College Corner: Choosing, or skipping, AP and dual-credit courses

Published on Monday, 28 April 2014 20:57 - Written by

It may seem like a no-brainer to enroll in as many advanced placement (AP) or dual-credit classes as possible.

After all, colleges look favorably upon applicants who do well in AP courses. Once these students are on campus, they may be exempt from certain basic required classes. By taking dual-credit courses, students may arrive on campus with hours of college credit under their belts — saving both time and money.

AP courses must have a specially designed curriculum that’s approved by The College Board. In Texas, dual-credit courses are the result of agreements between high schools and colleges or junior colleges, and students earn college credit for each successfully completed course.

But even though these challenging courses are popular, they simply aren’t for everyone — or at least, not every AP course is right for every student. I always caution my students and parents to choose AP and dual-credit courses carefully, to help ensure the extra work involved will pay off in the end.

First, students should start with AP or dual-credit courses that play to their strengths. Remember, grades earned in these courses not only count toward the overall high school grade-point average but will also establish the college GPA. Although admissions officers like to see AP courses on an applicant’s resume, there’s risk involved. A couple of C’s in AP courses could really drag down an otherwise stellar GPA.

Ideally, AP coursework is taken not only in the student’s best subjects, but also in those he or she really enjoys and that are relevant to his or her possible college major. That’s because most students are more motivated to do the extra work an AP course requires if they truly like the subject. (Of course, many students also find they become much more interested in a subject when they are challenged by rigorous work.)

Finally, I always suggest students weigh the overall effect of cramming a schedule with advanced courses. Many schools limit the number a student can take per semester. Even if yours does not, think carefully about how much pressure your child can take. High school is no time to get burned out.

I worked with one student whose schedule was packed with so many AP courses that he was spending five to six hours on homework every night. He was so overbooked and over-stressed that he had little time for friends, family or hobbies. And he was really struggling in math and Spanish, neither of which came naturally. Overall, his grades were still good and his resume looked impressive — but at what cost?

As I talked with this family, it became clear they chose this schedule because they felt he needed every one of these AP courses to be competitive for college. After much discussion, the student went to on-level courses for math and Spanish. Almost immediately, his homework load — and his stress level — lightened, and his grades and quality of life improved significantly. The family felt certain they’d made the right choice.

So remember — you know your child better than anyone. Challenge them, but make sure your AP and/or dual-credit selections work for your student, not against them.

Donna Spann is CEO of Capstone College and Career Advising in Tyler. A college advisor for 11 years, Donna leads a team of professionals who take a personal approach to advising that helps students navigate through career and college exploration, admissions, financial aid, and find the college that’s right for them. Have a question for Donna? Send it to You just may see your question answered in a future column.