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Why Should I Earn College Credit in High School?

By Sawyer Hiton

Sawyer Hiton is a former scholarship and financial aid writer with Scholarships360. Previously, Sawyer worked with the nonprofit College Possible, supporting high school juniors in beginning their college plans and applications. Sawyer graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in Philosophy.

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Reviewed by Caitlyn Cole

Caitlyn Cole is a college access professional with a decade of experience in non-profit program and project management for college readiness and access organizations.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: March 19th, 2024
Why Should I Earn College Credit in High School?

Are you a high school student eager to begin your college journey? You may be able to get started early by earning college credits in high school. Fortunately, this article explores the many avenues you could take. We hope it helps you take one step closer to your college dreams.

Why should I earn college credit in high school?

You might still be on the fence about starting your college journey early because isn’t high school enough as it is? It may be that you’ll choose to complete high school without seeking any college credit. But first, consider these reasons why high school students pursue college credits since they can:

Save you money

Students are taking longer and longer to graduate college. This means more and more of a financial burden. If you can knock some of your college credits out the way before even beginning college, you’ll spend less time there and save more money. If you’re especially proactive in high school, you may even be able to graduate college early.

Related: How to graduate college in three years: Everything you need to know

Help you prepare for college-level academics

College classes are often more difficult than high school ones. They require more work, and a different kind of thinking with all new professors.

Pursuing college credits while in high school can serve as a college primer. If you prepare for college by taking AP classes for instance (discussed in the next section), by the time you get to college you’ll be more ready for the challenge of college academics.

Challenge you in beneficial ways

Does high school bore you? Do you want to study harder concepts and read tougher books? Or maybe there’s a class you want to take but your high school doesn’t offer it. 

Pursuing college credits can spice up your high school life by offering you college-level depth and specificity. It could be just what you need to stay engaged in your studies.

See also: Why you should take Advanced Placement tests

Look great on your college applications

Seeking college credits while still in high school takes determination and passion. The colleges you apply to understand this, so when they see college credits on your transcript, they’ll know you are a high-level student. Colleges want students who go above and beyond to challenge themselves, so your college credits will actually help you get into college and could even help you receive more scholarship money.

Remember, it is important to also perform well in these classes–it’s not enough to simply have them on your transcript. 

Learn more: Top scholarships for high school sophomores

How to earn college credits in high school

So you’ve decided that earning college credit is right for you. But how exactly do you do it? Below are the five most commonly pursued credit-granting opportunities. 

Advanced Placement (AP)

AP classes are college-level classes offered at many high schools across the country. There are more than 30 AP classes offered, in a wide range of subjects. Once you complete an AP class, you take the corresponding AP test. 

How you do on that test determines whether or not you receive college credit in the subject area. More than 2,600 colleges and universities around the world accept AP scores as college credit. AP scores can also allow you to skip prerequisite courses at your college and move on to the harder stuff.

Even if you choose not to take the AP test, an AP class still provides a great opportunity for a more rigorous academic setting. You’ll engage with more difficult concepts, and read and write more. 

Conversely, you can also take an AP test without having taken the class. If you’ve been studying piano since you were a kid, you might consider taking the AP music theory test even if you have taken the official class. This is an excellent way to receive college credit for knowledge you already possess.

For more information on the AP program, check out its College Board website.

Also see: Earn college credit without taking AP Classes through self-study

International Baccalaureate (IB)

Whereas the AP program is based around tests, IB is more officially a “program.” IB students study 6 different disciplines including foreign language, and engage in 3 main elements: theory of knowledge, the self-directed extended essay, and a project related to creativity, activity, and service.

In this holistic approach to learning, the IB program is similar to a liberal arts education. Having completed these requirements, IB students graduate with an IB diploma.

IB credits can transfer to college credits, and participating in the IB program not only helps students get into college, but helps them fare better once there. The only drawback to IB is accessibility. While lots of high schools provide AP classes, not many offer the IB program.

For a list of IB high schools, check out the IB website.

