How to Earn College Credits in High School

Last updated: Jul 4, 2018

With all the talk surrounding increased college costs and excessive student loan debt, it’s no surprise so many students are looking for ways to cut their degree expenses. One way you can decrease expenses is to get a head start on classes by earning college credits in high school. Discover how to earn college credits in high school with specific tests and programs that may be available to you. 

No matter what you plan to study, knocking out introductory classes before college can yield some serious benefits: graduate early to avoid tuition costs, start your career sooner, and dodge future tuition increases.

 students taking an exam

Advanced Placement Program

The Advanced Placement Program from the College Board offers you the chance to take on college-level courses and earn credit. As the name indicates, this program is for academically gifted students who can manage the challenge of college-level work. This program offers courses in 38 subjects that fall into six specific categories: AP Capstone, Arts, English, History & Social Sciences, STEM, and World Languages & Cultures. Check with your high school to see which courses are offered because most will not offer all 38 subject options.

However, it’s worth noting that unlike the IB program, you do not need to be enrolled in the AP program to take the exam. Typically earning an AP Exam score of 3 or greater will allow you to get credit and/or advanced placement from a college. Most colleges and universities across the U.S. recognize AP in the admissions process, but the best way to confirm this is to talk to an admissions officer. 

Consider it if: you want to take a deep dive into a specific subject area. This program best serves those who are confident they want to study a particular topic intensely.

International Baccalaureate

With just under 1,000 schools offering it, the IB Diploma Programme is much smaller than the AP program. Students at these schools can elect to earn an IB diploma, which involves a fixed course schedule and accompanying tests during your junior and senior years of high school. Other requirements of the program include a research paper and community service. If you do not want to commit to the entire program, you can elect to choose select IB courses.

Students who earn the IB program degree and attain a high score on the exams can earn far more credits than students in the AP program. In some cases, you can earn up to a full year of college credits, significantly decreasing your college length and cost. However, not all colleges will give graduation credit for the IB program, so it’s important to check with each college individually.

Consider it if: you want to join an internationally recognized academic program for serious students. Like the AP exam, IB courses are extremely difficult and indicate to colleges that you are willing to challenge yourself to grow as a student and citizen.

Dual Enrollment

Dual enrollment allows high school students to take college coursework that counts toward an associate or baccalaureate degree at qualifying institutions. To participate, find a local college or university that partners with your high school to offer dual-enrollment options.

Unlike IB or AP classes, dual-enrollment classes are actual college-level courses. They may be held at a high school or on a college campus, potentially exposing you to a new academic environment with older classmates. Passing dual-enrollment classes indicates to prospective colleges that you may be ahead of your peers in both academics and maturity.

Consider it if: your high school doesn’t offer the IB program or your schedule will not allow for AP classes. However, like AP and IB, you must check with your target schools to ensure they accept dual-enrollment credits for graduation credit.

High school students talking with a teacher

College-Level Examination Program

The College Board’s CLEP program allows you to earn college credit for introductory classes with qualifying exam scores. It is accepted by nearly 3,000 colleges and universities, and the 33 different exams in five subject areas are given at more than 1,800 centers. Most exams correspond with single-semester courses, though some tests may follow a one- or two-year course. As a versatile option, this fast-track program does not require you to complete specific courses, meet education criteria, or fit any specific profile.

Like AP, IB, and dual enrollment, though, granting college graduation credit depends entirely on each college or university’s policies. Colleges may grant credit for all, some, or none of the CLEP exams taken. As always, check with each prospective institution on a case-by-case basis to determine if you will be granted credit.

Consider it if: you want the opportunity to “try out” college material you already covered. If you are a home-schooled or non-traditional student and do not have access to IB, AP, or dual enrollment options, this program is a great way for you to potentially earn college credit.

Earning College Credits in High School Takes Work

No matter which program you choose to pursue, you need to recognize that it’s going to involve much more effort, concentration, and time than regular high school classes. Successful completion of these programs indicates to colleges that you are a special student willing to invest extra time and effort into your studies. Even if you’re not awarded credits you can use at a college, this experience can give your transcript an edge.

Our USF admissions advisors are happy to answer your questions about the USF admissions process, so contact us online or by phone at 813-974-3350.