IB or AP: Which is Better?

By Gary Keung

(Admissions Consultant at The Edge Learning Center)

IB or AP: Which is Better?

In today’s highly competitive academic climate, every early advantage counts, which is why parents push their children to take IB and AP courses in high school to get a competitive advantage for college applications. IB and AP programs allow students to finish college-level courses while still in high school in a variety of disciplines. Students can often receive college credit or be placed out of introductory classes by passing AP and IB exams in high school. Deciding between IB and AP might be difficult because they are both well-known educational programs with their own advantages. Here’s how we can help you figure out which is the better option for you by first looking into what these two programs are:

What is the International Baccalaureate (IB) program?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program is a two-year curriculum for students in grades 11 and 12. Students pursuing an IB diploma must study a “core” set of disciplinary approaches—theory of knowledge (TOK), creativity, activity, service (CAS), and the extended essay—across six subject groups—language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics, and the arts—and a “core” set of disciplinary approaches—theory of knowledge (TOK), creativity, activity, service (CAS), and the extended essay. Students can enroll in “standard level” (SL) or “high level” (HL) IB courses (HL). At least three HL courses are required for the IB diploma.

What are Advanced Placement (AP) classes?

The AP program, unlike the IB Diploma program, does not have a unified framework or complete curriculum, instead of focusing on particular subject area proficiency. A group of experts established the individual courses with the goal of providing more demanding material for high school pupils. A year of study is followed by tough tests that are graded on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best possible result. The focus of AP courses is on outcomes and “exams.” AP coursework is designed to develop students’ basic capabilities in a variety of topics and prepare them for college-level work. Bright kids most commonly use it to take on more challenging topics and get ahead on their college homework.

IB or AP: Which is Better?

Upon understanding what the two programs are, let’s tackle the big question of deciding which is the better choice for you or your child. Ultimately, both programs can add tremendous value to any high school student’s resume and make them better candidates for college admissions.

IB and AP are two different programs with different philosophies and visions. This impacts their curriculum and course content as well as the final exam format. AP courses are much more content-based, focusing on building subject matter expertise in one subject. On the other hand, the IB curriculum is much more comprehensive and all-encompassing, seeking to teach academic and soft skills to students and expose them to various experiences and learnings. The IB program is more time-consuming and offers less flexibility in subject choice. If all you want to do is gain college credits or complete admission prerequisites in specific subjects, then AP might be the right choice. But if you’re looking for a high-quality, stimulating education that imparts skills you’ll need throughout college and beyond, then IB might be the right option.

AP courses are challenging and rigorous, but they are essentially focused on imparting knowledge about a specific subject. They require rote memorization skills to pass the multiple-choice exam, and overall, the study style for AP courses is closer to the typical high school learning experience. On the other hand, IB courses are focused on building creativity, critical thinking, and long-form writing skills. While IB students are taught content-specific courses, this program of study can be challenging for someone who prefers a more traditional, subject-focused learning style. Before signing up for either AP or IB courses, you should consider which style you prefer.

The Answer:

Selective colleges are more concerned with kids challenging themselves intellectually in high school than with the specific subject they take. Students are only required to take advantage of AP or IB classes if their high school offers them, according to the Yale admissions website. “Whenever you can, challenge yourself with the most demanding courses imaginable, such as honors, Advanced Placement (AP), and dual-enrollment courses,” Princeton’s admissions website advises, “In the framework of the program’s curriculum, we will examine the International Baccalaureate (IB), A-levels, or another diploma.” Instead of following what’s “more popular,” students should assess the study method and academic material they love and get the most outstanding possible scores in those areas.

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About The Edge

Established in 2008, The Edge Learning Center has grown into a premier one-stop provider of educational services for Grade 7 through Grade 12, targeting students who intend to pursue overseas education. Our three departments – Academic Tutoring, Test Preparation, and Admissions Consulting – offer a broad range of educational services spanning from SAT and IB Test Prep to colleges and boarding schools application counseling. The Edge Learning Center operates in multiple regions including Hong Kong, China, and Vietnam.