IB vs. AP

September 29, 2006


When I worked in admissions I was often asked the question whether there is a difference between how colleges treat the IB (International Baccalaureate) curriculum and AP (Advanced Placement) courses.


The short answer: no.

Most students are familiar with at least one of these options for advanced coursework and have one available at their high school. I’ve written before about the importance of taking advantage of upper level courses, but some students still worry that their school’s advanced courses are not as competitive as other schools’.

The IB curriculum and AP courses are weighed equally. To colleges, choosing one of these advanced programs does not represent anything more specific than a demonstrated effort to challenge yourself. Most schools do not offer both IB and AP so you are not expected to take them simultaneously. And if your school does not offer either, but you have taken courses at a local community college, fear not, that is respected as well. The bottom line is that colleges want to see that you are challenging yourself. That can come in the form of an IB curriculum, AP coursework, college level classes, summer school courses to supplement your education etc.

Furthermore, at each college, an admissions officer is responsible for your school and has, as part of his or her job, the responsibility of familiarizing him or herself with your school’s curriculum (meaning also, that you do not need to explain your school’s course offerings to the college).

They get it. It’s their job.

Your job is to worry less about what admissions officers are thinking and more about the work you are doing. You only have so much time and energy, use it for things that matter.


13 Responses to “IB vs. AP”

  1. DeLuca Says:

    My daughter, Ali is a senior and had a terible time scheduling classes this year. Our school is over capacity and has limited room for classes. She chose AP German VI, AP History and AP English but could not fit Physics or Calculus in her schedule if she wanted to take Publications, which is a requirement to write for the school newspaper. Against her counselors advice she opted for lower levels math and science and took Publications (she is an editor). She is passionate about her decision, since she wants to write professionally some day and beleives that admissions folks will recognize the importance of taking classes that you LOVE as well as those that “look good”. I am not sure about this but I supported her decision, since she felt strongly about it. Any thoughts? Also, she recently was awarded scholar status by The National Hispanic Recognition Program. I am not sure what this honor means and where it fits in her overall application. Any thoughts?`

  2. gettingin Says:

    First, your daughter is right that admissions officers do like to see students who are taking classes that they love in addition to those that look good. It sounds like she made a good decision given the 3 APs already on her schedule and her sincere interest in becoming a writer. That said, she would benefit from having her counselor mention this in the guidance counselor letter that accompanies the transcript. Commentary in support of such decisions can go a long way to fill the gaps and answer the questions that an admissions officer might have in explaining why she chose not to take the other APs. If a student elects to take something like Publications, as opposed to other APs, it benefits the student to express the interest in Publications, editing and writing beyond the classroom (ie, extracurricular activities, summer work, hobbies). She will want to emphasize, in her application, the importance that writing has for her in order to create a more complete picture of how her course selections fit into a bigger picture.
    Admissions officers realize that scheduling conflicts arise for high school students. All your daughter needs to do is make it clear, in her application, that her decision was deliberate and meaningful. The most strategic way of accomplishing this is to ask the guidance counselor to address the issue, while your daughter shows her passions in the other parts of the application.
    Second, she will want to capitalize on her mature awareness of the balance between classes that look good and classes she loves, by sharing this passion for writing in her interviews (should she have them). If she has an interview, either on campus or an alumni interview, she will want to be candid and open about her choices, why she made them, why she may have gone against the advice of her counselors, what she hopes to get out of the experience etc. Such confidence in oneself and one’s choices/passions can go further than just another AP course on one’s record.
    Thurd, congratulations to her for receiving the Scholar honor from the National Hispanic Recognition Program. Awards are always exciting and have a place in the common application under the section for “Honors and Awards” (I think….. as long as the application hasn’t changed). Typically, these sorts of recognitions are mentioned by the guidance counselor and should be listed by your daughter under the appropriate section.

  3. Stefany Quirico Says:

    I have attended to an IB school for the past two years, taking the Pre-IB curriculum. Recently, my family and I have moved about forty five minutes away from the school I used to attend to. This summer, I have been considering changing schools to one that is much closer and more academically successful but does not offer the IB program. I would like a college admision’s point of view on whether I should remain in the IB Program, or move to a more convenient school that only offers AP courses.

  4. Varun Says:

    I am a Canadaian citizen, currently attending an IB school in India, which has just started offering IBDP. I will be in the first batch of IB. It currently offers IBDP, CIE, and A levels. There are only 5 students in the IBDP class including me. The school is very unprepared, and four weeks into the IB program, i am still missing teachers for 2 out of the 6 subjects. I came from a public school in canada, which had about 2000 students, and i was regularly nominated as a representative for that school to conferences and events.

    The subjects i am taking are Business Managment HL, Eco HL, Design and Technology Hl, Math Sl, Eng Sl, French Ab initio. I beileve i will score around 35 – 36 in IB, including the bonus points. I will probably be a president in teh student Council, and i will be ending up with atleast 200 CAS hours.

