Earning college credits in high school is a great way for students to take initiative, explore their interests, or try something new. Please note that colleges will have different policies regarding college credits earned in high school, so please do the research!
There are several ways to earn college credit while still in high school, including taking college or AP classes, testing out of requirements, and enrolling early. Explore these and other options below.
1. Advanced Placement Classes
Developed by CollegeBoard, a national education nonprofit, advanced placement (AP) classes prepare students for college-level tests in over 30 subjects. Learners who pass AP tests at the end of the year receive college credits that are applicable at institutions in North America.
High schools with AP programs usually offer classes in key competency areas like English language composition, U.S. history, computer science, chemistry, and music theory. Most exams cost $95, but students in financial need may be eligible for fee reductions. Exams occur in May each year and score students on a 1-5 scale.
Credit and admission policies for AP students vary by college or university. CollegeBoard reports that most schools offer placement or credits for students with scores of three or higher, but it’s good to check with your intended school to get its exact policies.
2. Cambridge AICE Classes
Students can also earn college credits in high school by taking Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) classes. These courses cover over 50 subjects in four main groups: mathematics and science, languages, humanities and arts, and interdisciplinary subjects. These classes allow learners to explore their interests while gaining additional academic skills.
Universities worldwide recognize Cambridge AICE classes for their comprehensive rigor. Qualified learners can sit for advanced (A) or advanced subsidiary (AS) exams each summer. A-level courses adopt a more extensive approach and typically take longer to complete than AS courses. Students can begin with an AS curriculum before extending to A-level classes.
Cambridge AICE grades classes on a scale from A (highest performance) to E (minimal performance). Exam outcomes result in a certain number of credits — more for A-level, fewer for AS-levels — and students with at least seven credits can receive the Cambridge AICE Diploma.
3. International Baccalaureate Diploma Program
The International Baccalaureate (IB) Program uses a similar approach to Cambridge AICE but assesses different content areas and takes around two years to complete. Graduates receive an internationally recognized diploma that demonstrates proficiency and skill in three core elements and a single subject as chosen by each student. Options include math, science, or the arts. Only approved schools can administer IB diploma programming.
IB exam sections are scored on a 1-7 scale and include written assessments in each course or program area. IB combines individual assessment scores to calculate a final diploma result. Diploma-seekers need at least 24 points.
Over 3,000 colleges and universities throughout the world accept IB diploma transcripts, but as with other methods of earning college credits in high school, individual policies vary.
4. College Level Examination Program Exams
College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams are a great way for motivated students with strong study skills to obtain college credits in high school. These tests are similar to AP exams, but they do not offer structured classes ahead of the assessment. Instead, students prepare on their own, building their own college-level knowledge of key subjects.
CollegeBoard administers CLEP exams throughout the year at approved test centers and recently began implementing remote proctoring. Exams cost $89 and cover composition and literature, world languages, history and science, business, and science and mathematics.
Test-takers receive a scaled score for each exam, ranging from 20-80 points. According to CollegeBoard, the American Council on Education recommends that universities grant credit for scores of 50 or higher. Individual schools may set their own score thresholds.
5. Dual Enrollment
Unlike AP, IB, or Cambridge AICE options, which all offer preparatory instruction intended for high school students, dual enrollment means you enroll in full college classes while still attending high school. Learners complete college-level assignments and receive credit that applies to both their high school diplomas and subsequent college degrees.
According to the Community College Research Center, over 70% of high schools across the U.S offer dual enrollment to help facilitate the college transition. Organizations like the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships establish guidelines that inform this practice.
Students interested in dual enrollment should consult their high school counselors to learn about their options and determine which courses to pursue. Each college differs in how it handles instruction for dual enrollment, so it’s best to do your own research. Some programs offer online options to increase accessibility.