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/AP classes worth it?
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/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/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/AP Classes worth it?
The right Dual/AP classes will make you a better student, and high grades and scores they will get you 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.