High school students in the US who are interested in challenging themselves academically can choose to enrol in rigorous university-preparatory programs such as the College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) or the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma, depending on what their school offers
Students should know several things when weighing IB versus AP courses as they prepare for college studies.
The IB program is still relatively small compared with the AP program in the US. There are currently 1829 private and state US schools, which offer one or more of the International Baccalaureate programmes vs more than 20,000 high schools offered AP courses.
There are four programmes
1. The Diploma Programme (DP) for students aged 16 to 19
2. The Middle Years Programme (MYP) for students aged 11 to 16
3. The Primary Years Programme (PYP) for students from 3 to 12.
4. The IB Career-Related Certificate (IBCC) for students 16 to 19
There has been an uptick of IB diploma programs across the United States, and it is considered the gold standard among college admissions officials
IB diploma programs here have the greatest presence in California, Florida and Texas schools, but there are also many in the Midwest and other parts of the country.
In the USA, prestigious universities such as Harvard and Princeton widely recognise the IB qualification as a suitable one for entry. Though a student’s final results won’t be readily available when they make their applications, American colleges will be able to gain a sense of where you stand looking at your dedication to studies.
Besides, students are recommended to take SAT Subject Tests in sciences, languages, history etc to prove their content knowledge gained from taking the IB program. The SATs will also help colleges gauge a student’s potential against a wider international and USA-based pool of applicants.
American universities offer great opportunities to students who aren’t ready to choose one specific subject area. A liberal arts education available in the USA means students can keep their options open during their first few years of study.
What are the key differences between them?
Both the AP and IB programs offer challenging courses to high school students that you can earn college credit while doing. However, their philosophies and goals are quite different.
The AP program was developed in the US to help high school students prepare for college by taking advanced courses, with no set program of courses. Students could take just one or even a dozen AP classes, depending on their school, schedule, and goals.
In contrast, IB was developed in Switzerland to be an internationally recognized diploma. To earn the diploma, you have to take a certain amount of courses in a range of subjects. It is possible to just take a few IBs without earning the diploma, but IB was developed to be a set program of courses.
#1: AP Is Much More Popular Than IB
The IB program is much less common than AP. While AP is quite widespread, the IB program is rarer since schools have to be able to offer enough classes for the diploma to host an IB program. Adding IB is often more costly than starting a few AP classes.
#2: IB and AP Have Different Program Goals
The programs have different goals, as well. IB has more emphasis on writing and developing critical thinking skills—and not just on the exams themselves. The IB diploma also requires the extended essay of 4000 words, a long, college-style research paper. The IB program also has extracurricular requirements.
In contrast, the AP is a program focused on teaching students specific content and testing their knowledge on the exams. There is more multiple-choice and emphasis on meeting certain content goals.
#3: IB Is More Expensive Than AP
IB exams are more expensive for US students than AP exams. There is a $119 fee per exam.
AP cost about $94 per exam for students at schools in the US, US territories, or Canada, or $124 per exam for all other students. However, many schools have financial aid and fee-waiver programs, so your actual cost could be lower.
#4 Structural Difference
While AP is limited to high school courses, the IB program also offers elementary, middle school and career programs. The IB Diploma Program is for high school students, specifically those ages 16-19, while AP classes are offered from grades nine through 12.
Both IB and AP courses are offered overseas, but IB is primarily an international program
#5: Only IB Requires You to Enroll in Classes
You can take AP exams without being enrolled in a class, but you have to be enrolled in an IB class to take an IB exam. If you have proficiency in a language not offered by your school, or if you want to self-study for a niche subject like Art History, the AP program gives you more flexibility.
IB offers higher-level and standard-level courses. To get an IB diploma, you have to take at least three higher-level courses. AP courses are offered at a single level, though there are certain subjects, like calculus and physics, that have different course options. IB higher level is at some high schools considered harder than AP. Most colleges give credit for AP exams and higher-level IB exams, but not all give credit for standard-level IB exams.
You can search the AP credit policy of various colleges at the AP college database. The IB program doesn’t have a similar database, but you can look up the IB credit policy of any college or university by searching “[Name of College/University] IB Credit.”
Colleges don’t automatically consider AP or IB harder or more impressive on a transcript. Since IB is a rarer program, they can’t penalize students for not taking it. Plus, there are huge differences in how both AP and IB courses are taught and graded at high schools across the country.
Because of the differences in IB/AP course grading, colleges—especially the most selective ones—just want to see you have taken the most challenging course load available at your high school. That means instead of worrying about AP versus IB, you should worry about taking the most rigorous classes your high school offers.
One thing to keep in mind is that the IB diploma shows you are challenging yourself in all subject areas, whereas with the AP program you could just pick subjects you are strong in.
Some IB students mentioned that the benefits of an IB education can be seen after they have finished their IB studies. When IB alumni were surveyed for a study on the long-term effects of their participation in IB programmes, they found that IB alumni gained a broader world view including an “explicitly international or global perspective” thanks to their IB education. They credited their IB education experiences for providing them with valuable skills – for example, the ability to communicate in an additional language and understanding cultural differences – which has had a direct and positive impact on their work lives
You may be attracted to the IB program’s focus on writing and broad education, or you may think the AP program’s flexibility makes it a better choice for you. But take these program differences into account as you make your choice.