Written by Michelle McAnaney of The College Spy

There are tons of reasons why students might want to challenge themselves outside of the classes that are offered at their high school.

What are some of those reasons?

Maybe you’re interested in exploring post-WWII French film, but dang, your school doesn’t offer French film classes.

Maybe you’ve maxed out your school’s curriculum in a certain subject and you’re ready to step up your game. (I’m looking at you multi-variable calculus.)

Or maybe you want to knock out some prerequisites for courses you’ll take in college to save some time and/or money.

Or perhaps you just want something to keep your brain from turning to mush during the summer break.

If any of these sound like you, it’s worth considering dual enrollment courses.

What is dual enrollment?

Dual enrollment courses are single courses that provide students with both high school and college credits. You can take these at your high school, a community college, at a four-year college or, yes, even online from the comfort of your home. These classes are usually taught by college professors or high school teachers who have been approved by the college to lead a  college-level course.

What are some other reasons to take dual enrollment courses?

1) If the dual enrollment course you’re taking satisfies a general education requirement, it may free up time in your college schedule to explore other interesting classes, study abroad (Ciao, Roma!), or take on an internship and get some life experience.

2) If the transferred credits satisfy a prerequisite, you might be placed directly into a higher level course and, get this, even be able to graduate early or get a double major.

3) Dual enrollment courses are generally much less expensive per credit than equivalent courses taken while enrolled in college. In some situations, dual enrollment courses can even be free!

Don’t believe me? Check out the cost per credit at your local community college. Then do the same for a major 4-year private or public school in your state.

Can you feel the savings, yet?

4) Taking a dual enrollment course can help you get into college.

Since we know that a.) academic rigor is one of the most important factors in getting accepted to college and b.) dual enrollment courses are basically college level courses, taking on dual enrollment courses shows your willingness to challenge yourself.

5) Dual enrollment courses give you the opportunity to practice being a college student.

If you take a dual enrollment class at a college or at a college-level, you’ll experience firsthand the responsibilities and workload of an actual college student. The benefit of this is that you’ll enter college with a better understanding of faculty expectations, how best to manage your time, and the time commitment for an introductory level course. (Spoiler alert: It’s a lot more than high school, on average.)

If you’re taking a class at a local college, you’ll probably also make friends with college students (street credz), get a feel for campus life, and even make some connections with professors, which could land you a solid recommendation letter.

6) Spending time on a college campus can help with your college search process.

You’ll learn things about college life that will help you decide what you want and don’t want from your future college: Is your school too big and overwhelming or too small and lacking opportunities? Are you hating the drive to campus and wanting to definitely live on campus in college?

Armed with your newfound knowledge, you’ll be better able to ask well-informed questions on college tours and have more realistic expectations of what a college can offer you.

Why might dual enrollment be a not-so-great idea?

1) Generally, dual enrollment courses are not considered to be as rigorous as Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

Admissions counselors will evaluate your transcript by looking at how you did in the courses you took given the context of what resources were available to you at your high school. Since selective colleges are looking for students who take the most rigorous courses available, they might wonder why you took US History at a local college rather than AP US History at your high school.

2) The college you ultimately choose to attend may not transfer the credits you earn in dual enrollment courses.

Before you make a definite choice about whether or not to take a dual enrollment course, be proactive and do some research! If having the ability to transfer credits is important to you, reach out to the admissions officer at the college where you’re intending to take a dual enrollment course and ask about how their credits generally transfer to other colleges. More selective colleges might limit the number of dual enrollment transfer credits they accept. Heads up: electives are usually easier to transfer in than general ed requirements.

3) Some high schools do not weight dual enrollment courses in the same way that they weight honors and AP classes when calculating a student’s grade point average (GPA).

Here’s an interesting fact: If typically take honors and AP courses but decide to take a dual enrollment course, you might find that even an A in a dual enrollment course brings down your high school GPA. Most colleges recalculate your GPA when you apply, so it likely won’t affect your application! But if you’re fighting for summa cum laude at your high school, then you may want to think twice.

Dual enrollment courses are unique opportunities that can offer significant advantages for the right type of student. However, it’s important to consider all the ways in which they can affect your academic profile before you commit to taking one.

If after reading this you’re still not sure if they’re the right fit for you, talk with your school counselor. They might have some wisdom that could save you a headache down the road.

So take a breath. Do some research. Find out.

You got this.