Do you want to get a head start on college while you’re still in high school? Good news: there are multiple ways to earn college credits before you ever even apply for college. Earning college credits in high school can not only save you money on tuition when you get to college, but it can help you impress college admissions departments. Earning college credits while you’re in high school can also reduce the time it takes to graduate by up to two full years.
If you want to know how to earn college credits in high school, continue reading. We’ll go over all of your options if you want to get a jump-start on college and what you can expect from each route.
What Are the Best Ways to Earn College Credits in High School?
Understanding how to earn college credits in high school can be complex. There are numerous ways to go about the process. However, your options will be limited by your high school. You can also decide which route is best based on the college programs to which you’ll be applying.
Below are the top ways to earn college credits in high school.
1. Advanced Placement (AP) Examination
You’re likely aware of whether or not your school has AP classes. If you’re advanced in any particular subject, you’ll have the option of taking an Advanced Placement course. But to earn college credit for completing that course, you have to take and pass an AP exam.
In total, there are 38 AP exams that you can take for college credit. Some of the most popular are:
- English Language
- U.S. History
- English Literature
- U.S. Government and Politics
- World History
- Human Geography
- Spanish Language
High school professors model their AP courses on entry-level college courses, so you’ll want to make sure you’re prepared for a more difficult semester. Don’t sign up for an AP course or exam if you’re not confident in that subject.
If you’re confident and willing to put in the extra work, taking an AP course and doing well on the exam at the end of the term will help you stand out to college admissions departments. Colleges like to see that you challenged yourself in high school, and an AP course is the perfect way to do that.
Additionally, AP exams will let you skip introductory college classes. Your college may grant advanced placement, credit, or both, based on your exam scores. You can search for the credit policy at your perspective college here.
It’s important to note that you don’t have to take an AP course to earn college credit. You only have to take the exam. If you feel ready to take an AP exam and your high school doesn’t offer an AP course in that subject, you may still be able to do so.
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2. International Baccalaureate (IB) Exams
If your school is qualified to offer a rigorous IB curriculum to students, you can join the International Baccalaureate program.
The IB program was developed in Switzerland, and it differs from AP courses in several ways. First, joining an IB program means you’re working towards a special diploma. Whereas with AP you can take just one or two AP courses and exams, an IB program is a set program of courses.
Most high schools which offer IB courses will allow students to take them separately. But you won’t earn an IB diploma unless you take the entire program.
Where AP is quite widespread, IB is rarer. Schools have to be able to offer enough advanced courses to qualify. IB is also more costly to students, although you may be able to qualify for financial assistance from your high school.
IB is also more complex than AP in how you earn college credits. AP exams are offered at a single level, but IB exams are offered at a standard level and a higher level. Higher-level IB courses are considered more difficult than AP courses.
Some colleges grant credit for standard-level IB exams, but others only grant credit for higher-level exams. You can find out a college’s IB credit policy by going to the school’s website or contacting the admissions department. There is no database which lists IB credit policies like there is for AP policies.
3. College in High School and Early-College Programs
Colleges often partner with their local high schools to offer college-level courses to high school students. Students who complete those courses will earn college credit, just as if they had taken it at the college.
One example of this type of program is Washington State’s College in the High School (CHS) program. Colleges and high schools throughout the state create contracts with one another to provide college courses within the local high schools. These contracts specify details like whether all students can take the course, or whether only students seeking college credit can enroll.
High schools that offer college in high school programs are also called early-college high schools. To find out if your high school has a program like this, speak with your guidance counselor. You can also search online for college in high school programs in your state.
4. Dual Enrollment
A similar but slightly different program is called dual enrollment. With dual enrollment, students are allowed to enroll in actual college courses, with college professors, at a local college campus, while they’re still in high school.
An example of this type of program is Running Start. Running Start is a dual enrollment program that started in Washington State, but is now offered in the following states:
- New Hampshire
Dual enrollment programs, such as Running Start, typically allow 11th- and 12th-graders to take college courses at a community college. The courses count as both high school and college credits, which is why it’s called “dual” enrollment.
Like AP and IB, as well as early-college programs, dual enrollment is a good way to get a head start on college credits. You will generally have to pay a fee, but it will be less than the tuition for that class if you’d take it in college.
Dual enrollment is one of the best ways to get ahead in college before you ever enter the university system. With programs like Running Start, you can graduate from high school and graduate from community college with a two-year associates degree at the same time. Holding an associate or transfer degree means you’ll enter college as a junior.
Additionally, dual enrollment looks good on your college applications and can help you get into your dream school.
5. Local College Enrollment
Some colleges and universities allow high school students to enroll in separate college courses. Unlike dual enrollment, local college enrollment means you’re enrolled in both high school courses and college courses independently. You’ll earn high school credits for the classes you take at high school and college credits for those that you take at the local college. You won’t earn high school and college credits from the same courses.
If you’re interested in enrolling in college courses while you’re in high school and getting a jump-start on your degree, talk to your local community college or university’s admissions office. Community colleges are a good place to start since they’re more likely to allow enrollment while you’re still in high school.
The college courses you’ll be able to take depends on your knowledge base and skill level, as well as the college’s policies. Typically, you can take entry-level composition and writing courses, entry-level algebra courses (usually after taking a placement test) and entry-level science classes.
