Dear Marco: What’s the difference between International Baccalaureate (IB)® and AP®?

Both AP® and IB® programs give high school students the chance to take collegiate-level courses before they enter college, but they differ in a number of key ways. Depending on the students’ goals and ambitions, they might decide between one or the other (or both).

Where AP® courses and exams give students the opportunity to earn college credit before they enter college, IB® programs give students a more comprehensive focus on overall student development. Both are helpful for students. That’s why we want to break down exactly what goes into each program—and give you our recommendation for which one you should pick.

What is an AP® program?

Advanced Placement® (AP®) programs offer college-level classes and exams to high school students. They’re aimed at providing students with the opportunity to experience a college course while in high school and also earn college credit.

AP® exams are offered by the College Board—the same folks who make the SAT®. Today, more than 2.7 million students take the exam each year across 38 different subjects.

At the end of the course, students must take an exam that is scored on a scale of one to five (with one being the worst score and five being the best). The results of the exam determine whether or not the student receives college credit.

A few benefits of taking AP® courses:

  • Wide variety of subjects. There are more than 30 AP® courses across a wide variety of subjects available for students to take. Students can also opt to take AP® courses at a different high school.
  • Look good on your transcript. Colleges like to look at a high school student’s most challenging courses when considering their transcripts. With AP® courses on your transcript, you can make yourself stand out as a candidate.
  • College credit. The chance to earn college credit without stepping onto a campus can save you time and money. Granted, you’re not assured college credit (especially if you get a low score), but it’s still a good opportunity.

There are some “downsides” though. It costs $96 to take each AP® exam. The coursework is also incredibly demanding and rigorous—something not every student is capable of managing. Overall, it’s a fantastic option for any student looking to be challenged in high school while earning college credit.

What are IB® programs?

International Baccalaureate® (IB®) programs are two-year programs aimed at primary and high school aged students. They’re offered by the titular International Baccalaureate organization, a non-profit dedicated to giving students all over the world a rigorous and standardized education system.

High school students aged 16-19 years old can take part in their Diploma Programme (DP), which is a series of courses made up of six subjects taken from core subject groups. Those groups are:

  1. Studies in language and literature
  2. Language acquisition
  3. Individuals and societies
  4. Experimental sciences
  5. Mathematics
  6. The arts

At the end of the two years, students are given assessments and exams focused on what they studied. If and when they pass, they earn an IB® diploma, which colleges and universities can then award college credit for.

Having an IB® diploma is a massive boon for any student who earns one, and universities will look at it very positively. And since IB® diplomas are recognized internationally, students who are interested in attending schools outside of the U.S. will find the program beneficial.

It should be noted that, like AP® programs, IB® programs are very difficult and challenging (arguably more so than AP®). They are, after all, two-year programs aimed at giving students collegiate-level coursework. Students are also expected to manage their own time and course load throughout the duration of the program.

AP® vs IB®: Which should you choose?

Ultimately the decision is up to you, and it depends on what you’re looking to get out of your high school experience—as well as which school you hope to attend. Some colleges might require one or the other in order to apply and be accepted. Be sure to call the registrar’s office of any school you’re interested in to inquire about their specific policies.

If you decide to pursue AP® exams, make sure to check out our free resources, including practice tests and study guides.

Free Practice Tests

Free Study Guides

This work has been developed independently from and is not endorsed by the International Baccalaureate Organization. International Baccalaureate, Baccalauréat International, Bachillerato Internacional and IB are registered trademarks owned by the International Baccalaureate Organization.
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