IB vs AP: Which Should You Choose?


IB vs AP: Which is Better?

Does your high school offer both AP and IB classes? Which should you choose? Which will help you succeed at getting into the best colleges? Which will help you actually succeed in college? IB vs AP is a big and very important choice to make during 10th grade before you commit to your 11th grade courses!

What is the IB (International Baccalaureate) Program?

The IB Program is an international education curriculum and program with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The program is offered at high schools across 6 continents. It was originally established in 1968 to provide college preparatory education for children of families in diplomacy, international work and business, and politics.

The IB education focuses on creating a complete, integrated curriculum across six core classes, plus supplementary education through a philosophy course (The Theory of Knowledge) and community service program (Creative Activity and Service). Therefore, as a whole, the program is intended to develop young people who are communicators, risk-takers, thinkers, and inquirers (in addition to knowledgeable academics).

The IB Program also has affiliated curriculum for younger students, such as the Middle Years Programme for Middle School students.

What is the AP (Advanced Placement) Program?

The AP Program was designed and implemented in the U.S. and Canada by the College Board (the same folks who do the SAT!) in 1955. This program is intended to offer “college-level” courses to advanced high school students. Some colleges offer credit for AP classes taken in high school, but this varies widely by school and major. Recently, the focus has moved away from taking AP classes to count toward college credits. Now you need to take AP classes simply to get into competitive colleges!

After a year long course, students take an AP exam in the subject in May. The exams are scored by readers who are often college professors themselves. Students receive scores of 1 through 5 and report these scores with their college applications. Students can also be recognized within the program for lots of high scores on their exams. So you could become a National AP Scholar for receiving an average score of at least 4 on all AP Exams taken and scores of 4 or higher on eight or more AP exams!

There are currently 38 possible AP courses, although most high schools do not offer all of them, depending on their faculty.

IB vs AP: What are the strengths and weakness of each program?

Weaknesses of the IB Program:

  • IB exams occur after two years of instruction at the end of senior year. Therefore, IB examination results are not included in the college application process. This provides less quantifiable information about a student’s standardized testing abilities.
  • Some students who take the IB program in junior and senior year take AP courses and exams as freshmen and sophomores to compensate for the above difficulty.
  • The IB Program is less commonly offered in the U.S. Therefore, admissions officers are less familiar with the program. There are about 1,700 U.S. high schools that offer IB courses, whereas there are more than 14,000 U.S. public high schools alone that offer AP classes. That's an eighth as many IB vs AP classes offered. 
  • The IB Program requires course enrollment for two years. This is both a strength and a weakness. Students have to select classes and commit for a long period of time. Also, this limits the opportunity to take certain classes. It can be difficult to cover Biology, Chemistry, and Physics, which all matter for STEM students (in addition to any general science requirements or Environmental Science options) within this structure.

Strengths of the IB Program:

  • The IB Program includes designed curricula for all instructors ensuring quality education.
  • The IB Program’s international focus exposes students to literature, politics, and social issues from around the world.
  • The additional requirements of the IB program, such as Creative Activity and Service (CAS), expose students to real-world applications of their learning.
  • This is an integrated program, so the classes complement each other. The courses are intended to achieve a well-rounded curriculum. Students have options for course selection within the program, but more guidance and structure is provided than within the 38 possible AP courses.
  • The IB Program requires course enrollment for two years. This is both a strength and a weakness. Students acquire deep knowledge and apply their knowledge rather than studying for success on a single test.

Weaknesses of the AP Program:

  • Fewer and fewer college are offering college credit for a “passing score” of a “3” or even for a score of a “4” over the last few years.
  • Recent scientific studies have demonstrated that students who enroll in AP science courses are not notably more or less prepared for college work than students in non-AP science courses.
  • The existence of AP classes is not a gauge of high school quality. Schools adding AP exams does not improve the overall quality of the school or the scores of students.
  • AP is a North-American centric program in history, design, and focus.
  • AP classes “teach to a test.” Therefore, the teaching is focused on, and limited to, what will be on the test. Teachers must move quickly to cover all the information that could be included on the exam, and so the pace of classes can be rushed.

Strengths of the AP Program:

  • The AP Program is broadly familiar to college and admissions officers and recognized as rigorous and impressive.
  • Top scores on AP exams and high grades in AP classes make students competitive candidates for the best colleges and universities in the U.S.
  • There are comprehensive test-prep materials and resources for all the AP exams.
  • The AP Program allows students to select a course schedule that meets their needs. They can select AP courses in certain subjects and not others. Outstanding students can challenge themselves with additional AP courses.
  • The AP Program is offered at so many high schools throughout the U.S. and across the world that scores on the AP exam are an excellent way to compare students from very different backgrounds. International students can use AP exams to show how they’re competitive with U.S. students.

IB vs AP: Which one should YOU choose?

There is no correct answer to the question: which is better between IB vs AP? Both programs have strengths and weaknesses. There is, however, a correct answer to the question: which should YOU choose?

As you make this decision, ask questions:

  1. Which program is more popular at your high school?
  2. Which teachers instruct IB vs AP classes? Where are the best teachers teaching?
  3. Where have students from your high school been admitted to college? Which program did they choose?
  4. How many AP classes do students at your high school typically take? How many would you have to take to standout at your school?
  5. Do students at your school combine the AP and IB programs?

Answering these questions will help you understand how these programs work at your specific high school. These programs have strengths and weaknesses nationally and internationally as programs. But when an admissions officer sits down and looks at your application he or she will be evaluating you within the context your high school.

Related content: High School Class Rank: Does it Matter?

The Admissions Office will ask whether you challenged yourself and showed a love of learning within your high school environment. You don’t have to take 15 AP classes if only 5 are offered at your high school! Finding out the normal practice at your high school and how you can excel within that is what matters most. As with anything in the admissions process, when you choose IB vs AP, follow your interests, and pick the one that's best for you. 

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