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Ohio Life

How to Earn College Credits While Still in High School

Free programs that reward academic rigor with credits toward postsecondary education provide high school students avenues to save time and money.

Today’s Ohio high school students have opportunities to earn college credits, many times without ever leaving the hallways of the building where the rest of their coursework happens. The options are varied and not all are available everywhere. Beyond that, each choice is different from the others. 

College Credit Plus, for those in grades 7 through 12, offers a dual-enrollment opportunity in which students take coursework to earn college credit. That can happen at their high school via a teacher accredited with a local college, in person at a participating college or university, or online. Many high schools have agreements with local colleges for specific courses, although students can earn the credits from any participating institution.

“It’s simultaneous credit, so they can use those College Credit Plus classes to satisfy their high school graduation requirements while earning free college credits,” says Carly Boseker, program manager of College Credit Plus at the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

Another way to study beyond the high school curriculum is through rigorous Advanced Placement — often referred to as AP — courses offered in high school. They allow students to earn equivalent transfer credits upon earning a minimum score on an AP test.

The International Baccalaureate Honors Diploma exposes students to high-level coursework and experiential learning with a liberal arts approach. It is a globally recognized alternative to honors courses or AP classes. Colleges may award credits to those who take International Baccalaureate courses and related exams.

Students have options, but how each offering works and fits with their learning style is important to consider.

College Credit Plus

While College Credit Plus can reduce the time and cost of attending college, these aren’t the only reasons to take part in the program.

“It’s a common misconception that there is one goal … and that’s to save money or shorten your time in college,” Boseker says. “Maybe your goal is to explore whether college is for you. Maybe you want to earn a certificate before you graduate high school. Maybe you want to try a more challenging course or take a class in a subject your school doesn’t offer.”

College Credit Plus allows those in the program to explore interests and test drive college coursework.

“Students can tailor it to their specific goals. It’s not a one-size-fits-all program,” Boseker points out.

Also, students do not have to financially qualify for the program.

“It’s not about money, it’s about opportunity,” says Rebecca Harr, Director of College Credit Plus.

Students are required to maintain a C grade or higher to earn the college credit and will earn their high school credit at the same time. Families of students often ask what happens if a college does not accept the credit that was earned?

“Ohio has a really strong articulation and transfer network,” Harr says, “and in the majority of cases, those classes transfer exactly as they are transcripted.”

Advanced Placement Courses & International Baccalaureate Honors Diplomas

It’s tough to compare College Credit Plus to Advanced Placement. As Harr puts it, “It’s like comparing oranges and apples.” College Credit Plus is a college-owned course and Advanced Placement is overseen through the College Board.

“One is not more rigorous than the other,” she adds.

While College Credit Plus results in transcripted credit, Advanced Placement can translate into articulated credit. This means that an AP course is approved as substantially equal to introductory-level college courses. For example, a student who takes AP English and earns a score of 3 or higher on the end-of-year AP test could earn college credits toward English. Students might earn additional credits if they score a 4 or 5 on the test, but this depends on the institution and subject area.

The same is true for the International Baccalaureate Honors Diploma, which is expanding in availability. These courses focus on developing students’ critical thinking skills and is application focused. Earning an International Baccalaureate Honors Diploma involves extra requirements centered on global awareness. You can earn college credit for it similar to AP. You can also take these courses without pursuing the full diploma.

What's Right for You?

Students who aren’t sure what route is best for them should consider their learning style, Boseker says.

“The setup of a college course is different than an AP class, including final grades,” she says. “If you take an English composition class at a college, you’ll end with finals and papers versus the AP test that requires getting at least a 3 to earn college credit. I know students who thrive under [test] pressure. And I know a lot of students who really don’t like that.”

Aside from testing, how you learn the material is also a factor.

“For college courses, we prepare for the content that will be taught in class with readings beforehand,” Boseker says. “It’s fast paced with more discussion.”

College Credit Plus learners are expected to prepare for the lesson versus the lesson preparing them for homework, as is the case with high school AP courses. Students whose school offers an International Baccalaureate track should consider the time it requires. Those extra requirements could limit availability for other extracurriculars. Students should also remember that they can take more than one road. 

“My own daughter is an AP and [College Credit Plus] student,” Harr says. “Why not take advantage of all of it if that makes sense to you? Maybe you have a great AP government teacher you feel strongly about, and the English department says, ‘We will support you, but you can also go to this college campus to get credits.’ ”



All college students should fill out The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The window for filling out the form shifts a bit later this year as a new, simpler version is expected to be unveiled in December. (Other changes include that the typical $200 annual Pell Grant bump was increased by $500 for a total of $7,395 this year.) The FAFSA unlocks opportunities for federal, state and even private scholarships and grants. Save these dates related to the 2024-25 school year.

• FAFSA enrollment opens for the 2024-25 school year in December 2023 as opposed to the usual Oct. 1 start date due to U.S. Department of Education changes to the form.

• FAFSA applications must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. CT on June 30, 2024, with corrections and updates submitted by 11:59 p.m. CT on Sept. 14, 2024.

• Keep in mind, colleges may have different deadlines for scholarships and student aid, so be sure to check with each institution and mark those deadlines on your calendar.

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This story ran in the Summer-Fall 2023 issue of College 101.