    Recently i have started considering moving back to Canada, and completing the regular school there, with additions of World History, Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, US History, and Psychology at an AP level, in a local community college. I may cancel one of the histories, if you think i should, or i can keep any of the subjects from those 5 as you wish. I will also compelte atleast 150 hours of Voluntary service. Possibly participate in a foreign exchange program to Spain, and be in a leadership class at school which enable me to organise big events at School.

    Which path do you believe i should take?
    Thanks loads,

  5. CuckiBird Says:

    If a college is looking at 2 applications and one is IB and one is A.P…and both have the same GPA, then who will they pick. Also say your GPA is better in A.P classes than I.B classes…which is Better?

  6. Hector Says:

    ib and ap courses are treated equally at colleges. completing ib courses,exams,and the essay ensure the ib benefits but with enough ap courses taken you can get the same benefits

  7. Esther Says:

    Thank for you posting this! I’m a highschool sophmore currently in the IB program (well technically pre-IB right now) and I’ve really been trying to figure out the difference between AP and IB. (My school offers both.)I’ve also been considering dropping out of IB because it doesn’t allow students to “roam” around to other subjects. IB is very rigid in terms of what classes the students have to take and offers very little chance to try different classes and programs. I’ve been doing very well in the IB program so far, but will they (as in colleges/universities) not like the fact that I dropped out of IB?

    And if you could give me an estimate of how many AP courses I would have to take to equal the amounts of benefits that IB gets… that would be wonderful.

    Thank you so much!

  8. Sarah Says:

    I have a high achieving daughter in the 7th grade in a private school who has proven herself to be an exceptional student and a truly gifted writer according to her grades and teachers. She has her sites on ivy league universities to follow in her brother’s footsteps. We are torn between paying $100,000. for private high school tuition, sending her to the local public school rated 3 from the bottom in the state or moving to a better public district. The money is a serious problem but I believe we can struggle through it if we have to. We just can’t decide if it’s worth it or whether she will be at a disadvantage being seen as a privileged student or at a disadvantage coming from a terrible high school. She is highly motivated and willing to take advantage of the most rigorous courses available to her. All the public schools offer either IB or AP in several areas but less so in our district. I’m well aware of all the complicated variables that determine admission into ivy league universities but I’m hoping you could narrow down the issues or give some helpful advice.

    Thank you so much,

  9. Melissa Says:

    I’m in tenth grade at a school that offers both AP and IB. I’m currently in IB, but I find that the courses we are forced to take are boring and don’t apply to what I would like to do as a career. However, if I were to switch out of the program, and into AP and DE (duel enrollment where you are taking AP classes at your high school as well as classes at the local community college) would it look bad on a college application? I’m trying to convince my parents to let me do so, and I would just like to know if it would be a good idea for me to do.

  10. Cornelio Gonzalez Says:

    I am interested in your reply to Melissa since I have a similar question. AP, IB and Dual Credit courses are all good choices. Is there a time when one of them is better for students with different needs? Are Dual Credit courses better for students whose families lack the ability to support them through four years of college?

  11. rrojo Says:

    I have recently been selected to a IB school, called International Academy (IA), in Troy Michigan. I am not sure if I should go to IA or to my home high school, Troy High School, which offers the AP program. I don’t know which program will be better and will benefit me more in the long run.

  12. Rebekah Says:

    my daughter is currently taking math AP and wants to major in a science, but the only AP courses available are math and english. she had an 80 averagae and bombed last test and it brought her mark down to 79, she is normally a higher average student and is getting stressed out. I have tried to explain to her the advantages of the AP course. but she thinks that getting a lower mark in AP will drop her GPA, but I think that is getting a good mark and so does her teacher,, what advice can I give her. I have researched and dont fully understand the impact of AP on university, but I think if you at least show that you tried, they will look at that better and she is almost done, only two more tests. Is this a good mark for someone who only studies about 2 hrs a week (homework included?) and I told her she just needs to apply herself a bit more, so what can I say that would be a substantially good reason for her to keep pursuing this course?

  13. barbsIB Says:

    I am currently a junior in the IB program in NYC and i can say personally it is a lot of work, it is a lot more difficult to get higher grades in IB classes then AP classes. My sister, now in college, took all AP’s but did less work then me and achieved better grades. This worries me when it comes to college admissions. I fear that because i average between a 5 and a 6, which is rough either a 90 or just below will hurt me in college admissions. Is a 5 or a 6 viewed poorly? And is this enough to apply to Macaulay Honors for Baruch or city? I want to study business, and was thinking of applying to Manhattan ville, Baruch, NYU, Amherst, Binghamton, Fordam, Hofstra, Cornell, Rutgers, Columbia, B.U., Sienna, and a couple of others will my grades cut it? Or do college administrators note that high IB grades are very difficult to obtain? Also there is really only one class weighing me down which is Bio SL, I have never been good at science, but since I plan to mainly apply to business schools and maybe engineering schools will that hurt me? I know it brings my overall average down but can it really do a lot of damage on my transcript?

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