What is Dual Enrollment? A Comprehensive Guide

What is Dual Enrollment? A Comprehensive Guide

12 minute read

What is dual enrollment, and is it something aspiring college students should do? If you’re a high school student who wants to get some or all of your college core courses completed by the time you graduate high school, it might be something you’ll want to consider. But there are several things you'll need to know before you get started. Let’s dive in to better understand dual enrollment, the requirements for these courses, and how you can start the dual enrollment process.

What Does Dual Enrollment Mean?

Dual enrollment refers to when a student is enrolled in two different academic programs or at two different academic institutions at the same time. If you’re specifically wondering, “What is dual enrollment in high school?” this is when high school students (usually juniors or seniors) enroll in college-level classes to earn college credit while they’re still in high school. This is also known as concurrent enrollment since the college classes students are taking are usually separate from their high school curriculum. You may also see dual enrollment described as “early college.” These classes — and the credit earned — generally count toward both high school graduation and a college degree. High school students who take dual enrollment courses usually take fewer classes when they get to college, depending on how their college or university of choice accepts their credits. Some typical classes that are offered for dual enrollment courses include:

Most dual enrollment classes are taught at a student’s high school, local community college, or through online courses. For a student to earn college credit, they have to receive a C or higher in the class, and the grade will be transferred to the student’s college academic record. If you’re a home-schooled student and are interested in dual enrollment classes, you're also eligible to take them, as long as you meet all of your state's requirements.

Dual Enrollment vs. AP: What's the Difference?

When it comes to earning college credit while still in high school, you might have heard of both dual enrollment and Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Even though students can earn credit that they can apply toward a college degree from both of these academic pathways, they’re not the same. Both dual enrollment and AP courses are college-level courses that high school students take to earn college credit. Dual enrollment classes, however, are actual college classes. They may be offered at or through your high school, but they’re typically taught by college professors at a local college or online. AP classes, on the other hand, are taught only at high schools by high school teachers. They also differ in the means of how students earn credits. For dual enrollment courses, students can receive credit by passing the course, but not all colleges will accept these credits. For AP courses, students must take an exam when they’ve completed the coursework and earn a minimum score to receive credit. These are the main differences between dual enrollment vs. AP classes, and one or the other might work better for some students based on their schedule or academic needs.

The Pros and Cons of Dual Enrollment

The Advantages of Dual Enrollment

There are several reasons why high school students should work with their parents and school to participate in dual enrollment programs:

  • Getting multiple credits either at a reduced cost or free, depending on state programs
  • Saving money on tuition costs, which will help reduce total student debt for college grads
  • Allowing economically disadvantaged students the opportunity to take college-level courses through state programs — an opportunity they might not otherwise receive
  • Ability to transfer credit for college classes to higher education institutions, depending upon the school
  • Possibility of graduating early and getting a head start in the professional world, when dual enrollment classes have been accepted to count toward graduation requirements
  • Accessibility of college classes, since many are offered online
  • Completing challenging coursework that isn’t typically offered in high school, helping students develop their skills and set academic or career goals
  • Higher rate of success in college — a study from the University of Texas shows that students with dual enrollment credit were twice as likely to stay in school than those who started college without credit

According to Jackie Weisman, Director of Communications & Marketing at Maryland Board of Education, "I was a dual enrollment student as a high school junior and senior at Chesapeake Community College, and I truly feel like it gave me a leg up on the 'college experience'. I remember at the time feeling like I was being given a taste of what college would be like from registering, purchasing books, and actually attending and successfully completing the classes."

The Disadvantages of Dual Enrollment

Dual enrollment might not be the best choice for everyone, and there can be some drawbacks to participating in dual enrollment programs:

  • Students who are heavily involved in athletics or other extracurricular activities may find they don't have enough time to do well in college courses
  • Not completing or getting a poor grade in advanced courses show up  on high school transcripts, which could negatively impact the student's ability to get accepted at the college of their choice
  • Depending on the college or university, dual enrollment courses may not be accepted for credit, so without doing the necessary research, students may waste time taking classes that don’t count toward their degree program
  • Depending on where the class is taught and by whom, students may not have as in-depth knowledge at the end of the course as they could if they took the course once enrolled in college
  • Depending on how the schedules are made, students may find that their dual enrollment courses conflict with their high school schedule, or that they have to plan for transportation and commutes

Participating in dual enrollment programs is a big decision to make. Before you commit to completing college courses, be honest with yourself and look at your school schedule and lifestyle.

Who's Eligible for Dual Enrollment Courses?

According to the Education Commission of the States, most states require potential dual enrollment participants to be in either the 10th or the 11th grade. However, some states waive this requirement if a student is considered to be gifted. Several states require a minimum GPA, including Alabama, Florida, and Louisiana. Some of these specify a GPA of 2.0 out of 4.0, others specify at least a 3.0. States like Hawaii, California, and New Mexico require written approval and recommendation from school officials for dual enrollment participation. Students in Oregon, Ohio, and Kentucky must meet post secondary admission requirements before being allowed to take dual enrollment courses. These requirements may vary from college to college, so you'll need to work with the appropriate admissions office to get specifics. Some other requirements may include:

  • Parent permission
  • Minimum test scores
  • College course prerequisites

Overall, requirements vary from state to state and sometimes from college to college.

