Pros and Cons of Dual Enrollment

Pros and Cons of Dual Enrollment

Is your homeschooler considering taking college courses while still in high school? There are many pros and cons of dual enrollment. It’s critical that you do your research to determine if this educational path is right for your child.

What is Dual Enrollment?

Also called concurrent enrollment, dual credit, or a state-specific title like “Running Start” or “Early College Enrollment Program” (ECEP), dual enrollment is a way for students to earn the high school credit needed to graduate at the same time (concurrently) as they earn college credits.

For example, a dual enrollment writing class will be awarded one high school credit as well as 3 college credits.

I’ve seen some high schools differentiate between concurrent enrollment and dual enrollment like this: 

  • concurrent enrollment refers to a high school partnership with a university
  • dual enrollment refers to a high school partnership with a local community college

But you’ll find that most people just use the terms interchangeably, without differentiating them like that. I’m guilty!

Regardless, the credits awarded all end up on the students permanent college transcript.

Most states have passed legislation allowing high school students (including homeschoolers) to participate in a dual enrollment program for free or for very reduced rates through public high schools. In my state, Utah, students pay only $5 per credit.

Sounds like a great deal, right?

I couldn’t see any disadvantages of dual enrollment when we first began our journey. But after experiencing it with my three oldest children, I can tell you with certainty that there are several. 

I still heartily recommend dual enrollment wherever possible, but it’s always best to know all of the pros and cons before jumping in with both feet.

Advantages of Dual Enrollment

There are multiple reasons for your teen to begin college coursework now rather than waiting until after high school. Take a look at all of these amazing benefits:

Maximize efficiency. When students earn an associates degree during high school can likely finish a bachelor’s degree by age 20. What an advantage! A graduate degree or career plans are so much more accessible to a young adult of that age than to an older young adult with more responsibility.

Reduce the cost of a college degree. First, most states have legislated a greatly reduced cost per credit for high schoolers taking college classes. In Utah, we pay $5 per credit. The cost for the exact same credit at the University of Utah is $743, and it’s much more at any private university.

Second, your teen will most likely be living at home, saving him thousands of dollars annually on room on board. The reduced rate is only for specific arrangements, though. If your teen wants to take classes of his choosing on the college campus, he will probably have to pay full price for the credits, though he will still save money by living at home.

Dual enrollment raises expectations. I personally know adults who live in their parents basements, either believing themselves to be incapable of supporting themselves or else just refusing to. It’s critical that our children realize how much they are capable of and that they be encouraged to take on responsibility at a younger age.

Both sets of my grandparents married and began families at age 16. I’m not saying that’s ideal, either. But young adults of that generation didn’t live in mommy’s basement playing video games into their 30’s.

Help your teen learn life-management skills. Dual enrollment can help your teen avoid a just-get-by mentality during high school. He will learn to schedule his time, manage deadlines, create schedules and develop the study skills necessary to succeed in college.

Impress college admissions: Homeschoolers who apply to universities with a homeschool transcript can provide context for all those A’s doled out by mom with dual enrollment courses (as well as AP tests). College credit proves your teen can do college level work.

Help your teen to pursue his interests. Students have the opportunity to immerse themselves in areas of academic interest beyond subjects typically available to high school students. If your teen has exhausted the resources available to him in your homeschool, university classes can help him to further explore his interests.

Allow your teen to complete prerequisites. While earning college credit during high school, students can work on prerequisites that will be needed in order to apply to a degree program. Lower-level, prerequisite classes often fill to capacity before freshmen are allowed to register, creating bottlenecks that can be avoided by students who have already completed them.

Dual enrollment gives you the opportunity to influence your teen. While exposure to differing worldviews at an appropriate age can be beneficial, it can also be confusing. Nobody loves your child more than you, and nobody can help him make sense of things like you can.

It’s such a blessing to have your teens still living under your roof and eating dinner around your kitchen table to discuss opposing worldviews as he is initially exposed to them in a college setting. I consider this to be one of the biggest advantages of dual enrollment.

College students in a classroom.

Disadvantages of Dual Enrollment

As amazing as all of the reasons above seem, there are situations in which college credit is not in your child’s best interest.

These are just potential reasons why dual enrollment is bad, not automatic negatives. Many of them can be alleviated with proper and sufficient planning. Make an appointment with an admissions counselor at your teen’s preferred university to discuss your specific situation and options.

Dual enrollment class content may be beyond your control. It depends on where you’re getting your dual enrollment classes, but some of them can be rough. My oldest took a class where the professor showed a portion of a terrible, R-rated movie in his Film & Lit class. My concerns were dismissed because I had signed a permission slip in order for my daughter to take the class.

The professor felt that college students must be sufficiently mature to deal with college-level topics. But that doesn’t mean you have to shove it down their throats. That was part of my motivation for opening a charter school where we hire our professors and they teach on our campus, thus giving parents (through the charter board) some control over content.

Grades earned in dual enrollment classes are a part of your teen’s permanent college transcript. Even though your teen is just in high school, the grades he earns in his dual enrollment classes with stay with him through college. Make sure your teen understands that and is ready to be serious, buckle down and work hard, or he can ruin his GPA before he actually even gets to college.

Classes may be limited. One drawback to concurrent enrollment classes is that only a few are offered at a time, and they are typically 1st-year-level, general-ed-type classes. So if your teen is looking for something specific to round out his homeschool schedule, chances are slim that you’ll find it among dual enrollment course offerings.

Credits aren’t universally accepted. When my oldest was first navigating this process, we learned that the university she wanted to attend would accept very few of the concurrent enrollment credits she had earned. However, they would accept a full associates degree straight across.

So all she needed to do in order for all of her credits to transfer properly was to earn at least 60 credits and meet the requirements for an associates degree. Credits don’t transfer automatically, so make sure you understand the requirements at your top-choice university before beginning the work.

Dual enrollment credits, even when accepted, may not apply to your teen’s program. All three of my oldest are struggling with this to different degrees. My oldest is in a marketing program that had many prerequisites that her General-Ed associates degree didn’t fill. So her associates degree only eliminated her first year at university, but it was still helpful. My second is studying Applied Physics and about half of the credit he earned was useful.

My third, however, is studying Computer Engineering, which requires 120 specific credits, none of which are generals. So his associates degrees is useless for his university program. Regardless, all three of these young adults have found their associates degrees useful for their employment as they work their way through university.

All are making more money than they otherwise would, just because they have those degrees. And further, they learned things from those classes, so they weren’t a complete waste.

Teens are less mature than young adults. One of the biggest benefits of attending a university is the opportunities that arise from networking with professors, advisors, administrators and other students. But networking requires a certain level of maturity that may be lacking in high-school-aged teens.

Classes can be time consuming. Teens with multiple college courses each semester will have less time to spend with friends, building relationships. Involvement in their communities, along with extracurricular activities, can lead to tremendous growth, but that also takes time. You have to find a balance where both objectives can be met.

Dual enrollment credits can change your admission status. My brother-in-law lived in South America for a couple of years (after attending university for two years) and spoke fluent Spanish when he returned. He figured he might as well get a few credits out of it, so he took a CLEP test.

He was happy to have earned the maximum amount of credits (9, I think) until his application was rejected for having too many credits. It depends on the university, but the one to which he was applying had a credit cap, because they were trying to discourage professional students.

None of my children have had this happen. I have three children, each of whom have earned an associates degree during high school, at three different universities and each of them were admitted as incoming freshman. Numerous scholarships are only available to freshman, so this is something you should check with any university your student would like to attend.

Dual enrollment credits can also change your scholarship and financial aid status. Many universities set aside a majority of scholarship funding specifically for incoming freshmen. There is a lesser amount available to transfer students.

All three of my oldest children were considered incoming freshmen, even with associates degrees, and they were still eligible for all freshmen scholarships. That’s because the universities to which they applied cater to homeschooled students. But you’d do well to check your desired universities. Status on the FAFSA (for federal financial aid) will also change as more credits are earned.

Dual Enrollment Program Pros & Cons We Have Experienced

My third child recently graduated from a charter high school that a friend and I started so homeschoolers could take advantage of dual enrollment. 

He attended university classes Tuesdays and Thursdays, so he was still able to participate in our homeschool, as well as a Speech & Debate league, orchestra and other amazing homeschool opportunities the rest of the week. And self-study for AP tests!

