IB vs. AP Classes: Which Should You Take?

IB vs. AP Classes: Which Should You Take?

By Whitney Sandoval

Published on September 9, 2021

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High school students can take advantage of several programs that will challenge them academically and allow them to earn college credit. Many first-year college students enter school with college credit thanks to IB or AP classes.

Although both the IB program and AP program can help students learn higher-level thinking and analysis skills, the two programs are very different. Read on to discover what makes each path unique.

What Is the IB Program?

The International Baccalaureate program, or IB program, fosters critical thinking skills while helping students become productive global citizens and leaders. Although IB courses are more common in high school, IB programs are also available in elementary and middle schools.

Students can choose to take individual IB courses or enroll in an IB program. Students enrolled in IB classes receive grades from their high school. If they're also enrolled in a third-party IB program, participants will complete assessments and receive separate grades there. They receive points that can be applied toward an IB diploma.

The IB Diploma Programme prepares students ages 16-19 for college-level coursework. Students must take courses from six areas of study: sciences, mathematics, studies in language and literature, language acquisition, the arts, and individuals and societies. At the end of each class, students take an IB assessment and earn points.

Each assessment receives a score between 1 and 7. Students who earn at least 24 points can graduate with an IB diploma. Participants must also finish three core components: theory of knowledge; the extended essay; and creativity, activity, service.

What Are AP Classes?

Advanced Placement (AP) classes are college-level courses offered in high school. At the end of each course, learners can choose to take the national AP exam corresponding to their class. Exams are scored on a 1-5 scale, with 5 being the highest. Students who earn a sufficiently high score on their AP exam can earn college credit. To qualify, students usually need to earn at least a 3 or 4 depending on the college.

AP courses are accelerated, so students tend to spend more time studying and preparing outside of class. Students can choose from a variety of AP classes, including English literature, U.S. history, biology, art history, Japanese language, and music theory. Some schools may limit AP courses to juniors and seniors, while others allow all students, regardless of their grade level, to enroll.

Technically, the AP exam does not have an age limit. Students can also take AP exams without enrolling in the accompanying courses.

What Are the Differences Between IB vs. AP Classes?

Although similar, the AP and IB programs have several key differences to be aware of.

AP Courses Are More Common Than IB Courses

There are 38 AP exams available. Although not every high school in the U.S. offers AP exams for all subjects, students can typically pursue several AP options at their school. According to the College Board, 1.2 million students took 4.1 million exams in 2020.

IB courses and programs are not as common in the U.S. As of July 2021, there were over 5,500 IB schools and 7,500 programs offered worldwide. Roughly 1.95 million students ages 3-19 participated in IB courses and programs; however, less than half of these programs were based in the Americas.

IB Is More Expensive Than AP

High school students must pay $119 for every IB assessment they register to take in the Diploma Programme. To earn an IB diploma, students need to take at least six courses. Other aspects of the IB Diploma Programme, such as core requirements, also include fees.

In the U.S., AP exams cost $96 per test. Some students, however, may qualify for fee reductions or waivers from either the College Board or their school district.

AP and IB Have Different Focuses

Although both AP and IB courses prepare students for college through rigorous work requiring higher-level thinking, the two programs have different focuses. Overall, the AP program aims to provide students with college-level courses while they attend high school. Each course stands alone, and there are no additional components to complete outside the exam.

IB courses, in contrast, focus more on helping students understand the process of knowledge and develop critical thinking skills. The IB Diploma Programme includes additional requirements that often center on global awareness.

An AP Course Is Not Required to Take an AP Exam

To register for an IB exam, a student must be enrolled in and complete an IB course. Students who want to take an AP exam, on the other hand, are not required to complete the AP course associated with that test.

That said, most schools do not advise students to take an AP exam without enrolling in the corresponding AP course. The AP course is designed to prepare students to do well on the exam.

Do Colleges Prefer AP or IB?

Colleges typically do not state a preference for AP or IB courses. Both options are rigorous and can help you earn college credit depending on your exam scores. If your school only offers AP or IB, you may want to simply stick with what is available.

If your school offers both, you should decide which program would be the most beneficial for you. While you can take both IB and AP courses, pursuing the IB diploma and preparing for AP exams may prove challenging. Unlike the IB program, AP offerings allow you to only take courses in the subjects you choose.

Does AP or IB Give You More College Credit?

The amount of college credit you earn for AP exams depends on the score you received, your college's policies, and the AP exam subject. Most colleges award credit for scores of 4 or 5, regardless of the AP subject. Many colleges also accept a 3, but credit awarded may vary based on the subject.

Students may earn credit for IB courses, but the amount of credit also varies. Some colleges only award college credit to students who hold a full IB diploma, while others may award credit for individual exams.

AP vs. IB: Which Is Right for You?

Ultimately, most colleges do not consider AP or IB better than the other. Consider what classes are offered at your school to determine which program is right for you.

The IB diploma includes additional requirements, so factor in whether you have time to pursue this credential alongside your extracurriculars and other commitments. If you want, you can take IB courses without pursuing the diploma.

Although the IB diploma is impressive, taking several AP courses could allow you to earn more college credits and graduate college early. If your school doesn't offer either IB or AP options, you can study for and take AP tests without enrolling in the courses.

Frequently Asked Questions About IB and AP Classes

Is IB harder than AP? true

It depends. Some students argue that IB is more challenging because of the emphasis on critical thinking and the more application-focused evaluations. However, both IB and AP classes are considered college-level courses that many students find challenging.

Can I take both AP and IB classes? true

Most schools will allow you to take both AP and IB courses. However, depending on the school and your course schedule, completing the IB Diploma Programme while taking AP courses may not be possible. Check with your school to find out what its policy is.

Is the IB program better for Ivy League schools?

According to a survey released in 2011 by the International Insight Research Group (in partnership with the International Baccalaureate Organization), compared to the general acceptance rate, the acceptance rate of IB students into Ivy League institutions was 3-13 percentage points higher.

Does Harvard prefer IB or AP courses?

Harvard does not explicitly state a preference for IB or AP courses. To receive credit for IB classes, accepted students must earn an IB diploma. Incoming students must earn a score of 5 on at least four AP exams to earn college credit at Harvard.

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Learn about the International Baccalaureate diploma program. Discover how the IB program works and read about IB courses and IB diploma requirements. While dual enrollment can help you earn college credits and save money on higher ed, it can also take time away from school activities and increase stress. Learn how to prepare for your AP exams and discover some useful study tips that can help improve your exam scores.