AP vs DE: A Comprehensive Analysis

Alison Hunter
Published on
March 17, 2023

As course selection for the upcoming year approaches, many struggle with whether to take Advance Placement (AP) or Dual Enrollment (DE) classes. While both offer college credit, these classes also have a number of differences, and understanding them is crucial to ensuring success in the next academic year. 


AP classes are run by the College Board and are designed specifically for high school students, whereas classes are run by local community colleges or four-year universities and are actual college-level classes. AP classes are standardized around the world, while DE classes vary greatly based on the college. 


Generally, AP classes are seen as more rigorous than DE classes in college admissions, but this does depend on the rigor of the school. For example, if a school offers both AP and DE Statistics, AP will likely be seen as (and usually be) more difficult. However, the exceptions to this rule depend on the subject. If a school offers AP Calculus and DE Multivariable Calculus, DE will be seen as more rigorous. DE classes are often more specialized than APs, so they allow students to explore certain majors and minors through classes such as DE Philosophy or DE Classical Poetry. Overall, APs can be a better choice for stronger subjects, while DE may be better for one’s weaker subject.

Classroom Environment

At most schools, AP and DE classes are taught differently. At my high school, AP US History and DE US History have vastly different learning environments. The AP class features weekly notes (ranging from 10-15 pages) from the AP textbook followed by 3-5 question open-note quizzes. It also has multiple choice tests around once a month. The respective DE curriculum focuses more on in-class conversations and debates, with online discussion posts as homework. Instead of tests, DE students write one ~750-word paper each quarter on their choice of a list of prompts. AP classes are designed to prepare students for the end-of-course exam in May, which shapes the majority of the curriculum. There is not a standardized end-of-year exam for DE, so many teachers often have more freedom with lessons. Although, AP and DE classes fluctuate based on the school, class, and teachers. For more targeted advice, ask upperclassmen at your school who have taken said courses, as they will be able to accurately report on the teacher and class environment. 

College Credit

College credit for AP classes is solely based on the end-of-year exam. While different for each subject, most have multiple choice and free response sections scored on a scale from 1-5. Less selective colleges take scores of 3 or above for college credit, while selective ones may only consider scores of 4 or 5. Some top schools take no AP credits at all.  Credit options for AP can be found here. College credit for DE classes is granted based on one’s grade in the class, with C’s or higher offering college credit at certain schools. DE classes generally offer more credit, but that credit is less applicable to out-of-state or private universities.


AP classes themselves are free, but the end-of-year exams are around 100 dollars each. At my school, DE classes cost approximately 300 dollars, then again, this depends on the college. Nevertheless, fee waivers are generally offered for both based on family income and other siblings enrolled.

Final Verdict

Sadly, there is no definitive answer on which class will be better to take. For students beginning to explore college credit in high school, I recommend taking both AP and DE classes so you can explore the differences firsthand. Though earning college credit in high school is cost-effective and beneficial in applications, it is more important to take a balanced course load to prevent burnout and unnecessary stress.

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