Are Dual and AP classes worth it?

Are Dual and AP Classes Worth it?

Options for high school classes have skyrocketed over the years, and now feature dual enrollment and AP classes.  In our school system, the price for dual enrollment credits has bounced around over the years.  AP test fees are lower, but 94$ for a test the student might fail could be considered a gamble.  I’ve spent about a grand over last 3 years on my son JumpStart Jack’s dual and AP fees.  Some school systems and programs cover these fees, but the JumpStart family hasn’t been so lucky.  In addition to monetary costs, JS Jack has made an investment in time and effort.  So, are Dual and AP classes worth it?

Fair disclosure.

Due to my job as an AP physics teacher, people might be skeptical of my opinions.  In my defense, I also have perspective as a parent of a college freshman and a high school sophomore.

So, are dual/AP classes worth it?

The answer depends on your goals.

If the goal of taking Dual/AP classes is learning and becoming a stronger student, then I say yes.

Classes and teachers vary.  Dual/AP labels don’t automatically make classes better.  Ask other students, teachers, and parents for recommendations and choose classes taught by teachers with strong reputations.  Consider the strengths and interests of the student.  A kid that loves Shakespeare, but hates graphing and taking measurements should, run away from possibly avoid my AP physics class.

If the goal of taking Dual/AP classes is to create an impressive college application, the obvious answer is yes.

Elite colleges want students that have experience with challenging classes.  Some people argue that harder classes might result in poor grades that wreck their GPA.  A transcript will not be impressive without AP/Dual classes.  Students need to find a balance between their strengths and challenging course loads.

The elite schools are not going to admit you without a history of difficult classes.  I don’t work in an admissions office, but suspect all A’s with no AP or Dual would look fishy.

If the goal of taking Dual and AP classes is to save money by earning scholarships and merit money, the answer depends on the student and their college selection.

There are schools where merit money is a huge long shot. I eavesdrop listen to my students, and never hear anyone claiming to get merit money for UVA, Va Tech, or JMU. JS Jack didn’t apply to UVA, but was accepted to Va Tech and JMU, and no merit money was offered.  However, the small private Roanoke College offered lots of merit money. The medium sized public Radford University offered him some merit money.  RC and Radford don’t carry the same “coolness” factor and don’t have football teams.  If students choose their reach schools, Dual/AP classes might help with acceptance but not necessarily with the price tag.

If the goal of taking Dual and AP classes is to get credit for college classes and graduate early, the answer varies wildly depending on the situation.  I can’t summarize with a short answer.

In our case JS Jack ended up with a mixture of Dual and AP classes.  As a result, on day one, Jack’s transcript at Radford University listed 30 credits.


  • Physics credit             AP exam passing score of 3.
  • Government credit      VWCC transfer.
  • History credit               VWCC transfer.
  • English credits             VWCC transfer.
  • Math credits                 VWCC transfer.
  • CAD and Geospatial   VWCC transfer.
  • Personal Finance        VWCC transfer.

Radford publishes a clear list of which Virginia Western Community College classes transfer to which Radford class.  There was also a list of minimum AP scores to earn credit for Radford classes.

Did credits help him with graduation requirements?

Sometimes the VWCC class just isn’t on the transfer list.  CAD and Geospatial have no corresponding Radford class.  JS Jack earned elective credits that don’t really help him graduate.

Some classes transfer and everything is great.  Jack skipped both semesters of freshman English class and is already taking the 3rd of 4 required English classes.

Sometimes two classes transfer, and everything appears great, but one of classes doesn’t help you.  For example History and Government both transferred, but they are in the same general studies category.  a second class in the same category won’t help Jack graduate early.

A 3 on the AP exam was good enough for a semester of physics credit, which satisfies the science general study category.  Jack never has to take another science class.  I find no science in his curriculum sad and depressing.

Bonus benefit during registration week.  Registration for classes is separated into 6 phases, and freshmen are the last phase.  Jack will register in phase 5 because his extra credits classified him as a sophomore.  The early registration, might make his schedule more convenient, or give him the section with that special, beloved, desired teacher.

The example above is for my son, at Radford, as a business major.  Other majors will differ and each school will be different.  The 3 on the PHY C-mech test won’t get you credit any credit at UVA.  A 3 won’t get Va Tech engineering majors credit, but it will pay off for English and art majors at Tech.

