AP and IB: Discovering the Road to Success

What is the best educational path? Of course, the answers vary and are subjective. Every student has different learning styles and certain curricula may better address those. However, the most popular paths involve Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB). Specifically for college admissions, AP or IB classes stand out. Taking classes in AP and IB programs demonstrates your academic commitments. Commonly, students and families ask whether colleges think one is better than the other. The quick answer is no, but the two are in fact different and its worth knowing how. In this blog post, we’ll try to address that.

Colleges do not automatically consider AP or IB more impressive or challenging than the other. In the US, over 14,000 public schools offer APs, compared to 800 for the IB program. Since IB is a rare program colleges aren’t going to penalize students if they aren’t in IB. Additionally, how both AP and IB courses are taught and graded at high schools differ greatly making it hard to categorize either one as superior. Both are rigorous. Instead of having an AP versus IB mentality, students should just worry about taking the most challenging classes their high school offers. That’s how college admissions counselors are thinking. That’s what they want to see. Grades in both AP and IB are of “considerable importance” according to 73.2% of respondents in the 2019 State of College Admission report. 

How do you know which to take? First, you have to know the basic differences. The AP program was developed in the United States to boost college-preparedness with no set program of courses. Students are allowed to be in just one course, or they could take a dozen. This depends on their school, schedule, and goals. AP is a flexible educational program that balances rigor with choice. By comparison, IB was developed in Switzerland to be an internationally recognized diploma. To earn the diploma, you have to take a set program of courses in a range of subjects. It tracks students earlier on and forces them to stay on course. In IB there are four basic programs that use 10 different learning profiles. Learning profiles are divided among categories such as Thinkers, Inquirers, and Communicators, for example. The Primary Years Program (PYP) and Middle Years Program (MYP) are for children. International high school students between the ages of 16 to 18 can take either the Diploma Program (DP) or the Career-related Program (CP). Through these programs teenagers prepare for college in key subject areas such as math, science and the arts. IB also offers core career classes and community service projects. It is very holistic.

In terms of how students are evaluated there are also some distinctions. The AP exams are scored on a scale of 1-5. One means failure. Three is a passing score. Four and five means excellent. Most colleges require the student to earn a score of at least 3-4 for the student to use AP test scores to exempt them from prerequisite classes. IB has more emphasis on writing and developing critical-thinking skills. The IB diploma also requires the extended essay. This is a college-style independent research paper that is guided by an IB teacher and given a letter grade by an outside evaluator. The AP is a program focused on teaching you specific content and testing through exams via the College Board. This usually means more multiple choice tests and an emphasis on meeting certain content goals. In short, the AP program is US-based and it provides courses that high school students can take for college. Approximately 30 percent of college scholarships use AP course scores. The IB course is international and it provides an integrated approach to learning. Significantly, students can take AP exams without being enrolled in an AP class. However you must be enrolled in an IB class to take an IB exam. If you have proficiency in a language that is not offered by your school, for example, or you want to self-study for a niche subject such as art history, then the AP program will give you more flexibility to do so.

The differences between the programs offer advantages and disadvantages that depend on the individual context of the student. Both offer challenging coursework and help prepare students for college courses. Taking AP or IB courses will contribute to developing a competitive portfolio for college applications and are therefore excellent choices for academically motivated students. 

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