He graduated Magna Cum Laude with academic distinction for earning his associates degree during high school. He also earned full-tuition scholarships to all of his first and second choice universities.

He has known for years that he wants to be a Computer Engineer, so he worked hard to find dual enrollment classes that would be applicable to his major.

He took a couple of advanced programming college classes through dual enrollment. He also earned some certificates on the side, for which he did not earn credit. But his experience was typical in that the majority of the courses offered through dual enrollment were basic, general-ed-type courses.

When he arrived at his chosen university, he learned that his program required 120 credits. Basically, his entire 4-year-program was laid out, with no room for electives and zero general-ed classes.

We anticipated that, because we’d done some research at his specific university and had seen the requirements. So, while his associates degree transferred completely, none of the classes he’d taken counted — not one! This could be one reason why dual enrollment is bad.

However, we had been prepared for this disappointment. We had researched, expected it and chosen that route anyway, for several reasons.

First, we never practice writing in our homeschool. Math and science are my things and writing is not. I don’t love teaching it and I really hate correcting it. So I don’t bother. Thus, it was really helpful for my son to take the two required writing courses.

He would never have taken them during his university program, so he would have missed out on learning to write research papers and using MLA format, and he would probably have had a difficult time in the required technical writing class.

Second, it was really great for him to be accountable to someone besides me. You, as a fellow homeschooling mom, probably understand how difficult it is to set and enforce deadlines and how that can easily be a weakness in homeschools.

And then there are the tests (I never administer tests in my homeschool) as well as the structure of the class and different teaching styles that all require some getting used to. He now has two years of experience in college classes under his belt.

Third, he absolutely loved most of his classes. I would never have thought to purchase him a meteorology textbook or set him on that path — but he couldn’t get enough of it after being required to take the class.

It was so nice to have him inspired by professors with different perspectives and strengths than my own.

Neither he nor I regret the high school years he spent in college classes earning dual enrollment credit. Now, if those credits had been detrimental to his future — if they had disqualified him from scholarships, prevented him from applying to his specific program, or hindered his admission — we would feel differently.

Dual enrollment is something you should consider individually, on a case-by-case basis. My children’s experiences can give you an additional perspective, but you’ll need to do your own research and create your own plan.

Start by researching the universities your teen is considering and look into the specific degree programs he is considering. And when your child is wondering, “what dual enrollment classes should I take?” you’ll need to be prepared with knowledge specific to his or her program.

I hope this list of pros and cons helps you determine whether dual enrollment in high school is right for your teen!

More Information About the Pros And Cons of Dual Enrollment

Do you need more information about the pros and cons of dual enrollment? Check out these articles!

Pin these pros and cons of dual enrollment for later!

If you’ve had a child use dual enrollment, I’d love to hear the pros and cons you’ve encountered! Please share your experiences in the comments below.

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  1. Great article, lots to think through. I’ve considered using dual enrollment or having my children do an associates at community college and then transferring. One con I’ve considered is that, for some programs, transferring in the junior year could be less than ideal. For example, in my field, accounting, it’s common for programs to source in the fall of junior year internships that will be completed for a semester in the senior year. These internships are key and are almost always converted to full time offers upon graduation. It’s imperative that the transferring student get immediately up and running with this recruiting. Accounting firms continue to recruit earlier and earlier, in sophomore and even freshman years. Not getting in the right recruiting track could be detrimental.

    1. Amy Saunders says:

      Yes! Thank you, Laura, for pointing that out! I know nothing about the accounting field, so that is incredibly helpful!

      Students who go into engineering fields have similar problems. In my first degree (Mechanical Engineering) we had about 120 mandatory credits, none of them generals, so my AP Calculus credits were the only high school credits that counted toward my degree. My son studying Computer Engineering had similar requirements for his degree. My second degree (Computer Science), however, did require more generals. It’s just so critical for high school students to talk with advisors at whichever university they plan to attend, along with professionals in their desired field, to figure out all of these requirements ahead of time as much as possible. My son currently studying Computer Engineering still doesn’t regret earning his associates degree during high school because he learned great study skills and time management skills, plus he learned Biology on a college level instead of just a high school level, even though the credit was never counted toward his degree.

      It’s all so individual!

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