Advanced Placement (AP) courses and the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme are both challenging and rigorous options that high school students can choose to take to demonstrate their commitment to academic excellence and in order to potentially earn college credit for college or gain admission to selective colleges and universities. Yet, most high schools currently only offer one or the other, which is a shame.
An AP course is a college-level course offered in many high schools in the United States and Canada and even some high schools in other countries too (often those that have an English-medium curriculum). AP courses are designed to be rigorous and challenging, with a curriculum that is equivalent to a college-level course. AP courses cover a range of subjects, including English, mathematics, sciences, social sciences, and foreign languages.
At the end of an AP course, currently in May, students have the option to take an AP exam in that subject. The AP exam is administered by the College Board and assesses students’ knowledge and skills in the subject. AP exam scores range from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest possible score. Many colleges and universities in the United States and around the world offer college credit, advanced placement, or both to students who score a 3 or higher on an AP exam. Yet, increasingly, a growing group of hyper-selective colleges do not award any college credit to AP exam scores of even 4 or 5.
Taking AP courses can provide a number of benefits for students. In addition to preparing them for college-level work and potentially earning them college credit, AP courses can demonstrate a student’s high school academic rigor and dedication to challenging themselves. They can also help students stand out in the college admissions process by showing their readiness for higher education.
The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme (IBDP) is an internationally recognized, two-year educational program offered to students in their final two years of high school. The IBDP is designed to provide students with a well-rounded education that focuses on critical thinking, problem-solving, and global citizenship.
To earn an IB Diploma, students must complete six courses in various subjects, including language and literature, foreign languages, individuals and societies (such as history or economics), sciences, mathematics, and the arts. In addition, students must complete three core requirements: the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) course, which explores the nature of knowledge and different ways of knowing; the Extended Essay (EE), which is a research paper of up to 4,000 words; and Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS), which involves extracurricular activities and community service.
Assessment in the IB Diploma Programme is based on a combination of internal and external assessments. Internal assessments are conducted by teachers and include essays, projects, and oral presentations. External assessments include written exams, which are administered at the end of the two-year program, when a student is at the end of his or her senior (12th grade) year, and are graded externally by IB examiners. IB Diploma students can receive a maximum of 45 points: 7 points for each of the six subject areas and a maximum of 3 points for the core requirements. Students who earn at least 24 points and meet other requirements can earn an IB Certificate, even if they do not complete the full Diploma. Ivy League-level colleges and universities are most attracted to IB applicants who are predicted in the fall/winter of 12th grade (when students apply to college in the US) to earn at least 40 points total by the time they enroll as college freshmen.
One of the key features of the IB Diploma Programme is its focus on international-mindedness and global citizenship. The program aims to develop students’ awareness and understanding of different cultures, perspectives, and languages, and to prepare them to be active and responsible global citizens. The IB Diploma is recognized by colleges and universities around the world and can provide students with quite a competitive edge in the college admissions process.
Pros of AP Courses
Flexibility: AP courses allow students to pick and choose which subjects they want to study in-depth. They can take as many or as few AP courses as they wish, depending on their interests and goals.
Recognition: AP courses are widely recognized in the United States and around the world. Earning a high score on an AP exam can demonstrate mastery of a subject to college admissions officers and potential employers.
Cost-effective: The cost of taking an AP exam is much lower than the cost of taking an equivalent college course. This can help students save money on college tuition.
Cons of AP Courses
Limited scope: AP courses typically focus on the material covered in a single college course, which may not provide the same level of depth and breadth as an IB program.
Reliance on exams: AP courses rely heavily on a single exam at the end of the year to determine a student’s score and eligibility for college credit. This can be stressful for students who struggle with test-taking.
Lack of cohesiveness: Because students can choose which AP courses to take, there may not be as much cohesiveness between courses or a unified curriculum.
Pros of the IB Diploma Programme
Holistic education: The IB Diploma Programme emphasizes a well-rounded education, including language acquisition, community service, and a focus on critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
International recognition: The IB Diploma Programme is recognized and respected by universities around the world. It can provide an advantage to students who want to attend college outside of the United States.
Preparation for college: The rigorous nature of the IB Diploma Programme can prepare students for the challenges of college coursework and help them develop the skills they need to succeed.
Cons of the IB Diploma Programme
Cost: The cost of the IB Diploma Programme can be higher than the cost of taking AP courses, which can be a barrier for some students.
