Taking college-level courses while in high school allows you to get a head start on your undergraduate degree and potentially save thousands in tuition. But with so many options like AP, IB, dual enrollment, and CLEP, it can be confusing to know where to begin.

If you’re short on time, the main ways to earn college credit are: AP and IB exams, dual enrollment at community college, CLEP subject exams, and certain career-focused pathways. Choose options aligned with your college plans that demonstrate academic rigor.

In this comprehensive 3000 word guide, we’ll break down all the ways high schoolers can earn college credit along with tips for maximizing these opportunities.

Overview of AP and IB Classes

For high school students looking to get a head start on their college education, Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes offer excellent opportunities to earn college credit.

These rigorous courses not only challenge students academically but also provide them with a chance to showcase their knowledge and skills to colleges and universities.

AP course overview and exam format

AP classes are offered in various subjects such as English, math, science, history, and foreign languages. These courses follow a standardized curriculum developed by the College Board. At the end of the course, students have the option to take the corresponding AP exam.

The exam is typically a combination of multiple-choice questions, free-response questions, and in some cases, performance-based assessments. Scoring well on the AP exam can earn students college credit, depending on the policies of the individual colleges or universities.

IB Diploma Programme explained

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme is a comprehensive two-year curriculum that covers a wide range of subjects. It includes six subject groups: studies in language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics, and the arts.

In addition to academic coursework, students also engage in extracurricular activities, complete an extended essay, and participate in the Theory of Knowledge course. The IB Diploma is highly regarded by colleges and universities worldwide and can potentially earn students college credit.

Scoring required to earn college credit

The scoring requirements to earn college credit for AP and IB exams vary from institution to institution. Some colleges may require a minimum score of 3 out of 5 on the AP exam, while others may require a score of 4 or 5. Similarly, colleges may have different score requirements for IB exams.

It is important for students to research the credit policies of the colleges they are interested in attending to understand the specific requirements for earning college credit.

Subjects that top colleges award credit for

Many top colleges and universities award college credit for AP and IB exams in a variety of subjects. Some common subjects for which credit is awarded include English, mathematics, science (biology, chemistry, physics), history, foreign languages, and computer science.

However, it is important to note that each college has its own credit policies, so it is essential for students to check with their prospective institutions to determine which exams and subjects are eligible for college credit.

For more information on AP courses and exams, visit the official College Board website: https://apstudent.collegeboard.org/home

For more information on the IB Diploma Programme, visit the official International Baccalaureate website: https://www.ibo.org/programmes/diploma-programme/

Dual Enrollment at Community College

One option for high school students looking to earn college credit is through dual enrollment programs at community colleges. This allows students to take college-level courses while still in high school, giving them a head start on their college education.

How dual enrollment works

In dual enrollment, students enroll in courses at a local community college and earn both high school and college credit for the classes they successfully complete. These courses are often taught on the college campus, but some schools also offer online options.

Students typically have the opportunity to choose from a wide range of subjects, including English, math, science, and foreign languages.

According to a recent study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, students who participate in dual enrollment programs are more likely to graduate from college on time and earn higher GPAs compared to their peers who did not participate in such programs.

Advantages over AP/IB

Dual enrollment has several advantages over Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) programs. Unlike AP or IB courses, which require students to pass an exam to earn college credit, dual enrollment courses automatically grant college credit upon successful completion.

This can save students time and money since they can skip introductory-level courses in college.

Additionally, dual enrollment courses are often taught by college professors, giving students a taste of what college-level coursework is like. This experience can better prepare them for the rigors of higher education and help them transition smoothly from high school to college.

Application process and requirements

The application process for dual enrollment varies depending on the community college and high school. Typically, students must meet certain criteria, such as having a minimum GPA and being in good academic standing.

Some schools also require students to take a placement test to determine their readiness for college-level coursework.

For more information on the application process and requirements, students can visit the websites of their local community colleges or speak with their high school guidance counselors.

Best classes to take for general education credits

When selecting courses for dual enrollment, it’s a good idea to focus on classes that will fulfill general education requirements in college. These are typically courses in subjects like English composition, math, science, and social sciences.

By taking these classes in high school, students can potentially save time and money by not having to take them again in college.

The American Council on Education (ACE) recommends that students consult with their prospective colleges to ensure that the dual enrollment courses they take will transfer and count towards their intended degree programs.

CLEP and DSST Exam Options

If you’re a high school student looking to get a head start on earning college credit, you may want to consider taking CLEP (College-Level Examination Program) and DSST (DANTES Subject Standardized Tests) exams.

These exams offer an opportunity for you to demonstrate your knowledge in various subjects and potentially earn college credit before even stepping foot on a college campus.

What CLEP and DSST tests are

CLEP and DSST exams are standardized tests that assess your understanding of college-level material in a specific subject. By passing these exams, you can earn college credits that may be accepted by many colleges and universities.

CLEP exams are offered by the College Board and cover a wide range of subjects, including English literature, biology, psychology, and more. On the other hand, DSST exams are offered by Prometric and cover similar subjects as CLEP exams, but with some variations.

Subjects and passing scores

Both CLEP and DSST exams cover a variety of subjects, ranging from mathematics and science to social sciences and humanities. Each exam has its own passing score, which is typically determined by the American Council on Education (ACE) and varies depending on the subject.

