Socrates, the oft-quoted Greek philosopher, once said, “The true measure of a student can be ascertained from but a single glance at his class schedule.” It was either him or Thomas Paine. (It was definitely neither.) Regardless, it’s safe to say most admission counselors will tell you that the academic rigor a student pursues in high school is one of the most telling aspects of his application. Which brings us to the question juniors and seniors find themselves asking every year: When it comes to choosing between challenging coursework, do colleges prefer AP or dual enrollment classes?
While most of the advice you’ll come across whilst Googling is essentially variations on a fence-sitting theme, I’m going to be so bold as to give you a definitive answer from behind the admission counselor’s desk. When given a choice between an AP and dual enrollment course…take the AP, hands down. Now, let’s discuss why.
Unlike dual enrollment courses, all AP courses undergo a rigorous audit by the College Board (the same folks who administrate the SAT) to ensure that each instance of a particular course complies with standards agreed upon by all secondary and post-secondary College Board members. As a fail-safe, AP students are encouraged to take a standardized test at the end of the academic year so there can be no question as to the quality of coursework and student performance.
Dual enrollment courses are more difficult to objectively evaluate. For instance, how might you assess the following students who all received A’s in their English dual enrollment courses: Student A) who took the community college course but didn’t have to study because the coursework was easier than anticipated; Student B) who took a college course at the local state university, renowned for its academic rigor, and Student C) who took a dual enrollment course at his high school from a teacher using a college syllabus?
Because all AP courses are accountable to the same expectations, college admission counselors can be relatively confident in the quality of instruction. With dual enrollment courses, however, admissions professionals are left to make educated guesses about the rigor and quality of specific programs with limited knowledge of the course material and no standardized exam. This might not present as troublesome a problem regionally, but schools receiving applications from across the country can’t afford to individually investigate every dual enrollment course they come across.
Okay, so let’s switch gears for a minute. It’s widely known that AP course offerings are not the same across the board. For instance, a large private school in Chicago will probably offer more numerous and rigorous options than say a small rural school in Wyoming. What do you do if your school either doesn’t offer AP courses or (based on your school’s AP testing history) you feel that a particular dual enrollment option will present a more sophisticated challenge? Assuming, you’ve completed enough research to make a qualified decision on the matter, go for the more arduous option. However, be sure to explain the reason for your choice in your application.
Now, I’ve managed to ignore the elephant in the room for six paragraphs: what about college credit? Right, well, as you know AP and dual enrollment courses are often a means to an end…that end being college credit. The policies employed to allocate course credit are as varied as the institutions they serve. Some schools, like Centre, will not accept dual enrollment credit for the reasons mentioned above. Regarding AP scores, many schools will accept any passing score on an AP exam (3-5), while some schools are more selective, accepting only scores of 4 and 5. Beyond that, you get into issues of which credits count toward electives and which count toward graduation requirements. And the list goes on…
To be honest, it can be a bit of a quagmire regardless of which path you take. In the end, seeking out information from your list of prospective colleges is the only way to be 100% sure you’re making the best decisions. For the most organized student, that may mean having a tentative list of colleges by the end of the sophomore year. (Being familiar with with the AP curriculum as whole couldn’t hurt either.) But you needn’t be a slave to college credit in high school; pursue courses that will genuinely stimulate and challenge you. As Sir Francis Bacon said, “You can never please everyone. Sometimes it is sufficient to simply choose the path that pleases you.” Well actually, that one was just me.