AP Courses vs IB program

Students studying on the front lawn of their boarding schools.
by Educatius Group
| USA

Six differences international high school students need to know

What is the most important factor for international students when selecting a US high school to apply to?

For academically motivated students, it’s the courses that you can choose and how they will prepare you for university. The presence of Advance Placement (AP) courses and/or an International Baccalaureates (IB) Diploma program are indicators of a strong academic program at your desired school. But what is the difference between AP and IB?

1. AP and IB Introduction

Both AP and IB courses give motivated high school students an opportunity to challenge themselves to pursue higher-level studies. They can be found at USA public, private and boarding high schools.

AP courses follow curriculum mandated by the US College Board and are designed for students to earn college credits before entering university. In some cases, this can fast track students through college and save them money!

What’s more, AP courses stand out on a student’s college application. College admissions committees can see that an applicant is able to handle challenging workload and subject materials. 

International students can take one or more individual high school courses depending on interest and availability at a given school. English Language and Composition, US History, Calculus AB, World History, Psychology, Statistics and Chemistry are some of the most popular AP courses. 

The IB program is mandated by the International Baccalaureates Organization and developed to be an internationally- recognized diploma program where students complete a rigorous two-year program during their junior and senior years of high school.

2. Global Popularity

AP courses originate in the USA; therefore, the majority of courses can be found at USA high schools. Also, a student may be more likely to find a USA college that accepts them for college credit. Here’s a link that indicates which Universities and colleges worldwide accept which AP courses - and for what level of credit.

The IB Diploma Programme is designed to be internationally- recognized at top universities worldwide. This is a great option for students with a global perspective.  And, the IB Diploma Programme requires that all graduates have mastered more than one language, which puts international students at an advantage.

3. Curriculum vs Exams

AP courses are offered at one level except for certain subjects (such as Physics 1, Physics 2). All exams are graded on a 1-5 system, with 5 being the highest score a student can achieve. AP exams are more flexible: you don’t have to take an AP course in order to take the exam. However, to obtain college credit, a student needs to achieve a 3 or higher on the exam.

The IB Diploma program requires students to complete a two-year of studies with a specific set of courses, the Theory of Knowledge course, a 4,000-word extended essay, and 150 hours of creativity, action and service. If you don’t want to earn an IB diploma, you can sometimes take a few IB courses and get certificates for individual subject. IB courses are offered at a standard level and a higher level. Students take exams with the highest score of a 7, but students are required to enroll in an IB course to take the test.

4. How popular are AP and IB courses?

US high schools are more familiar with AP courses: almost 20,000 US high schools offer AP courses. Meanwhile less than 2,000 offer the IB program.

Globally, IB programs are the gold standard accepted by international universities and colleges. More than 2,000 universities from 100+ countries take IB credits; less than 1,000 universities from 60 countries accept AP credits. 

Here’s a quick comparison of AP vs IB


AP

IB

Origin

United States

Switzerland

Popularity in the US

18,313 schools

Click here to search for AP Schools

1,671 schools

Click here to search for IB Schools

 

Recognition by international universities

60 countries

Search here for AP Resources

 

2000+ universities from 100+ countries

University IB Policy Index here

 

Curriculum

7 categories, 38 subjects

- AP Capstone

- Arts

- English

- History & Social Science

- Math & Computer Science

- Sciences

- World Languages & Cultures

 

6 groups, 70+ subjects

- Studies in Language & Literature

- Language Acquisition

- Sciences

- The Arts

- Mathematics

- Individuals & Societies

Level

Single level, with exceptions of certain subjects

Standard level and higher level

Educational Objective

Particular subjects

Holistic approach

Diploma

No

Students earn an IB diploma if they complete a 2-year program

Classes and Exams

Students don’t need to enroll in an AP class to take an AP exam

Students need to enroll in an IB class to take an IB exam

 

5. Getting US university credits…

American universities generally recognize AP and IB courses as being comparable to taking college level courses. Policies varies between colleges, but if you get an AP score of at least 3 or an IB score of at least 5, you probably don’t need to enroll in that course at your university.

Remember when we talked about the levels of AP and IB courses? Here comes the tricky part: while IB higher-level courses are usually accepted by colleges, standard-level IB courses aren’t always taken. In contrast, AP courses will be taken regardless of “level.” So if you take 3 higher-level IB courses and 3 standard-level IB courses as part of the diploma, you may end up with less credit than you would for the same 6 AP courses. Bottom line: check with a university’s admissions team to make sure credits for all AP or IB courses taken are transferred correctly.

6. So AP or IB?

Many international students desire to further their studies at an American University, so, naturally, the next question will be this: do universities in the US have a preference?

The answer varies, but here’s a good rule: Admission officers might be more familiar with AP courses, but they like to see either (or both!) on your high school transcript.

The IB Diploma program is comprehensive, but rather fixed because you will commit to a specific set of courses with an extended essay. This makes it difficult for you to transfer credits to another school. But the experience of the IB Theory of Knowledge class and the research class for Extended Essay are unsurpassed in AP courses or IB certificate program. Meanwhile, AP courses are more flexible, allowing students to take just subjects that interest them.

Whether to take AP courses, be an IB diploma student, or take a mixture of AP and IB courses will depend on your own preference, interest, and learning style.

Looking for guidance? This is what the admission department at Princeton University – ranked #1 in the USA by US News and World Report – says: “Whenever you can, challenge yourself with the most rigorous course possible such as honors, Advanced Placement (AP) and dual-enrollment courses. We will evaluate the International Baccalaureate (IB), A-levels or another diploma in the context of the program’s curriculum.”

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