Posted in HS4CC

The College Credit SWEET SPOT

“When should my child start earning college credit?”

“How old do they need to be to take a CLEP exam?”

“Are college classes too mature for my kid?”

“How can I know they’re ready to earn college credit?”

These are the questions that get asked every day in our Homeschooling for College Credit Facebook groups.  (find your state group here) 

It’s hard to answer anything other than “it really depends on the child” which is true…. but not helpful.  So, in this post, I want to help you find your “sweet spot” which is to say the time when most of you are probably ready to inject college credit.

Keep in mind these are general suggestions, you know your child better than I do!

CLEP Exams / DSST Exams (10th Grade +)

the best part of earning college credit through a CLEP or DSST exam is that you can take them at any age.  As a result, you’ll often see parents reporting that their very young teens have earned college credit this way.  If your teen is younger than 13, you’ll need to fill out a waiver. With the exception of the English Composition exam, all CLEP exams are multiple choice exams, lending themselves to being among the most “passable” college credit options out there.  I recommend starting CLEP exams as soon as your teen can read, understand, and recall information from an 11th grade or higher high school textbook.  Failed CLEP or DSST exams are private and have no repercussions on future college enrollment.

Advanced Placement Exams (11th Grade +)

AP Exams are different than CLEP exams in that the answers are written, not multiple choice.  So, like CLEP, your teen should be able to read, understand, and recall information from an 11th grade or higher high school textbook, but they ALSO must be able to express themselves using short response/essay.  Their writing must be a solid 11-12th-grade level to pass an AP exam successfully.  AP exam scores are all saved on one transcript, so both passing and failed scores are available to college admissions.

Dual Enrollment ON CAMPUS (mature 12th Grade +)

Dual enrollment courses taken on a college campus will take place in a classroom with adults.  The course discussions are not filtered and may be very graphic or “adult” in content. This is especially true in controversial or very sexual classes like Psychology, Human Growth and Development, Family or Marriage Studies, Sociology, and Health.  Your teen will not only be an observer in the class, but may be expected to write about these topics as well. See if you can preview the course textbook and syllabus to assess whether or not your minor is ready for the class.  When in doubt, switch to online or wait.  Classes like math, science, and history don’t usually have the same issues.  Dual enrollment grades are part of your child’s transcript FOREVER.

Dual Enrollment ONLINE (mature 11th Grade+)

Though only slightly less so, online class discussions will be a bit less spontaneous than those on campus. Online courses generally require discussions and communication through a forum or discussion board, allowing your teen time to digest and think about the subject.  Keep in mind that when your teen attends “online” you can see the “discussion” as well.  This isn’t a more filtered way to take a course, but it does allow more supervision.   Classes like math and science may be harder to learn online for this very reason- fewer opportunities to interact with peers and the instructor at the moment. Dual enrollment grades are part of your child’s transcript FOREVER.

ACE Courses (13 and older)

With our yonger sons, we’ve used a lot of ACE courses very successfully, mainly because they were too young to qualify for college courses and weren’t quite ready for credit by exam.  ACE courses (Studycom, Sophia, Saylor Academy, Straighterline, ALEKS, etc.) are generally self-paced and online. The curriculum may include videos, textbook passages, or documents.  With only a few exceptions (psychology) I’ve been happy with the “black and white” content presented in the ACE courses we’ve used.   Keep in mind that some of these courses may require homework or writing (all require tests or quizzes) and all will require a proctored exam via webcam.  I’d suggest waiting until age 13 to avoid any privacy issues.  ACE courses, passed or failed, are confidential and up to you to decide if a future college sees them.


You may also be interested in:

Take a CLEP for free!

Thomas Edison State University

7 Ways to Fail Your CLEP Exam

Creating an ACE Account for your Homeschooled Teen


Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit