The Road to Graduation 

Figuring out the road to graduation is complicated. With class options like AP, IB and dual enrollment, students need to choose which path prepares them the best for college. For parents, getting on the same page as your teen is vital.

Here are some insights on these different kinds of classes.  

Explaining the Acronyms 

AP, or Advanced Placement, classes prepare students for college because they are more difficult than typical courses. Once a student completes the course, they take an AP exam for a fee, and must score a 3 or higher on the exam to obtain college credit.  

According to the College Board, more than 4.22 million public high school students took AP exams, and as a result, they: 

* earned higher GPAs in college;

* were more likely to graduate in 4 years;

* had higher graduation rates. 

IB, or International Baccalaureate, is an internationally recognized diploma program with college-level courses. Because of the increased cost of offering IB programs, IB diplomas are rarer. Students must take three standard or higher-level courses in the 11th and 12th grades. Additional components are required, such as: 

* an extended essay;

* a Theory of Knowledge course;

* participation in co-curricular activities that are graded upon completion.

The exam fee for IB standard and higher-level exams is more expensive than the one for AP exams. Students should check college requirements when it comes to IB degrees, because some colleges only give credit for higher-level exams.  

With dual enrollment classes, a student receives college credit when they take and pass college-level courses either at a local college or online. According to the 2013 National Center for Education Statistics, 1.3 million students took classes for college credit in the 2010-2011 school year. For dual enrollment classes, students should be aware that: 

* content and rigor of dual enrollment classes vary widely;

* colleges do not always award credit for DE classes;

* dual enrollment may have an impact on college athletic eligibility;

* dual enrollment eligibility varies by state and college.

The Advantages 

So, why should students consider taking these types of advanced classes? According to Ryan Ostendorf, assistant director of admissions at The College of Wooster, the increased difficulty of these courses help students transition better academically for college.   

Another advantage is that students will already have credits when entering college. This might give students more flexibility to study abroad, complete internships, conduct undergraduate research or complete combined Bachelors-Masters programs, says Bethany Perkins, director of admissions at Miami University Oxford. Even though these classes demand more time, having credits will let a student take advantage of these opportunities without overloading their schedules.  

The Disadvantages 

Students and their families shouldn’t assume that they will always get college credit for these courses, says Tamara Byland, assistant vice provost of admissions at University of Cincinnati. Multiple factors are at play, including the type of courses a student took, the major a student is planning to pursue, and their performance in the classroom or on AP tests  

“A year’s worth of college credits does not necessarily mean a year saved toward a degree,” Perkins says. “It comes down to how credits transfer to a specific degree program.”  

It should be noted that the increasing competitiveness of colleges can be stressful for students, Ostendorf says. “The high level of pressure some students face to take a full schedule of these programs while maintaining other aspects of their life is not always healthy,” he says. Students need to be academically challenged and also enjoy what they are learning. The highly competitive nature of these courses might not always allow for this.  

Students and parents should understand the nuances of all these programs, and be sure to work closely with a school counselor before deciding on advanced courses. Parents should consider what courses will benefit the student, and not just what “looks best.”  

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