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Most students don’t even realize that there is another option other than the one they are familiar with. And that’s perfectly normal. However, this debate between Advanced Placement, commonly abbreviated as “AP,”  and International Baccalaureate, IB, is more important than just humoring one’s curiosity. Some schools offer both AP and IB courses, leaving students and parents with a tough decision. So here’s the lowdown on AP and IB.

What is IB?

The International Baccalaureate Organization in Cardiff, Wales runs the rigorous program and sets the strict curriculum for the IB program. Both internal and external authorities influence the grading of exams and papers. There are two options within the IB program: students can take individual classes with the intent to receive a certificate of completion for each class or students can strive to earn an IB diploma.

The IB Diploma Program is a two-year program for upperclassmen, who are willing to follow an assigned track of the most challenging classes. These students must complete a set of individual IB courses in addition to the Theory of Knowledge course, a 4,000 word extended essay, and 150 hours of creativity, action, and community service. Lastly, they must earn at least 24 points by scoring well on IB exams.

What is AP?

The College Board establishes the requirements for the AP program and curriculum, though they do not influence the assessment of students until the final exam.

Students take individual classes based on their interests and qualifications and may begin taking AP courses at any point in their high school career, just as long as the school offers them. College Board awards students based on their success in multiple AP courses. AP Scholar, AP Scholar with Honor, and AP Scholar with Distinction are prestigious titles that reflect high scores on multiple exams.

What is a similarity between IB and AP courses?

Both courses feature a fixed syllabus. There is little to no flexibility in these classes, which replicates the strict timeline of a real college course. Students are expected to be independent and motivated, therefore it is required that they can manage their time even with the heavy course load.

What is the difference between IB and AP exams?

A student in an IB class may or may not be prepared for the respective AP exam (it depends on the course), but he or she is allowed to take both the IB and AP exam for that course. On the other hand, a student in an AP class is not allowed to take the IB exam. A student may self-study for an AP exam, but not for an IB exam.

IB exams are graded on a 1 to 7 scale, while AP exams follow a 1 to 5 scale. A score of 3 on an AP exam is often considered to be the equivalent of a 5 on an IB exam.

AP Review has been commercialized, giving students access to review books. Unfortunately, students in the IB program do not have easy access to similar study materials.

Are AP and IB courses equally impressive to colleges?

There are rumors that the IB program is harder, but this myth is quickly debunked since colleges are equally impressed by AP and IB courses. In fact, colleges are often more familiar with the AP program. Furthermore, they’re equally likely to offer credit for similar AP and IB classes.

Bottom Line: Whether you take one or the other (or possibly a mixture of both), you must do what works for you. That’s what will be the most healthy and rewarding. As long as you strive for excellence and challenge yourself, colleges will be impressed and you will feel successful.

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the author

Jasmyn Chacko, a freshman at Syracuse University, is equally nervous and excited to be a new member of The Prospect's writing staff. This position is absolutely perfect for her since she loves quirky and informal writing, as well as the college admissions process. Say what? Yup, she loves it. As crazy as it sounds, her inner teacher fantasizes about correcting personal essays and supplements. Jasmyn studies English, Spanish, and Education with strong interests in Gender Studies and ESL Education. On campus, she's a member of the dance team and the cast of the Vagina Monologues and in her free time, she fails to resist eating candy and takes naps. She hopes her articles provide advice, a break from work, and excitement regarding the future.

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  1. DragonSpark on November 20, 2014

    If I may give my own perspective on this issue:
    I’m a junior in the IB program, finishing up my first semester, and if there is one thing that I’ve noticed is that the IB is indeed much harder than AP will ever be. Now of course, some easier classes in the IB (math studies is the most infamous one) are obviously on par with AP courses, but the fact is that full IB students have a much bigger workload than AP, no matter what colleges seem to think. On that topic, please note that many colleges outside the U.S. actually recognize the IB as harder, and hence require less for an applicant to be competitive. Honk Kong Institute of Technology is the first one that comes to mind, but I have seen other examples.
    However, I am aware that this is just my own perspective, and not a fully objective one.
    Congrats on the informative post. Always nice to see other opinions.

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