Elite schools are not known for allowing a bunch of credits to transfer.  You’re not getting into Harvard without 5’s on AP tests, but they are not letting you out of any classes once you get there.

Graduating in 3 years would certainly save JS Jack money, but despite 30 hours of credit on his Radford transcript, the 3 year bachelor’s degree is tight. Planning is near impossible, because the decision to take classes, and pay fees happened long before Jack chose a college or a major.  The classes he was able to skip were easier classes, where Jack probably would have excelled.  JS Jack might want a few easier classes or a physics teacher other than his father.

I can’t even give a solid answer for my own son, on whether Dual/AP classes will lead to an early graduation.  Money spent on fees might not pay off in this respect.  If Jack does the standard 4 years at Radford, the extra credits will hopefully lead to a double major, minor, or some benefit.  It could lead to him taking lighter class loads, each semester, but I would prefer him to load up with a full schedule and get his money’s worth.

To Sum up.  Are Dual and AP Classes worth it?

The right Dual and AP classes will make you a better student, and high grades and scores will increase your chances of getting into more elite schools.  They might save you money with scholarships or merit aid.  The possibility of using credits earned in high school to graduate from college early is complex puzzle, that will vary widely based on a long series of student choices.

Are dual and AP classes worth it?  You’re going to have to answer that one yourself.

Posted in Paying for college., Uncategorized.


  1. My incidental experience from myself 18 years ago is also mixed. I got 0 credit or skips at my elite school, but it may have helped me get in. Conversely my wife took classes at a local university while finishing highschool. These did transfer to her elite school. If I had to do it again I’d be exploring that possibility.

  2. These decisions get even harder when a child has no idea of the path he/she would like to take after high school. I too have struggled with this decision for my child and needless to say, many conversations occurred with my child regarding the right courses for him. It boiled down to the level of study he felt he could handle without compromising his life outside of school. I never want my child’s high school curriculum to consume him to the point of no time for family or friends.

    • Expecting a high school kid to anticipate their college, major, or career is just plain unreasonable. At best, they can expect to find out which areas are their strengths during high school.
      How many adult today are doing exactly what they thought they would be doing as high school kids?
      I went to college to major in marine biology, and ended up a high school physics teacher, who does not have a physics degree.

  3. I work with first year college students and am amazed at the number of transfer credits some of them bring in! They’ve clearly worked incredibly hard in high school. It’s definitely worth double checking with the college(s) of choice to see how dual enrollment credits will transfer in, whether they will count towards specific requirements or just general electives, etc. Sometimes we have students whose credits don’t transfer in the way that their high schools told them they would, and that can be frustrating.

    In a lot of cases, even with transfer credit, a student is going to have to take summer classes in order to graduate early because some majors are just more time-intensive than others and have more rigorous requirements.

    That said, if a student is just not interested in dual enrollment in HS, that’s totally okay, too. We have hundreds of motivated students who come in with no transfer credit but who stay on track for a four-year graduation. And honestly, sometimes they’re in a better position than the students with tons of transfer credit because they don’t feel like they HAVE to graduate in 3 or 3.5 years.

    • Students should definitely be cautious of “facts” dispensed in high schools about credits from fellow students, teachers, and counselors. The only way to be sure is to check with the college, and then it varies wildly by major.

    • Great. A semester is like a 1/8th discount. Did that cause a Dec graduation? Did that matter to her?

  4. I had a ton of AP class credits when I went into college and really benefitted from being able to make sure I got the classes I needed by getting to register early. I also went to a school that had a lot of required electives – most of which were finished before I even started because of those classes. I wound up graduating in 3 years, taking like 2 classes each summer too.

    • Thanks for the data point Mel. Picking colleges with a flexible curriculum seems to be key. There are costs to summer school, but any way you look at it, you saved at least a semester, which is HUGE. Graduating a year early also creates opportunities. You can enter grad school, a career, or get a job on a cruise ship, while everyone else is still in their senior year.

  5. My daugher went to a small state school and got merit money because of her ACT, not APs. Her ACT gave her credit for one of three required math classes, and for two English classes. She got 12 hrs AP credit for US History and World History, which helped her as a history major. Having all the credit when she walked in the door helped save money in that when she, like many kids do, changed programs halfway through her sophomore year, she had some buffer there so she didn’t end up taking more than four years to graduate.

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