Should road to college be paved with dual enrollment, AP or IB courses?

Higher ed expert says it may depend on campus your child hopes to attend
In Georgia, many high school students have an opportunity to take college coursework. Is that a wiser choice than taking AP or IB classes at the high school?

Credit: Amanda Voisard

Credit: Amanda Voisard

In Georgia, many high school students have an opportunity to take college coursework. Is that a wiser choice than taking AP or IB classes at the high school?

If you spend time around parents of high school students, you'll often hear debate over whether teens should enroll in courses at local colleges under Georgia's dual enrollment program or stay put and sign up for their high school's most challenging classes.

Today, Sonya Shuler-Okoli offers insights into that discussion. A former college dean and university professor, she is immediate past president of the Georgia Higher Education Alliance. Her work spans parent education consulting, urban school reform, community partnerships and youth advocacy.

Through her years in education, Shuler-Okoli has become familiar with institutional types from Harvard to DeVry. A mother of three, she holds a doctorate in educational leadership from Clark-Atlanta University.

By Sonya Shuler-Okoli

The road to “Destination College” is filled with twist turns, bumps and a few bruises. Subsequently, many parents and students get to the bitter end feeling like they just stepped out of a boxing ring. Some parents harbor regrets, wishing they could make a call to father time to request a “redo” of their child’s high school matriculation.

As a former dean of academics, let me tell you those feelings are normal. I’ve worked with college-bound high school students and first-year college students. During this time, I realized just how many families have a misguided view of dual enrollment and the high school curriculum tracks in general.

Before I share why you need to think twice about dual enrollment, let me provide a general overview of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tracks:

Advanced Placement/AP: Created by the College Board as an opportunity for students to pursue college-level work for credit and placement while matriculating high school. At the completion of a course, students must pass the AP exam. A passing score provides credit and placement. Placement refers to being placed in a position to "skip" general education core usually required during the first years of college. Therefore, a passing grade and score on the AP English exam, awards ENG 101 college credit along with high school English credit. But a non-favorable mark will receive high school credit only.

International Baccalaureate/IB 
This is an international credential program with goals of preparing students for success in life and college. It is designed to shape student intellectual, social, emotional, physical well-being and critical thinking. Equipped with options to take either a few courses or pursue the prestigious IB diploma, which includes six subject groups. Although students describe the diploma track as daunting, those willing to pursue position themselves to potentially save a years' worth of college work. A few institutions waive their core requirement (yes, every single class) in lieu of the IB Diploma.

With that background, let’s delve into the dual enrollment dilemma.

Dr. Sonya Shuler-Okoli

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In Georgia, many high school students have an opportunity to take college coursework. Higher education partners offer courses at traditional college campuses, on high school grounds and even online. The options were recently expanded to reach students in remote/rural counties where the nearest college may be far away.

Although dual enrollment is a great program to give students a little college test drive, many students don’t really understand what they are getting themselves into. And their parents may be unaware of the pros/cons specific to their student’s educational goals.

Regardless of what you know, I urge you to proceed with caution and think twice about dual enrollment. Because here’s what you might not know:

Highly selective and top-tier schools often prefer AP or IB credits over dual enrollment.

You should not complete a full "associate's degree" unless occupational, otherwise it's a waste of time.

Too many college credits could jeopardize a student's "Freshman Profile," which could make them ineligible for scholarships geared toward freshmen. There are fewer scholarships for students designated with "transfer" student status.

Dual enrollment courses at four-year colleges are strongly preferred over courses at two-year colleges

School district withdrawal policies may flip a "W" in a dual enrollment class to F.

What's done is done--no do-overs in these courses

Students should only take courses at colleges with a respectable academic reputation.

Dual enrollment is not one-size-fits-all, nor is it the “cure all.” Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of higher ed institutions acknowledging dual enrollment with open arms, accepting tons of previous credits, welcoming advanced standing and weighing applicant materials.

However, just like any other important decision with multiple layers, do your research and you might need to also phone a friend. Ultimately, before considering dual enrollment, think strategically about what your child’s academic end goal might be, along with what colleges they would like to attend.

If you have a “high” academic achiever, that last part is important. Such students often want to attend Ivy League or highly selective institutions that will be looking at whether the teen took the toughest classes they could.

By now, I’m sure you’ve figured out that all institutions can be just a little persnickety. If you take time to get to know not only what’s required, but expected, your child has "dibs" on the answer sheet to one of the hardest tests they will take in life.