Earn College Credit in High School

Matt Larriva
Jul 28, 2023
Home » Earn College Credit in High School

While you’ve likely heard of the AP and IB programs, you’re probably less familiar with the CLEP, Dual Enrollment or intersession courses. These are just a few of the many avenues available for students looking to accumulate college credit, saving time and money in undergrad.

Beyond the efficiency factor, taking college coursework demonstrates to your target school that you are someone who has an insatiable intellectual drive, and someone who has the ability to be successful in a college setting. This can be a powerful factor when your application is being evaluated.

Here’s How To Earn College Credit in High School

1. Advanced Placement Exams
Your high school probably offers a selection of advanced or honors courses. But for those wanting to achieve a little higher and prepare themselves for college courses, “AP” classes are the most popular option. AP classes are free, but there’s a fee at the end of the year to take the exam.

Students are scored on a level 1-5, with a 3 or above considered a passing grade. More competitive colleges will only accept 4s and 5s for credit, however, so be sure to check AP requirements when applying!

Subjects offered range from Art History to English to Calculus to Government, with a total of fifty courses to choose from. With more than 2,600 universities accepting AP credits worldwide, this is your best bet for getting a head start on your college career.

2. College-Level Examination Placement
If you completed advanced study in an area with no local AP exam, check the CLEP exam list. The CLEP program offers 33 exams that will earn you three-twelve credits when successfully completed.

CLEP exams test the student’s knowledge of common general education courses required by many US universities, such as “History of the United States II: 1865 to the Present” and “Introductory Psychology.” While not as popular as AP exams, more than 2,900 colleges accept CLEP exams for credit, so it’s certainly worth consideration. Plus, the current cost of an exam is $80 – much cheaper than the cost of one college course!

3. Dual Enrollment
Dual enrollment is similar to AP courses, but with some exceptions. In a DE program, a high school student completes introductory-level college courses that also count towards their high school credits. Not every school offers these programs, as they are established through partnerships between high schools and local community colleges, state universities, and more rarely, private universities.

Another benefit is that courses often take place on the college campus, providing the high school student with an early on-campus experience. And depending on the agreement, some programs provide free or low-cost credits.

high school student studying

4. International Baccalaureate
Another option is the IB course, which provides high school opportunities for college credit. In the U.S., 892 schools offer an IB diploma program, which offers advanced coursework in a variety of subjects that can be taken in English, French, or Spanish.

Not only must the student pass the test with a 4 or above (7 being the highest score), in order to successfully receive the IB diploma, the student must also write a 4,000-word capstone paper. Worldwide, 1,169 universities recognize the IB diploma for transfer, so if you know your dream college is one of them, consider taking IB courses.

5. Taking College Courses Early
Summer means fun, but it can also be a cheap learning opportunity. With all that extra time, you can take a summer school course at your local community college. These schools cost much less per credit hour than major universities, plus you’ll get a taste of college life without sacrificing your whole summer.

That’s because most schools divide the summer into two distinct mini-semesters.

The classes meet for a longer length each class session, say for a two-hour block rather than 45 minutes, but only for half of the summer.

In this way, you can knock out a three-credit-hour introductory course in no time.

For the truly adventurous, most schools offer intersession classes.

These extremely efficient courses cover a semester of material in three weeks. Schools hold these classes during the short break periods between regular semesters, such as the December holiday break or the three weeks between May graduation and the beginning of the first semester of summer school.

Intersessions offer a handful of core courses, but also offer pet projects of dedicated professors.

If you have a specific professor you want to study under or have direct your senior thesis or capstone, an intersession course provides the early opportunity to get to know them and show how serious a student you are. And unlike regular semester courses, enrollment is sometimes limited to 20 or fewer students, but at the same cost of 300 student classes at regular semester hours.

When earning credit early on, you’ll cut down on your future college debt while enhancing your college resume and application potential. Plus, you get to learn a lot of cool stuff early. You can mix and match the above opportunities to earn a multitude of credits before setting foot on the campus of your choice.

Heather Lomax is a contributing writer and media relations specialist for Hi Quality Tutorials. She regularly produces content for a variety of higher education blogs, discussing how to apply to college and survive while you’re there.