if you take a dual credit course while your school offers and is known for rigorous AP courses, the dual credit class may not give you the competitive edge that you’re looking for.

Keep in mind that it’s about what works best for you, though. For example, you might want to take a less rigorous dual credit course because it’ll challenge you the appropriate amount. Talk to your academic counselor to discover which option will be best for you.  

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Dual credit con #3: the grades are permanent

Unlike regular high school courses, grades from a dual credit course—because they’re also college courses—will have their own college transcript. If you’re concerned about succeeding in a particular dual credit course, be honest with yourself before enrolling. It’s great to be ambitious in your course choices, but be realistic as well.

Reach out to classmates, teachers, and your counselor to see how they’ve experienced dual credit courses. You’ll be able to make a more informed decision about what’s right for your present and future once you take stock of the options. As a side benefit, you’ll learn more about how the college process works and what kinds of opportunities—and potential roadblocks—you’ll encounter along the way.

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