School choice: AP or IB?

School choice dilemma

As competition for admission to leading universities increases, parents often enriched academic programs to give their student(s) and edge. What school should we choose? The school offering the International Baccalaureate program or the one offering the Advanced Placement courses. This is a question on the mind of many families with students transitioning from middle school to high school. Our answer is not the same for everyone. In the end, which program is best depends on the student.

IB and AP courses are very rigorous. Universities like to see them on transcripts as they provide excellent preparation for university level work. In fact, some institutions grant students university level credit for both IB and AP courses; others may allow students to use AP and IB courses to meet pre-requisite requirements but don’t grant credit. Policies vary widely. In general, universities will grant credit for scores of 4 or higher (out of 5) on an AP exam, and 5 or higher (out of 7) on Higher Level IB courses. This means that your student could take fewer courses in university thereby saving your family money.

Advanced Placement

Advanced Placement courses follow a curriculum established by the College Board. During the academic year course work is prepared and graded by teachers at the school. Then, in May, students sit for Advanced Placement exams prepared and graded by the College Board. Scores are reported in mid-July. Students in any grade may take AP courses and AP exams as long as pre-requisite courses have been completed.

Select schools may offer the AP Capstone Diploma, a program that enriches the basic high school basic curriculum. To complete the AP Capstone Diploma, students must achieve a 3 or higher (out of 5) on four of AP exams, and complete both the AP Seminar and AP Research courses, also with a 3 or higher (out of 5). Students who earn a 3 or higher only on the AP Seminar and AP Research receive the AP Seminar and Research Certificate.

The AP courses and program are a good fit for students looking for flexibility since students are able to choose which courses they will take. Make no mistake about it, AP courses are demanding. Students considering this route should take courses in subject areas at which they excel.

International Baccalaureate

On the other hand, the International Baccalaureate presents a more defined framework. Students follow the IB program over the final two years of high school, taking six courses – three at the Higher Level and three at Standard Level. The courses must include one in language and literature, one in language acquisition, one in mathematics, one in humanities and social sciences, and one in experimental sciences. Also required is a sixth course in the arts or in one of the previously mentioned disciplines.

All IB diploma students also have to complete a course in Theory of Knowledge, which questions the basis of knowledge, write a 4,000 word research essay, and complete a set number of hours of non-academic activity covering creativity, physical activity, and service to community. In other words, the program, established by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), challenges students to be well-rounded.

Students are evaluated by their school teachers (internal assessments) through papers and exams, and also submit papers and exams to external assessors. In a sense, this serves as a check and encourages objectivity and reliability. As is the case with AP exams, IB exams take place in May (November in the southern hemisphere) and are graded on a 1 to 7 scale, with 7 being the highest. Exam results are released in July or January.

Non-diploma students who complete individual IB diploma courses and exams may earn a certificate of completion for each course.

AP or IB: Which is better?

It all depends on the student. Universities hold both AP and IB courses in high regard. It is important to point out that the courses are only as good as their teachers. So when choosing schools, it’s important to check with families at those schools on the quality of instruction, and select the option that works best for your student.

VerveSmith helps students find schools, universities and programs that match their aspirations, and to develop an admissions application strategy. For additional help, contact us.