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Guide to Dual Enrollment: Buy One, Get One Free?

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

As parents of identical twins, we’ve received lots of questions from strangers about “how that happened.” My answers have varied over the years and often depend on my mood and the general friendliness of the questioner. I will admit I have responded about a “buy one, get one free” sale at the hospital on more than one occasion. We receive a lot of questions from client families about Dual Enrollment and AP classes. “Buy one, get one free” can also apply in some ways to Dual Enrollment classes. Should their student consider them? Why or why not? Thom has talked about AP classes previously so for today, I’ll focus on Dual Enrollment (often referred to as DE) and why you and your family may want to consider it. What is it?

Dual enrollment (sometimes referred to as concurrent enrollment) means the student is enrolled in two institutions at the same time, typically a high school and a college. The credits can apply to both high school diploma requirements and college graduation requisites. Kind of like “buy one, get one free.” These classes are usually offered online or at the college; many are even taught in the student’s actual high school. How does it work?

Eligibility guidelines for dual enrollment vary by state. Typically, students must be at least 16 years old and a high school sophomore with a GPA of at least 2.5. They typically need to have taken the ACT or other placement exam. They also need to have permission from parents or guardians AND the high school (principal or guidance counselor). In Tennessee, where we live, students must be at least a junior and have college level test scores. Why is it good?

I like dual enrollment because these classes have the potential to reach a larger number of students than those enrolled in AP classes. AP classes are typically for upper echelon students and those who already know they definitely want to pursue postsecondary (college) education. For late bloomers or students just not sure, dual enrollment offers a great opportunity to explore classes and experience (a little) of what a college class may be like. Dual enrollment classes can help students transition from high school to college more easily. For students at a high school that may not offer AP classes, it’s a great way to earn college credit. It’s not free and students are still responsible for tuition, fees, and books. In the State of Tennessee, for example, there is a Dual Enrollment Grant, funded by the Tennessee Lottery and administered by the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation. College credit as a high school student sounds too good to be true -- is there a catch?

There isn’t necessarily a catch, but students need to know what they’re taking and doing. It can be great to take some core education classes and have much of a potential freshman year of college completed with dual enrollment classes.

Students should always check with the institution to which they want the credits to transfer, as it will be the final word on credit transfer and acceptance.

For the State of Tennessee, most dual enrollment credits transfer to any public Tennessee college or university.

We are all about maximizing options and keeping all doors open. For students who don’t want to take AP courses, but would still like to be more challenged, DE classes are a great option. If a student chooses to stay in his or her home state and attend a public or state university, they have some general education credits out of the way. If they choose not to attend a school that accepts these credits, they still earned high school credit and stretched their knowledge and comfort zone. (And these classes could come in handy later as I will describe in a moment.) Does taking a DE class mean your student is destined to stay in their home state and go to a public school? Absolutely not. It’s always good to learn more and be challenged - but just know what you are getting (or possibly not getting). Here are two different stories about students with whom we have worked and their DE experiences. Student 1

The high school student was definitely college-bound and was looking at top engineering colleges and universities, all over the country. He had excellent test scores and a strong GPA. We started working with this student just before his senior year in high school. He was hoping to have an “easy” senior year and was looking forward to taking psychology and sociology via dual enrollment. He wasn’t planning to take any science or math classes as a senior, yet he was applying to highly competitive engineering programs. Much to the student’s initial chagrin, we advised him to take calculus, physics, and chemistry II at his school, rather than sociology and psychology through dual enrollment. As an applicant to top engineering programs, he needed to demonstrate achievement in physics, chemistry, and other advanced science classes. Those classes would be considered stronger on his high school transcript. In addition, since he was looking at many out of state programs, the DE credit likely would not have been accepted at those out-of-state schools. He needed to take more math and science courses. (Spoiler alert - this student changed his schedule and earned a full presidential scholarship to his top choice engineering college. If only our sons would take our advice as readily!) Student 2

As most of you know, I am more behind the scenes with Golden Educational Consulting and work as an academic advisor at a local community college. I love working with students and truly believe in the mission and helping provide access to higher education. As an advisor, I fielded a call from a student earlier this spring. She had taken DE courses through our community college as a high school student. After graduating from high school, she had enrolled in a small private college in another state. The school wasn’t a good fit for her and she was planning to move closer to home to pursue a degree. In preparing her application for transfer, she learned that the (new) school to which she was applying offered substantial scholarships for students who had already earned an associate’s degree. She was inquiring about how many DE courses she had taken in high school, and how close she might be to an associate’s degree. As we talked and I looked at her record, I discovered she had taken 10 dual enrollment courses as a high school student and had earned 30 credit hours. The small college she was attending had not accepted the DE courses. Combined with courses from her year at the small private college, she was only shy 3-6 credit hours of an associate’s degree from the community college. She was able to enroll in those courses online (while finishing at the private college) and earned her associate’s degree from the community college. She has been awarded a specific (and substantial) scholarship for students who have already earned an associate’s degree. So while she didn’t initially anticipate using her DE credits at her “first” college, when she was transferring to a different institution, they certainly became helpful. As always, we recommend students take courses that challenge them and make them think. If DE courses allow you to stretch your mind and imagination, go for it!

Not working with us yet? Feeling stressed by the college search process? Let's chat.

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