AP vs. IB: What Are the Differences and Which Program Is Best for You?

As many know, Advanced Placement (AP) courses have been the main option for those who seek a more challenging coursework than what is offered in their school’s standard curriculum. In addition to AP courses, an increasing number of high schools are also choosing to offer International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, which similar to AP courses, offer a rigorous curriculum.

Both AP and IB programs give high school students the opportunity to earn college credit and help students become better prepared for higher education. Each program’s goals, subjects and exams do vary. Let’s explore both programs and their strengths to see which one is a good fit for you.

Differences Between AP and IB

Today, about 14,000 high schools throughout the nation offer AP classes to junior and senior-level students. There are over 30 subjects available for teachers to include in their AP curriculum, with courses such as English literature, world history, calculus, psychology, and chemistry. To be approved as an AP course, The College Board must verify that the curriculum meets their standards. At the end of each school year, students have the option to take an AP exam. If student’s exam scores are high enough, students will receive college credit at the university they attend. In addition, these scores can also contribute to a student’s placement at some colleges, making them a competitive candidate.

Similar to AP courses, IB courses are offered to high school juniors and seniors, in addition to some elementary and middle schools across the U.S. and throughout the world. The IB Diploma program is a smaller program than the AP program. Today, IB is currently offered at about 830 schools in the U.S. The IB program is a Diploma program that includes three core elements and six classes from various subjects. The core elements include Theory of Knowledge, a class that examines the nature of learning, an extended 4,000 word research essay, and a 150 hour community service project called “creativity, action, service.” Of the six subject classes students take, three must be Higher Level and three must be Standard Level. Like those who take AP classes, IB students can also take tests in the six subjects and have their coursework count for college credit if they achieve a certain score.

Which Should You Take: AP or IB?

When deciding between either program, there are a few things the student should take into consideration:

  1. What do you want to get out of the experience? AP courses give students individual options when choosing which courses they want to take, whereas IB Diploma program is a comprehensive program about what students must take to qualify for the diploma.
  2. Will your university of choice accept the coursework? AP coursework is accepted by more colleges, which makes it appealing to students who want get some of their coursework done prior to attending university. And since public schools offer AP courses, this opens up the playing field for those students interested in taking them.
  3. Can you afford the classes? As we mentioned above, because public schools offer AP courses you don’t have to worry about paying to be in a private institution in order to enroll in advanced coursework. Both programs do have fees, but they differ. IB exams are more expensive. There is a $160 registration fee each year plus a $110 fee per exam. APs are $91 per exam without an additional fee. However, many schools have financial aid programs, so your actual cost could be lower. One thing to keep in mind is that while these fees may seem steep, they are much less than the cost of taking the equivalent course in college.
  4. Which program looks better on a college application? Colleges don’t consider either program more impressive than the other. More importantly, colleges want to see that you challenged yourself in the coursework that was available to you. Whichever advanced program is available to you, you should explore all of your options. Some schools do offer both AP and IB programs, and students have been able to participate in. The bigger goal here is to partake in a range of subjects that challenge and prepare you for your future.

From offering college credit, to becoming better equipped for a university’s workload; advanced course programs provide a lot of benefits to students prior to enrolling at a four-year university. Regardless of the program you take, you want to be sure you can find a balance between managing college-level courses and your other special interests. At the end of the day, colleges seek well-rounded students that not only challenge himself or herself academically, but also participate in other extracurricular activities.

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