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While AP (Advanced Placement) courses are the most popular option for students to challenge themselves outside of the standard curriculum, an increasing number of high schools in the US are offering the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

What is Advanced Placement?

Advanced Placement (AP) was developed in the United States by College Board in 1950s to help bridge the gap between high school and college. The program gives students a feel of intro-level college courses as well as a chance to earn college credit, which can save both tuition money and time spent on intro-level college courses.

In order to get credit, students can enroll in an AP class at their high school and take the corresponding AP exam, which tests what is learned in the class. In order to earn college credit, students must earn a high score on the exam.

What is the International Baccalaureate Program?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program (DP), born in Switzerland in 1960s, is a rigorous, internationally-recognized diploma designed to prepare students for higher education. The DP curriculum is made up of the "DP core" and six subjects - Literature, Language Acquisition, Individuals and Societies, Sciences, Mathematics, and the Arts. The six subjects can be taken at either a "high level" or a "standard level", depending on an individual student’s strengths and weaknesses.

The DP core is made up of three components:

  1. theory of knowledge (TOK), in which students reflect on the nature of knowledge
  2. the extended essay, a 4000-word independent research paper
  3. a project related to creativity, activity and service

There is potential to earn college credit in any of the six subjects. While no credit is awarded for the DP core, these activities boost student’s resume, improve writing skills, and prepare students for university-level research.

Accessibility

While both programs are widely recognized by colleges and universities in the United States, AP courses are far more accessible than the IB diploma.

Flexibility

In addition to being more accessible, the AP route is also more flexible. While most students take an AP class at their high school to prepare for an AP test, it actually isn’t required. Students who are especially self-motivated or knowledgeable in a particular subject can opt to take an AP exam sans the corresponding class simply by studying for it on their own. There are even platforms that offer AP courses online.

IB exams, on the other hand, cannot be taken on their own without their corresponding class. However, students do have the option of taking IB courses for credit without pursuing the two-year IB diploma, and it is possible to take these courses online.

Grading

In order to get credit, students must do well on the exams, regardless of the program. AP courses will be graded like any other course at your school, while the exam is graded on a scale of 1-5, 5 meaning "extremely well qualified" and 1 meaning "no recommendation".

Both high level and standard level IB courses are graded on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 being the highest. However, some colleges and universities will only award college credit for high level courses and not standard level courses. An IB diploma candidate is required to take three subjects at a high level but is not permitted to take more than four.

Which program is better?

When determining which program is right, it is important to consider what type of student you are and what type of schedule you have. The IB diploma program has a heavy emphasis on writing, which might be an advantage to a student who is a particularly strong writer or one who is looking to improve their writing skills. Most IB programs require students to devote a significant amount of time to the extended essay over the summer, which might not be suitable for students who are involved in sports or other extra-curricular activities.

Earning college credit in an AP program requires being a very good test taker. If a student tends to do well in classes but struggles during exams, AP might not be the best option.