How Do I Get Started with Dual Enrollment in High School?

Students should discuss their interest with parents and school officials. Multiple states require minimum scores on tests like PSAT, ACT or college placement tests. These states include Arizona, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Other states do not have documented processes. Open enrollment is not an option. Threshold requirements exist to ensure students have the best possible chance of successfully completing course requirements to earn a passing grade. To get started, thoroughly research the requirements for your state as well as any colleges or universities you’re interested in attending after high school.

Is There a Limit on How Many Courses I Can Take?

Much like eligibility requirements, limits and other guidelines can depend on a student’s home state. In general, the caps on taking dual enrollment classes tend to be high, so it would be difficult to max out for most high school students.  Some states — such as Alabama, Delaware, Missouri, Nebraska, and Arkansas — have no set state policy. Florida’s policy states that a student must be enrolled to earn at least 12 credit hours, but not more than 15 per semester. Iowa caps the number at 24 credit hours per academic year. Minnesota does not define hours, but defines caps in coursework years.

How Are Grades Calculated for Dual Enrollment Courses?

Dual enrollment courses are graded much like any course, with a final grade determined by the professor. When it comes to how that grade shows up on high school transcripts, however, that depends on individual school districts. Individual school districts develop and determine how to apply a weighted grade or score for high school transcripts. Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina all have protocols for this, for example. Before enrolling in dual courses, make sure to review the grading/weighting/scoring criteria and methods for your individual school district.  If the college or university you’re applying to accepts your dual enrollment credit, the grade you receive for the course will also appear on your college academic record. Make sure to discuss any course grading criteria with the admissions office or registrar at the schools to which you’re considering applying.

How Hard Are Dual Enrollment Courses?

Dual enrollment courses are college-level courses, so as you might expect, they can be more challenging than your average high school class. If you’ve already completed challenging high school courses, however, such as honors-level courses, you should feel confident about your ability to tackle college coursework. When it comes to dual enrollment coursework, however, you may encounter some new challenges. Unlike high school, where you go to class everyday, most college and university courses only meet once or twice a week. In between class meeting time, you’re expected to read and understand large amounts of textbook content, so you'll need to plan time throughout your week to keep up with the course pace. College level classes and college professors also tend to expect a higher level of independence from their students. If you’re having trouble understanding the textbook or the lectures, you may find that it’s your responsibility to reach out to your professor for extra support. Or, you may consider finding a tutor to help you. Tutoring will cost extra money, so consider if this is feasible. Another consideration for college courses is that you may have fewer projects or assignments to complete, but each one counts for a larger percentage of your final grade. If you miss one major assignment, this could cause you to fail the class. It’s important that you have a grasp of what you’ll need to complete at the start of the semester so you’re able to set realistic expectations and plan your time accordingly.

Can Dual Enrollment Help Me During the College Admissions Process?

Whether dual enrollment courses can help you during the admissions process depends heavily on the colleges or universities to which you’re applying. Some colleges, for example, may consider dual enrollment courses to be "double dipping." In other words, if a student received credit for the course toward their high school graduation, the college won’t award credit to the student for their degree. It’s important to carefully research your particular schools of interest before taking dual enrollment classes to make sure that you’re putting your time and energy where it can best serve you for the rest of your academic career. Student athletes may have even more requirements and recommendations to consider. If you’re interested in competing in your sport of choice at the collegiate level, you need to be aware of NCAA guidelines and eligibility requirements.  For example, if you want to take  classes at a community college, but plan on attending a major university, those community college credits may impact your eligibility to play competitively. In addition, those credits may not be accepted for graduation purposes at the larger college or university. Again, doing some research and asking questions ahead of time may save you from being negatively impacted. On the other hand, when it comes to everything you’re putting down on paper for your applications, taking college courses while in high school can cast you in a favorable light. Succeeding in dual enrollment courses shows that you have the motivation, initiative, determination, and commitment for pursuing a college education. Kristen Moon of Moon Prep LLC said, "As an independent college counselor, I always get the questions: ‘Will this help me with the admissions process?’ The answer is yes. Dual enrollment programs show initiative on the part of the student. It also shows a love of learning and an eagerness to challenge yourself. With the college admissions process more competitive than ever, students need an edge and dual enrollment can provide one."

StraighterLine Can Help You Get Started with Dual Enrollment

For many students, dual enrollment courses are a great choice to get a head start on earning college credits. If you’ve done your research on state and college requirements, there’s no reason to hesitate.  With over 150 partner colleges, StraighterLine offers courses that high school students can take now and apply toward their college degree later to get a head start on graduation and save on tuition costs. Plus, there are a number of added benefits to taking your courses with StraighterLine:

  • StraighterLine courses won’t show up on your high school transcript, so not finishing a course or getting a poor grade won’t impact your college applications.
  • StraighterLine courses are taught online and asynchronously, so they won’t conflict with your high school schedule or require transportation.
  • StraighterLine courses come with 24/7 on-demand access to tutoring, so you’ll always have someone to turn to for help if you’re struggling with the material.

Browse our courses or chat with an enrollment counselor via our live chat function if you have any other questions!

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