Are AP Courses Imperative Instead of Dual-Enrollment?


My son is allowed to take dual-enrollment courses for free via the virtual high school curriculum, but we'd have to pay for AP classes. If he takes dual-enrollment-level Stats or Calculus, would that be enough for admission officers to see that he took a high level of rigor, or do I have to sign him up for the AP courses to show rigor? He will be applying to in-state colleges next year as a history major or a business major. Also, I'm wondering if colleges expect AP to always be taken first, then dual-enrollment, or if we can go straight to dual-enrollment.

The dual-enrollment classes will be completely fine, so no need to worry about taking them instead of the AP classes. (There's enough else to worry about as you trudge through the admissions maze!) When it comes time to submit applications, your son can use the "Additional Information" section (or simply send a separate email to his regional admissions rep) to explain why he didn't elect APs. It's not actually necessary for him to do this, but it's always helpful for admission folks to gain an understanding of why an applicant has chosen certain courses or passed over others. So it might be a nice plus to include just a brief explanation.

Most students who take a dual-enrollment class do NOT take the AP class in the same subject, unless the college class provides some specificity that the AP class doesn't (e.g., the AP class is U.S. History; the college class is "America Between the World Wars.") And in that case, it usually doesn't matter if the AP class comes first or second — although sometimes the subject matter might dictate this decision (e.g., AP Calculus would come before a college course in Multivariate Calc; AP French would probably be taken in advance of a college class in "17th Century French Literature").

If you're deciding between AP classes versus dual-enrollment classes, there are pros and cons to each. But one factor to consider is college credit — a topic that is often so confusing that it can require a college degree (ideally an advanced one) just to figure it out. ;-) Typically (although not always), colleges will award some form of credit for AP exam scores of 4 or 5. But some colleges will allot credit for 3s and others for only 5s. Moreover, the amount of credit can vary not only from college to college but even from department to department within the same institution.

Dual-enrollment credits earned in high school may or may not count at college. Certainly they are always viewed favorably by admission officials who feel that students who elect college classes are up for a challenge. But some colleges — especially the more selective ones — will not award any college credit for dual-enrollment classes that were taken during high school. Other colleges, however, will award credit for all successful college classes, even if these were taken for high school credit as well. Commonly, when a high school student completes community college classes and then enrolls in a public university in the same state, those community college credits will be counted by the university. But there's no way of knowing for sure without scrutinizing individual policies.

In general, however, dual-enrollment classes do not require any sort of AP prerequisite and to take both in the exact same subject (e.g., calculus, statistics) isn't the norm and will spur admission folks to assume that the student has repeated familiar material.

About the Ask the Dean Column

Sally Rubenstone is a veteran of the college admissions process and is the co-author of three books covering admissions. She worked as a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years and has also served as an independent college counselor, in addition to working as a senior advisor at College Confidential since 2002. If you'd like to submit a question to The Dean please email us at

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