AP vs. IB Classes: The Pros and Cons You Need to Know
Whether you’re aiming to earn college credits while in high school, exploring a subject that you might like to study at university, or preparing an impressive college application, many students wrestle with taking the Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) classes. We’re here to help you understand the pros and cons of each program, and how both of these educational pathways can be used to lead you to your bigger goals.
What are AP classes? Is there an AP program
The Advanced Placement program is operated primarily in the United States and Canada by the College Board––founded in 1955, this program gives students the chance to take college-level courses in high school, and even earn college credits with participating universities, based on their AP exam scores.
Schools can offer AP classes without offering an AP diploma, but there are two kinds of diplomas that students can pursue. The AP Capstone Diploma focuses on seminar and research-style classes and can be taken at a participating school, while the AP International Diploma is offered to international students and students with the U.S. who plan to go abroad for their future studies.
What are the pros of AP classes?
AP classes are widely accepted as a great way to challenge yourself, and to dive deeply into a particular subject. Each of the AP classes also has a corresponding AP exam; depending on your AP exam score, you can earn college credit. Students who want to shorten their time in university, or free up their schedule to take more classes, can benefit from taking AP classes in core subjects if their future school accepts AP credit.
Another major pro for Advanced Placement is that you don’t actually need to take the specific AP class to take the exam for the AP subject. So, if you're home-schooled, or your school doesn’t offer a specific AP class, you can still sign up for the exam and try to prove your knowledge in exchange for future credit.
AP is a very flexible program, and while students at participating schools can choose to pursue the AP Capstone Diploma, or the AP International Diploma (APID), most schools do not require students to take specific AP classes in order to graduate. This means that you can pick and choose the most interesting course for you and your interests.
Students can take any of the 38 AP classes offered across six different domains:
- the Arts
- History and Social Sciences
- Math and Computer Science
- World Languages and Cultures
If your school doesn’t offer all 38 classes, you can work with your guidance counselor to see if supervised self-study is an option for you.
What are the cons of the AP classes?
One of the major cons for the AP program is that it is largely focused on students who wish to attend universities and colleges in the US and Canada. That doesn’t mean students with international ambitions can’t benefit from AP classes!
Colleges and universities in dozens of countries outside of the US and Canada accept AP credits, but students planning to go abroad for college should check to see if their potential schools have AP transfer credit policies before committing to AP classes.
Although the flexible program is a positive for some students, one drawback to AP classes is that they don’t need to fit into a cohesive program. This means that while many kinds of AP classes exist, including different levels of depth and academic rigor within AB (first year) and BC (second year) courses, you may not always be able to progress through both levels of a certain subject.
Still, all this means that you can pick and choose classes within AP and still graduate with an excellent profile for future study, even if the courses don’t necessarily fit together like they would in another curricular program.
Students looking for courses that last more than one year, or classes that focus on interdisciplinary links between courses should consider if AP is right for them.
What are IB classes?
The International Baccalaureate (IB) was founded in Geneva in 1968, and has been offered in the United States since 1975. There are over 2000 IB programs in the United States, and another 3000 in other countries around the world.
Like AP classes, IB classes are rigorous and focused on developing the skills, knowledge, and mindsets necessary for students to succeed beyond high school.
What are the pros of IB classes?
Like AP classes, many colleges and universities around the world offer course credits if students perform well in their IB classes and on their IB exams. The benefits of an IB class begin long before graduation, however.
While IB classes are already often more challenging than an average high school course, there are also various degrees of depth within an IB subject.
Students can take Standard Level and Higher Level courses in their preferred subjects, which let them study in depth over two years. In fact, if you’re pursuing the IB diploma, you almost always have the opportunity to continue on to a Higher Level class.
Another pro of taking IB classes is that there are 57 classes, as opposed to 38 AP classes, that students can choose from.
Is there an IB program? What are the pros of the IB program?
One of the biggest pros of IB classes is that you can take them within a cohesive program called the IB Diploma Program (IBDP). The IBDP is offered at IB World Schools, which must offer certain IB classes and meet specific requirements set out by the IB organization in order to be recognized.
The IB diploma prepares students to enter challenging university environments, and takes a holistic approach to a high school education. The whole program focuses on students' physical, intellectual, emotional, and ethical development, not just their academic achievement.
IB’s holistic approach to education is a pro for students who want to be challenged academically, but who want to maintain a sense of balance at the same time. Students must take classes across six different subjects:
- Studies in language and literature
- Language acquisition
- Individuals and societies
- The arts
While these are similar to the classes offered by AP, IB has a specific focus on the Theory of Knowledge and how we know what we know, a research project called the Extended Essay, and a component called CAS, or Creativity, Activity, and Service, where students complete a project based on these three themes.
In addition to offering a cohesive and holistic program, the IB Diploma is similar to other international diploma programs like the French Baccalaureate or A-levels in the United Kingdom. This is a pro for students who want to boost their profile when applying to schools outside of the U.S. and Canada and compete with their peers applying from other countries.
You can read more about IB classes, the IB Diploma Program, and long-term outcomes for students in our in-depth IB blog post.
So, which program is right for you?
Ultimately, there are pros and cons to taking either AP or IB classes. Students looking for more flexibility and course choice over a shorter period of time may want to consider IB, while students interested in a longer-term, cohesive program where classes build on each other over several years should investigate IB. Many students enjoy taking a mix of both classes, and at schools where IB and AP are both on offer, this is a great solution and opportunity for students who want to chart their own educational path during their high school career.
Creating your path to university is a team effort at ASP, and students and parents alike engage with our guidance counselors and college counselors during each year of their Upper School career to ensure that they are on the right path to accomplish their goals. From learning about course choice and electives in Grade 9, to charting their path through AP, IB, or a mix of both in Grade 10, to the intensive college counseling cycle in Grades 11 and 12, our Upper School advisory team supports each student and family at every step of the way.