IB vs. AP: What should you choose?

The Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs are both high school programs that offer college-level courses and the opportunity to earn college credit. So what’s the difference between the two programs? Does one look more impressive than the other? Which will improve your odds of getting into a top school the most?

We’ll introduce you to both programs, and explain which one will look more impressive on your college applications.

Key Differences

Both the AP and IB programs offer challenging courses to high school students that they can earn college credit for. But their philosophies and goals are quite different.

The AP program was developed in the US to help high school students prepare for college by taking advanced courses, with no set program of courses. Students could take just one or even a dozen AP classes, depending on their school, schedule, and goals.

In contrast, IB was developed in Switzerland to be an internationally recognized diploma. To earn the diploma, you have to take a certain amount of courses in a range of subjects. 

While both are exams for college credit in US colleges, IB curriculum is a lot more internationally renowned and credits aren’t contained to US colleges only

Program Goals

The programs have different goals, as well. IB has more emphasis on writing and developing critical thinking skills – and not just on the exams themselves. The IB diploma also requires the extended essay, a long, college-style research paper. The IB program also has extracurricular requirements.

In contrast, the AP is program focused on teaching students specific content and testing their knowledge on the exams. There is more multiple-choice and emphasis on meeting certain content goals.

Classes and Exams

You can take AP exams without being enrolled in a class, but you have to be enrolled in an IB class to take an IB exam. If you have proficiency in a language not offered by your school, or if you want to self-study for a niche subject like Art History, the AP program gives you more flexibility.

Also, IB offers higher-level and standard-level courses. To get an IB diploma, you have to take at least 3 higher-level courses. AP courses are offered at a single level, though there are certain subjects, like calculus and physics, that have different course options. IB higher level is at some high schools considered harder than AP. Most colleges give credit for AP exams and higher-level IB exams, but not all give credit for standard-level IB exams.

You can search the AP credit policy of various colleges at the AP college database.  The IB program doesn’t have a similar database, but you can look up the IB credit policy of any college or university by searching “[Name of College/University] IB Credit.”

You may be attracted to the IB program’s focus on writing and a broad education, or you may think the AP program’s flexibility makes it a better choice for you. Definitely take these program differences into account as you make your choice.

While in India, there aren’t many AP “classes,” there has been a rise in the number of queries about the exams itself. IB on the hand is growing rapidly and most private schools in metro cities offer the diploma 

Reputation at Colleges

So now that you know more about the two programs, we’ll get to the big question – which one do colleges prefer? Which one looks the most impressive?

Actually, colleges don’t automatically consider AP or IB harder or more impressive on a transcript. Since IB is a rarer program, they can’t penalize students for not taking it. Plus, there are huge differences in how both AP and IB courses are taught and graded at high schools across the country.

Because of this, colleges – especially the most selective ones – just want to see you have taken the most challenging course load available at your high school. That means instead of worrying about AP versus IB, you should worry about taking the most rigorous classes your high schools offers.

For example, Princeton says on their admissions website, “Whenever you can, challenge yourself with the most rigorous courses 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.”


AP v. IB in India

If you are choosing the IB program you are choosing to essentially not apply for college in India. While some colleges have started accepting IB scores, most are vary of it and well.. most of your peers will be going abroad. 

If you take the AP exams, you still have to choose a board in high school (ISC or CBSE). This means that the AP exams would be an extra set of exams that you study for and take during the same time that you get done with you board exams. 

The IB program will not only get you college credit but also a holistic education, getting you ready for a rigorous curriculum in college. 

Both options are great but it all depends on: 

  1. The country you want to study in 
  2. If you want to change your current educational board 
  3. If you can have the mental and physical time to take another set of tests other than your board exams
  4. If you want to learn something new or just get college credits

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