For example, the passing score for the CLEP College Algebra exam is 50, while the passing score for the DSST Principles of Statistics exam is 400.

Where credit is awarded

If you pass a CLEP or DSST exam, you may be eligible to receive college credit at participating colleges and universities. However, it’s important to note that each institution has its own policies regarding which exams they accept and the amount of credit awarded.

Some schools may only accept certain exams or may have specific score requirements for granting credit. It’s always a good idea to check with the admissions office or academic advisor at the college you plan to attend to understand their specific policies.

Strategies for preparing and registering

Preparing for CLEP and DSST exams requires a combination of studying and practice. There are many resources available, including study guides, practice exams, and online courses, to help you prepare for these tests.

It’s important to create a study plan and allocate enough time to review the material thoroughly.

When it comes to registering for the exams, you can typically do so online through the respective exam provider’s website. Make sure to check the exam dates and locations to find the most convenient option for you.

Additionally, be aware of any registration deadlines and fees associated with the exams.

Career and Technical Education Pathways

High school CTE programs with articulation agreements

Many high schools offer Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs that can help students earn college credit while still in high school. These programs are designed to provide hands-on training and education in specific career fields, such as automotive technology, culinary arts, or graphic design.

What makes these programs even more valuable is that some high schools have articulation agreements in place with colleges and universities, which means that the college credits earned in high school can be transferred and applied towards a degree program.

This can save students both time and money in the long run, as they can potentially enter college with a significant number of credits already completed.

Industries with opportunities like IT, healthcare, business

CTE programs cover a wide range of industries, but some of the most popular ones include Information Technology (IT), healthcare, and business. With the increasing demand for skilled workers in these fields, high school students who participate in CTE programs related to IT, healthcare, or business have a greater chance of finding job opportunities and advancing in their careers.

For example, a student who completes a CTE program in IT might be able to obtain certifications in areas such as computer networking or cybersecurity, which can lead to well-paying jobs in the technology industry.

Similarly, a student who completes a CTE program in healthcare might be eligible to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) or a Medical Assistant (MA), opening up a variety of career paths in the healthcare sector.

Lastly, a student who completes a CTE program in business might gain valuable skills in areas such as entrepreneurship, marketing, or accounting, which can be applied to a wide range of business-related careers.

Benefits and challenges to weigh

While participating in a CTE program and earning college credit in high school can offer numerous benefits, it’s important for students to weigh the potential challenges as well. One benefit is the cost savings, as earning college credit in high school can reduce the overall cost of obtaining a degree.

Additionally, CTE programs provide students with practical, hands-on skills that can make them more marketable in the workforce. However, there may be challenges to consider, such as the potential for a heavier workload or the need to balance CTE coursework with other academic requirements.

It’s important for students to carefully evaluate their interests, goals, and abilities before committing to a CTE program and to seek guidance from school counselors or advisors to ensure they are making the best decisions for their future.

Planning Your Credit Earning Strategy

When it comes to earning college credit in high school, careful planning is key. By strategically selecting the right options, you can set yourself up for success and save both time and money in the long run.

Here are some important considerations to keep in mind as you plan your credit earning strategy:

Choosing options aligned with college/major

One of the first steps in planning your credit earning strategy is to choose options that are aligned with your intended college major or future career path. This will not only help you gain a deeper understanding of the subjects you’re interested in, but it will also give you a head start in college.

Research colleges and universities to understand their credit transfer policies and requirements, so you can make informed decisions about the courses or exams that will best align with your goals.

Balancing difficulty with your courseload

While it’s important to challenge yourself academically, it’s also crucial to strike a balance between the difficulty of the courses you take for college credit and your overall courseload. Taking on too many difficult courses at once can lead to burnout and negatively impact your grades.

Consider your current workload and commitments, and choose courses that you can manage effectively without compromising your overall academic performance. Remember, it’s better to excel in a few courses than to struggle in many.

Tracking credits earned and transferred

As you progress through high school and earn college credit, it’s essential to keep track of the courses you’ve taken and the credits you’ve earned. Create a spreadsheet or use an online tool to record this information, including the course name, credit hours, and any corresponding exams or assessments.

Additionally, familiarize yourself with the credit transfer policies of the colleges you are interested in attending. This will help you understand which credits will transfer and how they will be applied towards your degree.

Using savings for additional classes later

If you’ve been successful in earning college credit in high school, you may find yourself ahead of schedule when it comes to completing your degree. This presents a unique opportunity to potentially save money by using your savings to take additional classes later.

By utilizing the credits you earned in high school, you can focus on taking more advanced or specialized courses during your college years. This not only allows you to dive deeper into your field of interest but also maximizes the value of the credits you’ve already earned.

By carefully planning your credit earning strategy and considering these important factors, you can make the most of your high school years and set yourself up for success in college. Remember, earning college credit in high school is not only a great way to save time and money, but it also demonstrates your commitment and dedication to your education.


Earning college credit in high school is a smart strategic move that can make pursuing an undergraduate degree more affordable and allow you to get ahead academically. With this guide’s breakdown of all the different options, along with insider tips for maximizing your credits, you can create a plan tailored to your goals and make the most of these valuable opportunities.

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