Heavy workload: The IB Diploma Programme can be very demanding, with a heavy workload and a requirement to complete a range of assessments and coursework.
Limited subject choices: The IB Diploma Programme requires students to take a specific set of courses in order to earn the diploma, which may not align with their interests or career goals.
Ultimately, the decision of whether to pursue AP courses or the IB Diploma Programme will depend on a student’s individual goals, interests, and strengths. Both programs offer benefits and challenges, and students should consider their personal needs and preferences when making a decision.
My School Only Offers One of these Curricula
The decision to offer only AP courses or only the IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) can depend on a variety of factors, such as the resources and priorities of the school, the interests of the student body, and the educational goals of the school or school district.
One reason why some schools offer only AP courses is that the AP program has been around longer and is more established in the United States. In addition, the AP program is more flexible in terms of course offerings, allowing schools to choose which courses they want to offer based on the interests and needs of their students.
On the other hand, some schools choose to offer only the IBDP because they believe it provides a more comprehensive and holistic education. The IBDP requires students to complete coursework in multiple subject areas and to engage in the core requirements, which emphasize critical thinking, global awareness, and community service. Schools that prioritize these goals may choose to offer only the IBDP, as it aligns more closely with their educational philosophy.
Ultimately, the decision to offer only AP courses or only the IBDP depends on the priorities and resources of the school and the school district, as well as the educational goals and interests of the student body. Some schools may also choose to offer both AP and IBDP options to provide students with a choice and to cater to different learning styles and interests. Sadly, this is relatively rare, and even if the student prefers one curricula or the other, usually the student has no choice in the matter unless he or she is willing or able to change high schools.
Do Colleges Prefer One or the Other?
American colleges do not necessarily prefer AP over IBDP or vice versa. Both AP and IBDP are rigorous academic programs that demonstrate a student’s preparedness for college-level work, and both can be viewed positively by college admissions officers.
When evaluating students for admission, colleges typically consider a range of factors beyond just academic performance, including extracurricular activities, personal essays, letters of recommendation, and standardized test scores (such as the SAT or ACT). Therefore, it is difficult to say that one program is preferred over the other in the college admissions process.
It is worth noting, however, that colleges and universities have different policies when it comes to awarding college credit for AP and IBDP courses. While many institutions award credit for high scores on AP exams, some may require higher scores on IBDP exams or may only offer credit for specific courses within the IBDP curriculum. Yet, I’ve also had students of mine who enter college with sophomore standing and an impressive scholarship as a result of earning 40 or more points at the end of the IBDP, and that is a far rarer occurrence for AP students, as it’s harder to take ten or more APs by the time of graduation and score well enough on them that the student will be to get them all accepted for credit at college and thus catapult a student to sophomore standing upon matriculating to college. This is a function of the exact courses on offer at the student’s high school as much as the a la carte nature of the AP curriculum. IBDP is very much like staying at an all-inclusive resort in comparison. Yet, in so doing, many students don’t have the energy to pursue extracurricular activities as much as they could or should to round out their overall college applications.
In general, it is important for students to research the specific policies of the colleges and universities they are interested in attending, as well as to consider which program may be the best fit for their academic interests and goals. Ultimately, both AP and IBDP can be valuable for students seeking a rigorous and challenging academic experience.
Are there other ways to earn college credit before graduating from high school?
Yes! Remember, both of these curricula are purporting to offer college level coursework to high school students. Yet, many high school students have the ability to enroll in dual or concurrent enrollment college courses at or with a local community or four-year college when they are still in high school. A third way to begin earning college credit in high school is to simply start taking college courses online or in person and earn passing grades in them (the higher the better). Many colleges both within your state and in other states will accept such credits – at least to fulfill general education requirements – to count towards your eventual four-year undergraduate degree. Yet, some very selective colleges still may not. So, do your research when deciding where to apply and ultimately enroll if coming into college with college credits is important to you.
If your main goal is to prove that you can take and do well in college level coursework in order to impress and therefore get into selective colleges, then a robust roster of AP courses (and scores), the full IBDP (and strong predictions + final scores), or a good number of community college credits (with strong grades on your associated college transcript) will all get the job done for you. As you can now tell, there are many roads to arriving at the same destination, and no single curriculum has a monopoly on either knowledge, truth, or getting you in to your dream college.