Related: IB vs. AP Classes

College Level Examination Program (CLEP)

Like AP, the CLEP is a College Board program centered around testing. Unlike AP, there are no classes associated with CLEP tests. 

For credit, all students need to do is sign up and pay for tests, and pass them. And more than 60% of test takers reported that knowledge from standard high school classes was enough to navigate test material. This could be the right avenue for you if you’re a good test-taker and want to save time and money. 

There are 34 different test areas, so find one that fits your niche and sign up!

Also see: Top colleges that accept CLEP

Dual Enrollment

AP and IB programs offer a college environment at your high school, but why not try actual college while still in high school? High school students can choose to enroll in local community colleges or universities if they want to earn college credit, sample college academics, or pursue a course not offered by their high school. 

Dual enrollment may be a good choice if your high school doesn’t have an AP or IB program. If you’re interested in dual enrollment, talk to your high school counselor, or search the internet for dual enrollment opportunities in your state. If you’re curious about dual enrollment in general, check out this article from the Education Commission.

Summer/Winter programs

If pursuing college credits during your high school year is too time-consuming, summer or winter study might be the best option for you. Many colleges and universities offer summer or winter sessions for high school juniors and seniors. This can be an immersive experience, with participants gaining access into a sliver of college life. 

However, this opportunity is not for everybody. These programs tend to be expensive (though aid is usually available) and reserved for only students with certain GPAs. 

Choosing between the above options can be a matter of convenience. High schools usually offer AP or IB programs, but not both. By a similar token, some colleges prefer AP to IB, or the other way around. Make your decision based on where you are right now, and where you want to go. 

You don’t necessarily need to pick only one of the above avenues. You can, for example, take AP classes and also take a community college course over the summer. Get creative and maximize your high school time!

Related: Top 10 summer programs for high school students

Tips for earning and transferring credits

Know that by choosing to pursue college credits you are choosing a more rigorous path. This is a good thing, as you will become a better learner, and a more prepared student. Be prepared to work hard, and manage your time and stress. 

Also remember that there will be a literal “learning curve”—your pursuit may be difficult at first and you might even make some mistakes, but you’ll get used to it and grow in the process.

Note that your credits only become official when your college or university authorizes them. This can be a complicated procedure. Some schools or departments won’t accept AP scores for credit but will let students use them to skip introductory courses. 

If you’re deciding between credit-granting programs and you know what school you wish to attend, reach out to them to learn their specific policy. If you’ve already pursued your college credits, self-advocate to guarantee you’ll get the most out of them. Talk to your high school counselor or your college advisor to ensure your hard work wasn’t for naught.  

Now you know a lot more about how to earn college credit in high school. Don’t be afraid to take the leap, as it could save you time and money, and enrich your life!

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Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Earning college credits while in high school can be a great way to save money and time, so that you can maximize your college experience 
  • It might even allow you to graduate early or challenge yourself in a new way!
  • You can earn college credits through Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), CLEP, and dual enrollment programs
  • Some summer and winter programs also offer students a chance to earn college credits as well. If you have free time on your next break, check them out!
  • College courses are a lot different from high school ones, so pursuing these credits will take focus and tenacity 
  • Be sure to research which colleges will accept your credits before signing up for any programs
Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions about earning college credit in high school

What happens if I do poorly on an AP exam?

Unlike other standardized tests, AP exams cannot be retaken if you don’t get the score you’d like unless you take the class again. Fortunately, AP exam scores don’t impact your GPA, and you can choose whether or not to send your scores to your colleges of choice. Still try to do your best and study since you likely spent time and money preparing for the exam. Check out our guide on how to study for AP exams!

How much is an IB exam

Schools that offer IB classes and exams are charged a certain rate per student depending on the program, and the school then decides how much students will have to pay. This amount can vary depending on your school, so speak to your counselor to find out more.

How do I know if a college will take my credits?

Colleges will often accept scores above a 3 for AP exams, but you should always check school policies to be sure. Usually, schools will have a transfer credit webpage that covers their procedures, but you can also reach out to academic advisors as well.

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