The #1 way to keep college costs down is of course to minimize the amount of time spent in college. Many people rightly focus on getting college credit prior to enrolling as a college student. There are several main ways of getting these credits:

  • AP or IB classes and tests
  • Community colleges
  • Online courses

Before packing your schedule with these classes, though, it’s worth finding out what colleges do with these credits. Dartmouth, for example, recently stopped giving credit for AP classes. Other institutions may offer general credit hours, but not placement or course-specific credit (i.e., elective credit versus credit for having taken a specific class). In other cases, a student might get placement out of a particular class for either an AP/IB or community college class but not get credit hours. And of course the type of credit given may vary depending on the course and the test score.

Community college and online courses can be more tricky and, sometimes, a bit of a double-edged sword. The University of California system, for example, will only give credit for a community college class taken if that class was not used to satisfy a high school graduation requirement.

And why is community college credit sometimes a double-edged sword? Because some students arrive at college with so much credit that they are required to declare a major before they even set foot on campus. That may work well for a highly-directed student, but most 18-year-olds don’t fit that description.

So, while earning college credit through high school and community college coursework is often a great way to keep the cost of college down and to ensure on-time graduation, it’s worth looking at how the colleges you are interested in treat that credit before you load up on the classes.