How to Earn College Credits in High School

By earning college credits early, high school students improve their chances of graduating on time. The cost of college is potentially less expensive also. There are several means of achieving the goal. Options include testing out of college-level classes and enrolling in college-level classes while still attending high school. Here are a list of options.

AP Classes and Exams

A wide range of subjects offered by the College Board's Advanced Placement Program allows high school students to earn college credit when they score high on AP exams. AP courses require deep thought, critical thinking, and applying knowledge.

CLEP Exams

Nearly 3000 colleges and universities accept the College Board's College-Level Examination Program that allows earning college credit for already acquired knowledge. Earn three to 12 credits toward a college degree and move to more advanced courses by passing one of 33 CLEP exams. Credit earned depends on the subject of the exam and the college policy.​

IB Program​

College-level courses provided by the International Baccalaureate program provide high school students a global education that is in-depth and culturally diverse. High scores on IB exams or completing the IB diploma program earns credit for high school students at certain colleges.​

College Classes While Attending High School​

Attend classes during the day, evening, or on weekends at a local college. Rules about who can attend and tuition differ from state to state.


Students, taking college-level classes while in high school, often find new academic passions and enjoy exploring subjects of interest in-depth. Practical benefits include:

  • Learning discipline
  • Learning study skills
  • Learning time-management 
  • Improving the chance of being accepted into the college of choice
  • Improving scholarship chances
  • Freeing up time in college to participate in special programs or earn a double major
  • Saving money by graduating on time or early​

First Steps​

Talk to teachers, principals, or the school counselor to learn about options that work for you. Ensure the college of choice accepts high school college credits.​

Degree Selection

A major is the specific area of study in which a student specializes. Typically, 30 to 50 percent of college courses taken pertain to a major. Some colleges allow students to major in two fields or have a minor in a second are that requires fewer courses. Still, other colleges allow creating your own major.

Most four-year colleges and many majors allow declaring a major at the end of the sophomore year. This delay gives students time to explore various subjects to determine what is of the most interest. There are exceptions. Areas such as engineering require a commitment early to allow time to complete all of the required courses. Two-year degrees require selection of a major at the beginning of course study because the programs are shorter.

Choose courses in the area that appeals to you. The Dean of Admissions at Dickerson College suggests taking classes that your feel confident about yet present some risks. Taking a class that was not part of an original plan sometimes leads to a major choice. Not being sure about a college major while still in high school is not a cause for worry. Most students switch majors at some point in college. Even students who think they are sure of a major change their minds. 

If professional or graduate programs are in the plans, choosing a major in a related future field is recommended but not required. Undergraduates enrolled in premed programs often major in chemistry or biology. As long as a student fulfills the graduate program requirements, he or she has the option to major in any subject.​

Potential Careers 

Specializing in areas such as engineering, accounting, or nursing prepares a student for a trade. Other majors prepare the student for a range of careers available after graduation. Picking a major is not the same as choosing a career. English majors find jobs in law, public relations, advertising, teaching, or publishing to name a few of the possible employment fields.

Academic and peer advisers are available to help in the choice of a major. The following advice provides a better understanding of a variety of jobs and an opportunity to learn something about yourself. Ponder what interests you have. Make four lists. Label them Interests, Job Ideas, Requirements, and Things to Do Now. If you need help getting started, think about people you know or heard about that have interesting jobs. The high school counselor's office has career quizzes. Career quizzes are also available online.

It is not necessary to plan your entire future now, but looking into the requirements gives an idea of the classes, degrees, and skills needed for a particular job. Some students find they have no interest in classes required for a major. An "internet search gives education requirements for different jobs.​

You can learn more about the potential careers here. ​


The prediction for 2017 college graduates is that hiring is on the rise for students with every level of degree. Starting salaries are expected to be higher than in the past. The predictions are the result of an annual survey of employers in the U.S. Over 4000 employers from major industries in social services, healthcare, manufacturing, finance, and education took part in the survey.

The expectation is an increase of 23 percent more jobs available for college graduates as a result of employee turnover and company growth. The breakdown for the types of degrees is:​

  • 19 percent increase for graduates with a bachelor's degree
  • 37 percent increase for with an associate degree
  • 40 percent increase for those holding a business administration master's degree

Here is a list of the average salaries for bachelor degree majors in:​

  • Engineering-$64,891
  • Computer Science-$61,321
  • Math and Sciences-$55,087
  • Business-$52,236
  • Agriculture/Natural Resources-$48,729
  • Healthcare-$48,712
  • Communications-$47,047
  • Social Sciences-$46,585
  • Humanities-$46,065
  • Education-$34,891​

To be more specific about the top two categories, the top salaries in engineering are in the computer, chemical, and electrical fields. Software design jobs are also among the highest paying jobs.​

Financial Impact

Americans with college degrees enjoy the benefits of an increased likelihood of employment opportunities and higher wages. However, the rising cost of college sometimes causes strained family finances and a significant debt burden. Student loan payments impact choices young graduates make about a career and the community chosen as a place to live.

The Financial Aid Process​

Loans, grants, and scholarships help pay for the cost of college. Grants and scholarships are similar to gifts. Grants are typically need-based. Scholarships are merit-based. Student loans come with a repayment plan after graduation. It is not too early to begin looking for scholarships. College Board and Fastweb are two free websites to search. Students are sometimes eligible for grants and scholarships specific to a college or university. High schools often award college-bound students scholarships.

Application instructions come with scholarships for which students qualify. Some require an essay. Pay attention to all guidelines, rules, and deadlines. Loans and grants have an easier application process. Most loans and grants require completing the FAFSA, which is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Parents and students need to complete the application during the student's senior year in high school. The FAFSA has an area to indicate the schools a student applies to. The schools receive a copy of the completed FAFSA results. Completing a CCS/Financial Aid PROFILE that provides a method of determining financial need and connecting students to financial aid opportunities is sometimes a requirement.​