First day of high school and first day of college, all in the same day.

Updated: Jan 22


Today my daughter begins her second year of community college, and her last year of high school. When she graduates in May she will have a full year of college credit to transfer to the university she plans to attend. And, what did it cost me? Nothing! Well, almost. I did pay $18 in student fees once or twice. Not bad for a year of college.

We live in North Carolina, a state that offers free college classes through the Career & College Promise (CCP) program. Through this program, qualified high-school-age students in North Carolina have the opportunity to take classes, tuition free, while they are in high school, allowing them to get a jumpstart on their workplace and college preparation.

According to the US Department of Education, in the 2010-2011 school year, more than 1.4 million high school students took courses offered by a college or university for credit through dual enrollment. Research suggests that participation in dual enrollment can lead to improved academic outcomes, better grades in high school, increased enrollment in college following high school, and higher rates of persistence in college.

With the cost of college rising at unprecedented rates, it pays to look into dual enrollment programs. Even in states where you have to pay for these classes, the tuition is far lower than a year at a 4 year university.

To find a list of states that offer dual enrollment classes click here.

Earning college credit through AP exams

Another popular way to earn college credit while still in high school is through advanced placement (AP) classes and exams. According to the College Board, " if you earn an AP Exam score of 3 or higher (out of 5), chances are you can receive credit, advanced placement or both from your college. Most colleges and universities in the United States — as well as many institutions in more than 60 other countries — grant credit and placement for AP scores or acknowledge AP scores in the admission process." To find out more visit the College Board website. For a schedule of AP exam dates, click here.

Which method is better?

I have often been asked which of the two methods of earning college credit while in high school is best. As can be expected, it depends on who you ask. Some parents feel that AP courses are more challenging than a community college course. But, others claim the opposite. Much of this argument rests on the quality of your high school instruction and the quality of your local community college, and this differs from school to school and state to state. However, it is important to know that some universities (Brown, Dartmouth, Duke to name a few) are no longer accepting AP exam credit citing that AP courses could not possibly reflect the nature and content of a true college level course. When you add the fact that each AP exam costs $92, and that only about 50% of students pass, you start to have a good argument for dual enrollment. After all, community college classes are taught by collegiate professors in a collegiate environment. Upon successful completion of these courses, your child will receive indisputable college credit which will be recognized by most of the public universities in your state, effectively reducing the overall cost of your college experience.

I encourage you to research the options available in your state to find the best option for your high school student. But, don't miss the opportunity to earn college credit and save money by participating in one of these great programs. It will save your thousands of dollars in college tuition and help your teen prepare for the rigors of college work.