AP Courses v Dual Enrollment

a student trying to decide between AP courses or dual enrollment

One challenge for homeschoolers and worldschoolers is building a viable transcript. Although there are many educational options for homeschoolers that provide accredited courses and a high school transcript, such as Cicero, there still remains that challenge for college admissions counselors to benchmark one student against another. For this, homeschoolers and worldschoolers have a couple of options, the most popular being AP courses and dual enrollment courses at a community college. Both are very excellent ways for students to showcase their academic accomplishments, and both options offer unique benefits and challenges, making the choice between them significant for those planning their path to college. This article aims to explore the pros and cons of AP courses v dual credit, providing homeschoolers and their parents with insightful guidance to make an informed decision.

Dual Enrollment

Dual enrollment programs allow high school students, including homeschoolers, to enroll in community college courses, earning both high school and college credits simultaneously. This approach offers a practical taste of college life and academics. Students can “try on college,” so to speak, during high school. Additionally, dual enrollment comes without the pressure of a standardized exam at the end of the course.

A huge pro for many families is that some colleges and universities will accept these credits and count them toward their requirements, allowing students to reduce the duration of their college career and save money. That said, only 67% of four-year U.S. colleges and universities accept dual credit, and often have restrictions such as that the credit-issuing institution must be in the same state as the college or university that the student is applying them to. Another consideration is whether a student wants to rush the college experience.

Pros of Dual Credit

  • Direct College Experience: Students gain firsthand exposure to college-level coursework and campus life, preparing them for future academic endeavors.
  • No Standardized Exam Required: Success in the course does not hinge on a single high-stakes test, reducing pressure on students.
  • Transferable Credit: Often credits earned in these courses can be counted against the requirements in a four-year college, reducing overall costs.

Cons of Dual Enrollment

  • In-person Attendance: Dual credit courses are often offered by community colleges in person, requiring the student to adapt to a fixed schedule and learning environment, which might not suit every homeschooler’s needs or learning style.
  • Variable Instruction Quality: The caliber of teaching and resources can differ widely across community colleges, potentially affecting the learning experience.
  • Perceived as Less Rigorous: Generally, the most elite colleges and universities don’t value dual credit courses as highly as AP courses and exam scores.

AP Courses

Advanced Placement (AP) courses were developed in the 1950s, during the Cold War, as a way of offering the highest achieving high school students a challenging, advanced curriculum, by the College Board, which administers the SAT exam. While it is possible to earn college credit for an AP course, this depends on the college and the subject. Students generally need to score a 5 (out of 5) to earn credit.

Pros of AP Courses

  • Flexibility and Personalization: AP courses can be done online and with private teachers, like those at Cicero, which offers a wide range of AP courses online with private teachers. This allows students to get personalized attention and a pace that fits their lifestyle and educational needs.
  • Rigorous Curriculum: AP courses are known for their demanding nature, challenging students to develop a deep understanding of the subject matter.
  • Preferred by Elite Institutions: Many top-tier colleges view AP courses and exams as a benchmark of a student’s ability to handle college-level work.
  • Multiple Exam Attempts:** Students can take AP exams more than once, offering multiple opportunities to achieve a desirable score. Note however, that the exam is only given once per year. So, a student who wants to retake the exam will need to wait until the following year.
  • Optional Exams:** There is no requirement to take the AP exam as part of an AP course; though doing so is necessary to earn college credit.

Cons of AP Courses

  • Challenging Exams: Achieving a score of 4 or above (out of 5) is essential for the exam to be favorably recognized, which can be daunting given the exams’ difficulty level.

AP Courses v Dual Enrollment: Which Path to Take?

For homeschoolers deciding between dual credit and AP courses, several factors should be considered. Dual enrollment offers a straightforward path into the college environment, beneficial for those seeking to ease into college-level study habits and expectations. However, the constraints of fixed schedules and potential variability in teaching quality may not align with the needs of every homeschooling family.

On the other hand, AP courses can be done at your own pace and online, giving homeschoolers—and, particularly, worldschoolers—enhanced flexibility. The rigorous nature of AP courses, coupled with the prestige they hold in the eyes of elite colleges, makes them an attractive option for students aiming high. Moreover, the ability to personalize instruction with a private teacher can significantly enhance test preparation, potentially leading to higher scores.

At Cicero, we generally advise our high schoolers to take a couple of AP courses so that their transcripts can be benchmarked better against students from traditional schools, and offer a wide array from AP Chemistry to AP Latin.


Choosing between AP courses and dual credit is a decision that hinges on individual preferences, lifestyle, and academic goals. For homeschoolers who value flexibility, personalized learning, and are aiming for elite institutions, AP courses may offer the best path forward.

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