Preparing for College

Earning college credit in high school can save money

Every parent who would like their child to go to college thinks the same thing. How on earth are we going to pay for it?

If you have a good student, there are ways to start saving on college expenses when your student is still in high school. Fauquier County High Schools offer a few different ways for students to obtain college credits in high school at a substantial savings: Dual Enrollment classes (DE), Advanced Placement classes (AP), and Mountain Vista Governor’s School.

Many students take advantage of these options. According to Mark Bjorkman, Fauquier High School Guidance Director, Fauquier High School students earned over 3,000 hours of college credit last year. One 2017 FHS graduate who took both AP and DE classes ended up walking into college as a sophomore. Another student who attended Mountain Vista Governor’s School walked into William and Mary as a junior. Bjorkman said, “I had one young man who was a Governor’s School student who attended Carnegie Mellon and he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in four years, which probably saved $50,000-75,000.”

Going into college with credits already built up may mean that the student does not have to take some of the core classes that all colleges require, usually in the freshman and sophomore years. It can also mean that there can be less pressure on the student to take a full roster of classes each semester, in the event that they want to do something else such as maintain a job or play sports, or participate in an internship. It also could enable them to graduate early, and/or apply to grad school sooner.  

So which way should you encourage your student to go? AP? Dual enrollment? Governor’s School?

Probably the most confusing thing about AP and DE classes is untangling the similarities and differences. The differences are perhaps the less confusing of the two, and are in the admission process, the enrollment process, the way they are scored, and the way colleges evaluate them.

Dual enrollment means that students are taking college classes for college credit while they are in high school. So they are essentially enrolled in Lord Fairfax Community College at the same time as they are enrolled in their local high school. Colleges will look at the courses the student takes, and the grade earned, as college courses, and each school will individually decide if the credits will transfer or not, just as if you were a college student looking to transfer to their school from another college. Bjorkman said, “Taking a course as DE is a hugely substantial savings per credit hour. The cost for six credit hours (one class) at LFCC last year was $265.28. Compare that to the cost of credit hours at a full time college, and it’s a staggering difference.” The student will also receive high school credit for the class. Enrolling in the class involves applying to LFCC, and will involve a placement test unless the student has earned a certain score on the SAT or ACT.  

AP class scores are determined by a national test at the end of the year, which all students across the nation take at exactly the same time. Scores range from 1-5, with 5 being the highest score. Different colleges will evaluate the student’s score to determine if they will receive credit for the class or not. Some may not give credit for the class, but will exempt you from that particular general education requirement. AP students who take the national exam at the end of the year are awarded one extra point towards their high school GPA for each AP course passed.

The similarities are what can confuse the issue.

For Fauquier High School students, both DE and AP classes are taught at the high school (not at the college), by high school teachers who are certified to teach AP and college classes, i.e., with a master’s degree in the subject.

Here’s the confusing part: Some classes are offered with the option of enrolling for either (or both) DE and AP credit. If that is the case, they are the same class.

In Fauquier County, if a class is offered as both an AP and a DE class, it will be taught in one classroom by the same teacher at the same time. For instance, AP United States Government and Politics is also offered as a DE. So students taking it for AP credit are in the same class with those taking it as a DE course. The curriculum is the same, it is exactly the same course for students taking it for AP credit as for students taking it for DE credit.

So, for the classes that offer both, the student can take both options, taking it as a college course via DE, and also taking the AP exam at the end of the year. Why? You’re covering two bases: some colleges may take the AP score but not let the DE credit transfer, and vice-versa.  Also, in Fauquier County, the high school pays for each student enrolled in an AP class to take the exam at the end of the year. So, with that extra point added to your GPA for taking the exam, there is no reason, except perhaps for senioritis, not to take advantage of the AP exam. Fauquier High School encourages students to take advantage of both opportunities: Bjorkman says, “Over 70 percent of the kids last year who were in AP/DE classes were dual enrolled as well as taking the class for AP credit.”

So what is Governor’s School?

Mountain Vista Governor’s School is a regional public school program focusing on math, science, and technology for gifted high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors. The classes are held in the mornings at LFCC, taught by certified high school teachers, and the students return to their high school for afternoon classes. There is a rigorous testing and application process, completed during the student’s freshman year. The value, for the purpose of this article, is that most MVGS classes are offered as DE and AP as well.

Bjorkman said, “We have always stressed the dual enrollment. With our kids who have money issues, we can get scholarships from LFCC where they’ll pay partial tuition. We try to do anything we can to help kids afford dual enrollment. We have to be proactive.”

Bjorkman concludes, “As a parent I encourage you to be aggressive to gain information from your base high school, LFCC, and colleges of interest as to how dual enrollment classes can be helpful. The bottom line is that a challenging curriculum and the rigor of Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment classes will prepare your students for life after high school, and may also save you money at the same time.”

Pam Kamphuis
About Pam Kamphuis 35 Articles
Pam Kamphuis is an editor and writer for Piedmont Virginian Magazine and Piedmont Lifestyle Magazines.

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