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Dual Credit: How Much is Too Much?

Taryn Austgen
Taryn Austgen

September 11, 2019

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Dual credit student

Dual credit is kind of like kale and Christmas decorations–too much of a good thing is indeed… too much. While your student obviously won’t lose what they learn in their dual credit courses, it is easy to get carried away earning college credits that won’t ultimately apply to their chosen degree.

Your student will spend valuable time to earn those dual credits (you’ll spend good money paying for them). So it’s important to do what you can to ensure your student has a plan.

First thing’s first…

How much dual credit should you take?

Let’s do a quick breakdown of college credits.

A typical bachelor’s degree requires 120 credits. This breaks down to 30 each year (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior).

Every single school in the US has different transfer policies (yeah, I know, it’s crazy). Some schools will allow you to transfer in upward of 100 college credits from another institution, but the majority of schools will only allow 30 transfer credits.

So unless your student knows that the school they want to graduate from accepts more than 30 transfer credits, 30 is the magic number.

(Side note: Ivy League schools don’t accept transfer credit. Period, full stop. If your student is trying to get into Harvard, they’re better off studying for a perfect score on the SAT and doing extracurriculars that will help their application stand out. Dual credit isn’t going to be very useful for them.)

What type of dual credit courses should you take?

Within those 30 dual credit credits, your student will want to stick with general education courses. General education is going to include your “basic” college courses that everyone needs to take regardless of major—English, history, psychology, humanities, etc.

The safest dual credit courses to take are:

  • English Composition 1 & 2
  • US History 1 & 2
  • Psychology
  • College Algebra
  • And Humanities of some sort (Ethics, Art Appreciation, Literature).

These are courses that are required for every bachelor’s degree and are almost guaranteed to transfer to any of them—regardless of major.

How do you transfer dual credit courses?

While the list above is true for most schools, the safest way to transfer dual credit is to create a dual credit plan with a few future colleges in mind before earning said credit. Your student doesn’t have to know exactly where they want to graduate from, but having a shortlist of potential colleges will help you research transfer policies and put together a dual credit plan that will result in a successful credit transfer for your student. (You don’t want them to end up making any of these 4 mistakes.)

You can do some of this research online, but to keep things safe, you’ll want to call and talk to a college advisor at each of the school options to find out transfer policies. Ask them questions like:

  • How many outside credits do you allow a student to transfer to your school?
  • (If your student is earning dual credit via AP or CLEP) Do you have a list of accepted AP and CLEP tests with required scores?
  • If I have a dual credit plan for my student, can I send it to you to view and approve? (Or just simply start asking about colleges/classes specifically. I.e. “Do you take English Composition I from the Mt. San Antonio College?”)

Keep in mind, you can’t just talk to the advisor of the school your student is taking dual credit classes at. Schools don’t talk to each other, and typically the advisor at that school won’t actually know the transfer policies of your student’s future school.

So before getting started on a course, you need to talk to the school your student is looking to graduate from to confirm their transfer policies. (I’ve had numerous friends in the community colleges in California lose transfer credit because the community college said their credit would transfer, but the state school disagreed. Don’t let this happen to your student.)

Transferring credit from community colleges to state schools (in the same state) is typically a bit easier than transferring credits from non-related schools. However, I still recommend you call the state school or check their website to understand their published transfer policies. Sometimes even the administrators at these schools don’t know their own policies.

Pro tip: Unbound works with hundreds of colleges in the United States and knows their transfer policies inside and out. The easiest way to do all this research is to let our advisors do it for you! They’ll create a customized dual credit plan for your student with credits that are guaranteed to line up with both your student’s high school requirements and transfer to the school of their choice. Click here to learn more.

What’s the deal with accreditation?

The details of accreditation and how it applies to your student are outside the scope of this blog post, but if you want more information, you should check our blog post on the different types of accreditation.

The quick summary is: like only transfers to like. Since the majority of non-profit colleges and universities are regionally accredited (the highest form of accreditation), you’ll want to take regionally accredited dual credit courses. Bible colleges, tech schools, and for-profit schools have a different type of accreditation and typically the credits earned from those schools won’t transfer anywhere else.

30 credits is safe, but is that the right number for YOUR student?

Something to keep in mind: if your student is transferring with 30 credits or more, they will start college as a sophomore. Competition for enrolling as a sophomore instead of a freshman is a lot lower due to high freshman dropout rates, but your student will be joining a class that is a year older than they are and has been together for an entire year already.

This is nothing your student can’t overcome, just something to keep in mind. Depending on your student, it may be a good idea for them to take a gap year instead of going straight to college. Travel, volunteer, live some life, and then transfer in at the same age and the same amount of credits as everyone else, but a lot more life experience (not to mention stuff that will look great on a resume).

Earning less than 30 credits is also a valid option. Your student can still begin as a freshman but with some extra credits and maybe graduate early instead.

There really is no wrong way to do dual credit. There are some ways that will cause transfer issues, there are some ways that are more complicated than others (pre-med, for example), but when it comes down to it, dual credit allows your student learn college-level information AND learn how to interact with professors and peers in a higher learning setting. And that’s valuable.

Dual credit is worth it

At the end of the day, transferring credit is always a bit risky, which means so is dual credit. But it’s such a huge advantage for your student to save time and money that most students find it’s worth the risk (especially if they start with a solid plan and understand college transfer policies).

If you want to make dual credit safer for your student, our Unbound advisors are here to help you create the dual credit and college plan they need—along with the transfer guarantee you need for your peace of mind.

Get a free quote now.

Taryn Austgen
Taryn Austgen

Taryn is a lover of learning, great literature, a Capella music, writing, and singing and dancing wherever she goes. A California girl at heart, she now calls Texas home.

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