What is the difference between IB and AP courses?


Friday, April 17, 2020

International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement classes offer education benefits to high school students, but in different ways. Find out how!


Conscientious California high school students who are planning for their futures have a lot to consider: grade point averages, extracurricular activities and the rigor of classes. Students have turned to Advanced Placement classes to challenge themselves with the most rigorous courses available. A somewhat lesser known option is the International Baccalaureate program, which offers students a challenging curriculum. 


High school students should know several things when weighing IB vs. AP courses as they prepare for their college and university futures. 


The IB program is small compared to the AP program in the U.S. Fewer than 950 U.S. schools offer the IB diploma, according to the program organizers. In comparison, more than 20,000 high schools offered AP courses during the 2017-2019 school year, according to the College Board, which administers the AP program.

Some California high schools offer both IB and AP classes. 

College admissions counselors also see values in both programs. Grades in college prep courses such as AP and IB were listed as being of “considerable importance” by 73.2% of respondents in the 2019 State of College Admission report compiled by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Only 5.5% of respondents felt the same way about test scores in AP and IB programs.

How do high school IB and AP course programs differ?

While colleges appear to equally value AP and IB programs, students should be aware of structural differences.


While AP is limited to high school classes, the IB program also offers elementary, middle school and career programs. The IB Diploma Program is for high school students, specifically those ages 16-19, while AP classes are offered from grades nine through 12.

Students can take individual IB classes, similar to AP, or pursue an IB Diploma recognized by colleges around the world.

Both IB and AP courses are offered overseas, but IB is primarily an international program. According to the IB website, nearly 5,200 schools in 157 countries offer the program.

Students take a standard set of course and exams in a rigorous two-year IB Diploma program. They complete this during their junior and senior years. Other requirements include community service and a research paper.

If student do not have the opportunity to take the IB Diploma, they can take AP classes.

An AP class looks very deeply at an issue and looks at it from multiple perspectives. IB courses traditionally look at an issue over time and how it has impacted other parts of the world. However, this has changed in recent years with the two curricula becoming more like one another.

IB and AP classes can both lead to college credit

A student must be enrolled in an IB class to take an IB exam, but a student can take an AP exam without taking the corresponding AP course.

Both IB and AP classes culminate in an exam, and students can earn college credit depending on their scores.

This can be quite invaluable in terms of saving money on college credit in the future.

Educators agree that college admissions officer look favorably on students who take AP or IB classes. We do not advise that you take one course over the other—your choice should depend on your academic goals.

Some top California high schools find a way to blend AP and IB together into a rich curriculum.



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