What is Dual Enrollment and How Does it Work?

Want to get a head start on your college education? Dual enrollment is a program that allows high school students to take college-level courses and earn credits toward both their high school diploma and a postsecondary degree at the same time. It doesn’t matter if you go to private school or public school – dual enrollment is available to almost all U.S. high school students.  

If you want to graduate college as soon as possible, save money on tuition, and better prepare yourself for university curriculum, dual enrollment could be for you. Here’s how it works. 

How does dual enrollment work?

Dual enrollment is typically offered in collaboration between high schools and colleges. Participating high schools usually partner with a local college, university, or community college to provide dual credit courses for their students. Dual credit courses allow students to earn both high school and college credits for the same course. 

To take part in the dual enrollment program, you have to meet certain eligibility requirements, which, among others, typically include maintaining a specific grade point average (GPA). In some cases, you may also need to take a placement test to ensure you are ready for college-level coursework. 

Once accepted into the dual enrollment program, you can enroll in college courses and attend them either on the college’s campus or online. To make the process even more convenient, some dual enrollment programs offer their courses on high school campuses. 

Typically, you’ll receive a syllabus and course materials just like any other college student. If you successfully complete the course, you’ll earn both high school and college credits. These college-level courses can then be transferred to a four-year college or university and count towards a college degree.

The pros and cons of dual enrollment 

Dual enrollment programs offer several advantages for high school students, but they also come with some drawbacks. Here are some of the most common: 


  • Saves time and money: Dual enrollment allows you to earn college credit early, save money on tuition, avoid student loans, and reduce other expenses associated with pursuing a degree.
  • Prepares you for college coursework: By taking college-level courses while still in high school, you can become better prepared for the demands of higher education.
  • Enhances college applications: If you’re a sophomore or junior who’s starting to think about college applications, dual enrollment shows initiative and motivation to college admissions officers, which can boost your chances of being accepted into competitive institutions.
  • Expands academic options: Dual enrollment programs usually offer a wider variety of courses than what’s available at the high school level, allowing you to explore different academic interests. These specialized classes could be a crucial part of helping you decide which major you’ll pursue in the future.
  • Offers college experience: Participating in dual enrollment can expose you to the college environment, which can better prepare you for the transition from high school to college.


  • Not everyone qualifies: Dual enrollment programs have specific requirements, such as prerequisite courses, minimum GPA, and standardized test scores, that you’ll have to meet to participate. Not all students will qualify.
  • Can be challenging to schedule: Juggling high school coursework with college-level classes is no easy task. And that’s just academics. Outside of school, you might find it challenging to balance dual enrollment courses with extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, or other regular commitments.
  • Transferability varies: While dual enrollment credits are generally transferable to colleges and universities, the acceptance of credits may vary depending on the institution and the specific course. Make sure you consult with individual colleges to determine the transferability of credits earned through dual enrollment.
  • Requires sacrifice: Because dual enrollment can be challenging and time-consuming, it may result in you missing out on traditional high school experiences, like participating in sports, electives, clubs, or social events. You’ll have to determine if the benefits outweigh missing out on some of the formative experiences that high school can offer.  

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How do you sign up for a dual enrollment program? 

The specific process of enrolling may vary depending on your state, school district, and educational institution. However, there are common steps you can take to initiate the enrollment process:

  1. Research dual enrollment options: Start by researching the dual enrollment programs available in your area, or at colleges and universities you’re interested in attending. Your school might have partnerships with specific schools, so check with your high school guidance counselor first. Then, visit college websites or explore state-specific resources to gather information about eligibility requirements, available courses, and application steps.
  2. Review eligibility requirements: Each dual enrollment program has its own set of eligibility criteria. Typically, requirements include meeting a minimum GPA, getting a counselor’s approval, and sometimes achieving a certain score on standardized tests like the ACT or SAT. Some more advanced dual enrollment classes might require a prerequisite course. Check out the program’s guidelines for specific eligibility criteria.
  3. Get necessary permissions: Dual enrollment programs often require written consent from parents or guardians. Make sure to involve them in the decision-making process, and get their permission if necessary.
  4. Complete the application process: Once you’ve found a dual enrollment program you want to enroll in, follow the application instructions provided by the program or educational institution. This may involve filling out an application form, submitting your high school transcript, getting letters of recommendation, and maybe even taking placement tests.

