What Are Dual-Credit Classes? College Courses at a Low Cost

Starting college can be overwhelming. What if I told you, however, that there is a way to better prepare?

Read on to understand how dual-credit programs can help you on the way to college and beyond. Here is everything you need to know to get a jumpstart on college.

What Is a Dual-Credit Program?

The National Alliance for Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships defines the term as “the opportunity for high school students to take college credit–bearing courses taught by college-approved high school teachers.”

Let me break this definition down so you can better understand what dual-credit programs entail. Throughout my explanation, I will be using Saint Louis University's 1818 Advanced College Credit Program offered by (SLU 1818 ACC) to help explain what dual credit means.

Dual credit means dual credit.

It may seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning: In dual-credit programs, you earn credit that goes toward your high school requirements; and at the same time, you also earn college credit. So, with SLU 1818 ACC, the courses you take help you graduate from high school and count as college courses that will appear on your university transcript once you begin your undergraduate studies.

A class may be taught in a high school, but it’s a college course.

The university in a dual-credit program reviews and approves high school instructors to teach college syllabi in their classrooms. If you were to take a SLU 1818 ACC course, for instance, your high school teacher would have already been vetted by Saint Louis University, which would have granted your instructor permission to teach the same course that college students would take on the SLU campus. SLU 1818 ACC students are taught a SLU syllabus and are given access to the university’s research-intensive library resources.

It’s not pre-college…it is college.

Dual-credit courses are not pre-college or preparatory courses — they are college-level courses that are just as rigorous as those offered on a university campus. SLU 1818 ACC students take the same assessments as Saint Louis University students, and they are accordingly required to follow the same academic policies.

There is no single exam or extra test.

Dual credit classes aren’t evaluated on a summative scale through a comprehensive examination. One of the major hallmarks of dual credit is that, upon completing the same assignments and assessments as a university student, you are given college credit. There’s no extra test to qualify for credit, as there is for AP courses; instead, you are experiencing the same SLU class that student take on campus and earning actual SLU college credit.

The credit is usually transferable.

Most dual-credit courses can be transferred either to the program’s host university or to other universities nationally.

It’s a college course, but it’s cheap.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating…a dual-credit course means real college courses! You do, however, avoid the sticker price of a college course. For example, a Saint Louis University undergraduate course costs $1,350. Comparatively, SLU 1818 ACC only charges $65 per credit hour. That’s a 95 percent savings per credit hour! You can get a SLU education without the SLU cost.

What Are the Benefits of Dual-Credit Courses?

You can take challenging classes.

Dual-credit courses are ideal for students who are looking for new kinds of intellectual stimulation, and who are eager to challenge themselves academically. In a dual-credit course, you will not only be pushed to explore advanced content, but you’ll also experience new types of assignments.

You are better prepared for college.

Dual-credit courses will enable you to start college knowing what to expect in terms of academics. As a first-year student, you will likely feel more confident as you take first-semester courses, since you’ll have already experienced what it is like to take a college class. Additionally, students who participate in dual-credit programs learn about the administrative processes of taking college courses. You will be able to navigate registration, enrollment, and payments before you set foot on campus.

You are granted access to university resources.

Dual-credit programs give students exposure to campus resources and university faculty. There are also dedicated staff members who are happy to help students.

You can save money.

With the reduced tuition rate, students can knock out a chunk of their future requirements or electives for a fraction of the cost. While a dual-credit program may not reduce the amount of time it takes to graduate, it can allow you to take fewer credit-hours per semester and give you time to take advantage of opportunities like study abroad, which may not otherwise have fit into your schedule.

You can transfer the credit to any college.

If you take a university course, you’ll emerge with a university transcript, which can be accepted at several institutions. You should talk with an academic adviser about whether a specific college accepts dual credit, and how it applies toward your (current and future) academic work.

Who Can Participate?

Dual-credit course are wonderful learning opportunities for high school students, but there are some limits on who can participate. Most states have rules regarding how dual credit can be delivered in the host state to ensure that course rigor is adequately matched with student capabilities.

Most dual-credit programs are limited to juniors and seniors in high school, and typically students must maintain a certain cumulative GPA — usually between 2.5 and 3.0. Since a college course is more challenging than a high school course, the school, university, and government want to ensure that they set students up for success.

The university that is partnered with your high school should be following state guidelines and will be able to tell you more about student eligibility criteria in your state.

What Are Challenges Students May Encounter When Taking Dual-Credit Courses?

While there are many benefits to taking dual-credit courses, it’s important to ensure you can get the most out of your programs. You should research whether you will be able to transfer the credits you receive, and how the credits can be applied in your undergraduate career. You should also think about whether you have the time, energy, stamina, and desire to take on college-level work while you’re still in high school.

How Do You Find a Good Partner?

Dual-credit programs require a partnership between a high school and university to deliver courses. It also not unusual for a high school to partner with various universities in different geographic areas. Here are key tips for finding a good dual-credit program:

Seek programs with national membership.

Is the program you are considering a member of the National Alliance for Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP)? NACEP is the sole and premier dual-credit accreditor and national association. NACEP ensures that programs are authentic and adhere to the highest of standards set forth for dual credit. A member partner will be active and model its program on NACEP’s standards or be accredited through NACEP.

Look for partners that provide more than classes.

A good program will offer students and families lots of ways to get in touch with a university if they need guidance. It will also provide students with access to university resources so they can get the most out of their courses.

Research a program’s transferability.

A good dual-credit program will have courses that transfer beyond the host university to other colleges. NACEP membership typically helps increase transferability.

Be sure a partner is good at communicating.

Does the program you’re considering communicate with everyone involved in the dual-credit process on a regular basis? Does it provide a way for students and teachers to contact the host university if they need assistance? Test the program out by seeing what your experience is like when you try to get in touch to ask questions.

Look into the program’s past.

How long has the program been around? How many courses/credit hours does it offer? What is the program’s record with state compliance and national standards? A program with a good track record is more likely to give you a positive experience.

Use Noodle's college search feature to find universities near you that may offer dual-credit programs.