Written by Alyssa Walker

If you have started high school recently or about to, you have probably heard of both Advanced Placement (AP) courses and the International Baccalaureate (IB), but do you know the difference? To know what these tests are and how they can help you, read on. 

What is AP?

AP is a College-Board program, from the same folks who make the SAT, that allows high school students to earn college credit by taking advanced classes as a high school student. The exams are recognized at the international level.

If you pass the AP exam with a qualifying score, you may find yourself able to skip some entry-level college courses.

Created in the mid-1950s, AP did not officially launch until 1956 when the College Board took it over and called it the College Board Advanced Placement Program.

Today, about 2.7 million students take AP exams every year in 38 subjects. 

The AP test measures what you learn over the course of AP classes. The courses offer challenging college rigor and help you learn how to study for tough college exams.

Getting a five on an AP exam shows that you are more advanced than 80-90 percent of your advanced peers. 

AP courses do not just show college admissions committees that you have what it takes to succeed. They can also show that you have academic interests in subjects.

If you are an aspiring engineer, for example, take AP Calculus and AP Physics if you can. AP courses give you the opportunity to show where you truly shine.

They also earn you college credit -- or may exempt you from certain general educational requirements. While some colleges and universities put caps on the number of AP credits with which you can transfer in, the courses still put you ahead --you can take more advanced levels as a freshman than you might otherwise be able to. 

What's IB?

Like AP, IB is also an internationally recognized course that allows students to work toward the prestigious IB Diploma. 

Created in Switzerland in 1968, IB first started as a program for high school students at international schools. It's now offered at 3,460 schools in 143 countries, including the US and the UK.

IB students choose topics and design their own projects, focusing on developing their research and critical thinking skills. 

The program takes more of an inquiry-based approach to learning and encourages students to think for themselves.

IB has three required elements: theory of knowledge (TOK); creativity, action and service; and extended essay. In addition, students in the IB program take six subjects -- three at a standard level, and three at a higher level, which gives more options than the UK's standard A-levels.

The subjects include first language, second language, experimental science, math and computer science, the arts, and individuals and society.

Each of the six subjects is marked on a scale of 7 points, for a total of 42 points, with extra points available for extended essay and TOK. Students must earn at least 24 points to qualify for an IB diploma.

Top schools in the UK typically take students who score between 32 and 40 points. 

Which one should you choose?

It depends. Firstly, on your access to the programs and whether your school offers AP or IB. 

Both programs offer rigor and both give you a leg up in college and life. Having either on your transcript will make you stand out in the college admissions process, and they allow you to develop those college-level skills.

AP has the distinct advantage of earning college credit with a qualifying score on an exam, which saves you not just time, but also money. It also allows you to take more classes in your major. By knocking out some general education requirements, you can start your freshman year more focused on the classes you want to take.

You can also take AP courses in your own time. If your high school does not offer AP, or you can but you do not have enough room in your schedule, you can take edX high school courses that allow you to prepare for the exams. You can take an AP edX course for free, or pay for a certificate to share with teachers and college admissions officers.

IB offers some similar benefits, with a few nuances. The IB program starts as early as elementary school, offering an interdisciplinary approach.

High school students who participate do so depending on what their school offers. Some schools allow students to take one or two IB courses, while others require students to work toward the full diploma.

IB encourages students to look at the whole picture of their learning and requires that students are engaged and interested. Students are prepared for college because of the holistic nature of the IB.

While IB does not offer the opportunity to earn college credit, it is one of the strongest college-level programs in the countries. Those who take it often place out of entry-level college courses anyway.

Bottom line? The choice is yours.

Learn more about earning your undergraduate degree. 



ArticleEducationStudent Tips
Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.
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