It’s important to note that the enrollment process for dual enrollment programs may vary depending on your location and the policies of the specific college or university offering the program. That’s why you should always consult the official websites or reach out to the admissions offices of the institution you want to attend. That way, you’re guaranteed accurate and up-to-date information on the enrollment process.

Even better –– take advantage of your high school counselors. A counselor can provide support throughout the entire dual enrollment process. They can help you understand the application requirements, navigate the logistics of scheduling dual enrollment courses, and answer any questions you may have. 

Alternatives to dual enrollment

Not sure that dual enrollment is for you? Here are some common alternatives. 

  1. Advanced Placement (AP) courses: AP courses are offered in many high schools and allow students to earn college credit by passing an AP exam at the end of the semester. They offer a challenging curriculum that’s similar to college-level coursework and can demonstrate a student’s ability to handle higher-level classes.
  2. Concurrent Enrollment: Concurrent enrollment programs allow high school students to take college-level courses and earn credit for them. Unlike dual enrollment, these programs are typically taught by a high school teacher so they don’t require students to take courses on a college campus.
  3. Online courses: Many colleges and universities offer online courses that high school students can take for credit. These courses provide flexibility in terms of scheduling and location, allowing students to explore subjects not available at their high schools.
  4. College-level exams: Some colleges and universities grant credit based on scores on certain proficiency exams like the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) or the DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST). These exams assess knowledge in specific subjects and can be an alternative way to earn college credit. 

Do colleges prefer dual enrollment or AP courses? 

There’s no clear preference for colleges between dual enrollment or AP courses. Unlike dual enrollment, AP courses might only count for high school credit. It’s up to your college’s discretion whether or not they’ll award credit, usually based on your AP test performance. If you get a good grade in the class, but a lower score on the test, you may not receive college credit. 

One of the benefits of dual enrollment is that the course tracks a student’s performance over time versus their performance on a single day. So, if you’re a student who doesn’t usually do well with standardized testing, a dual enrollment course might be better for you. 

But if you’re looking to attend a highly competitive school, taking multiple AP classes (and performing well on the tests) might give you an edge in the college admissions process. At many high schools, AP courses are weighted more heavily than regular courses and can boost your GPA. Because AP coursework is standardized by the College Board, it also tends to be more rigorous, which also looks good to an admissions committee. 

If your high school offers dual enrollment and AP classes, you might explore both. Knock out some general education requirements, like English 101, with an AP class, then try something more tailored to your future major with a dual enrollment class.

Does dual enrollment affect your GPA? 

It depends. At some high schools, the grades you receive in a dual enrollment course will be factored into your high school GPA. Typically, the decision of whether or not to factor these grades into a student’s GPA is at the discretion of the high school. But this policy varies by school, so double-check with your guidance counselor before enrolling in a dual enrollment class.

How much does dual enrollment cost? 

Because dual enrollment isn’t something standardized by the Department of Education, the price of a dual enrollment class can vary a lot between public schools, private schools, and areas. 

In some states, like California for example, there are tuition-free dual enrollment programs funded by grants from the state government. If your area doesn’t offer free dual enrollment classes, you might find opportunities for free textbooks or waived enrollment fees for high school students. 

Research the programs offered by your school and their partner colleges to find your exact cost. Some sources say a dual enrollment course costs an average of $400 per class, compared with $2,336 per class for a typical college course. In many states, Missouri for example, there are scholarship programs available to help high school students cover the costs of dual enrollment. And, of course, you can find more external scholarships on Going Merry. 

Pay less for college with Going Merry

Dual enrollment programs can be a smart way for students to complete high school classes and college-level courses at the same time. While the coursework may be more challenging, earning college credit while you’re still in high school can give you a leg up to complete your degree, save money, and kickstart your future. 

Another great way to save money on college? Signing up for Going Merry. From quality scholarships curated and vetted by specialists, to tools to unlock the maximum financial aid possible, Going Merry has something for every type of student. Sign up for Going Merry and get access to valuable resources, helpful tools, and high-dollar scholarships hand-picked for you. 

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