You can also talk to your high school guidance counselor to find out if local college enrollment is an option while you’re still in high school.
6. Equivalency Exams
The last way to earn college credits in high school is completely testing-related. Some colleges will let you “test out” of entry-level college courses. By taking the test that corresponds to a college class, you can earn credits and move on to higher-level courses. This is known as credit-by-examination.
The primary type of credit-by-examination is administered by the College Board. The College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) is accepted by more than 2,900 colleges and universities, so there’s a good chance your college is one of them. However, you should make sure that your perspective college will accept your CLEP credits before you take the exams.
Each subject exam costs $89, and the number of credits you earn depends on how your college calculates CLEP credits. Whether you earn one credit or more from a CLEP exam, the price-per-credit will be less than the tuition you would pay for that course at college.
There are multiple other ways to earn credits by examination, but CLEP is the one you can get done while you’re still in high school. Other options, like challenging a course, will take place once you’re enrolled in college and can speak to specific professors about their requirements.
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Are You Ready to Earn College Credits in High School?
Taking on college-level courses while you’re still in high school is no small feat. The difficulty level depends on which option you choose. Programs like dual enrollment can allow you to earn double-credit in each course you take.
By completing your high school classes and acing the tests, you can earn enough credits to graduate from college with a two-year associates degree at the same time you graduate from high school. However, you should be prepared to take on the more rigorous course-load of a college-level class.
Taking college-level classes at your high school will still differ from taking them in college. Your instructor will still be a high school teacher. But you’ll likely find that your teacher will try to emulate a college classroom in as many ways possible, including far less leeway for late work and missed tests.
If you enroll in college courses at the local college, be prepared to make a bigger adjustment. You’ll be dealing with college expectations and rules, and your peers will likely be significantly older than you. This route can give you a glimpse into what you can expect when you get to college.
Other programs, like AP and IB, allow you to earn college credits via examination. In some ways, this is an easier route. You can even take an AP test without having taken a course. However, this method also means your college credits hang in the balance based on your test scores. You’ll have to study hard to earn college credits while you’re still in high school.
How to Earn College Credits in High School: Bottom Line
Earning college credits in high school has numerous benefits: it looks great on your college application, it can save you money in tuition, and it can help you finish college a lot faster.
We’ve gone over the top ways to earn college credits in high school, but your school may have its own policies and strategies. If you’re interested in earning college credits before you graduate from high school, it’s best to talk with your high school guidance counselor as soon as possible. Most college-credit high school programs begin in 11th-grade.
It’s also a smart idea to research the colleges where you’ll be applying to see what kind of credits they accept from high school programs. Check to see if they accept IB and AP credits, as well as CLEP exams, and how they’ll transfer over.
And finally, before you enroll in any program to earn college credits in high school, make sure you’re well-prepared. Earning credits for college takes commitment and a willingness to learn at an accelerated rate.
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College Ave: College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply. (1)The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as the borrower or cosigner, if applicable, enrolls in auto-pay and authorizes our loan servicer to automatically deduct your monthly payments from a valid bank account via Automated Clearing House (“ACH”). The rate reduction applies for as long as the monthly payment amount is successfully deducted from the designated bank account and is suspended during periods of forbearance and certain deferments. Variable rates may increase after consummation. (2)$5,000 is the minimum requirement to refinance. The maximum loan amount is $300,000 for those with medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary doctorate degrees, and $150,000 for all other undergraduate or graduate degrees. (3)This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a refi borrower with a Full Principal & Interest Repayment and a 10-year repayment term, has a $40,000 loan and a 5.5% Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $434.11 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $52,092.61. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary. Information advertised valid as of 1/27/2021. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
ELFI: Subject to credit approval. Terms and conditions apply. To qualify for refinancing or student loans consolidation through ELFI, you must have at least $15,000 in student loan debt and must have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher from an approved post-secondary institution.
LendKey: Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
CommonBond: Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate.
Splash Financial: Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval.com
Earnest: To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest’s fixed-rate loan rates range from 3.89% APR (with autopay) to 7.89% APR (with autopay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.50% APR (with autopay) to 7.27% APR (with autopay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms of 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 0.26% and 5.03% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of April 23, 2019 and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay Discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 04/23/19. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice.
Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 303 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.
Ascent: Ascent’s undergraduate and graduate student are funded by Bank of Lake Mills or DR Bank, each Member FDIC. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions. Certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. For Ascent Terms and Conditions please visit: www.AscentFunding.com/Ts&Cs. Rates are effective as of 11/1/2023 and reflect an automatic payment discount of either 0.25% (for credit-based loans) OR 1.00% (for undergraduate outcomes-based loans). Automatic Payment Discount is available if the borrower is enrolled in automatic payments from their personal checking account and the amount is successfully withdrawn from the authorized bank account each month. For Ascent rates and repayment examples please visit: AscentFunding.com/Rates. 1% Cash Back Graduation Reward subject to terms and conditions. Cosigned Credit-Based Loan student must meet certain minimum credit criteria. The minimum score required is subject to change and may depend on the credit score of your cosigner. Lowest APRs require interest-only payments, the shortest loan term, and a cosigner, and are only available to our most creditworthy applicants and cosigners with the highest average credit scores.
*The minimum amount is $2,001 except for the state of Massachusetts. Minimum loan amount for borrowers with a Massachusetts permanent address is $6,001.