Alphabet Soup: APs and IBs

A long time ago, high schools offered regular classes to everyone. There might have been some pull-out gifted level stuff and some “remedial” classes to help some students catch up, but the majority of students took their classes at the same level.

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Sequence of AP Capstone Requirements

In the late 1940s, some people at colleges (including my alma mater Kenyon) thought it would be a good idea to offer college-level classes to high-achieving high schoolers and in 1955 the Advanced Placement program was born. In the 1960s, diplomats who were serving overseas wanted to offer their children a standardized education, so the International Baccalaureate program was born.

Today, many American high schools offer the AP and IB programs to their students. So what’s the difference?

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The IB Diploma offers an international focus

In short, with the introduction of the AP Capstone program in the last few years, the programs are becoming more similar. Both require a certain amount of classes in similar areas (Arts, English, History, Math, Science, World Languages), a large (4000-5000 words) essay, and an oral presentation/defense. Both programs allow students to take individual classes without completing the full plan. The AP program requires a Seminar course and a Research Course. The IB Diploma requires a Theory of Knowledge course and the CAS project that involves students demonstrating creative competence, athletic achievement, and community service. It also has a more global focus and offers a Dual Language option for students.

One key difference between the two programs is that some universities will give you college credit for good scores on the AP exams. Others might not give you college credit, but they will let you “place out” into a higher level class instead of having to take the introductory level.

So, which one is for you? Are colleges impressed by the AP and IB programs?

I might have answered differently before AP started offering the Capstone program. As of right now, I’d say that colleges would give the edge to the IB program, but the AP Capstone looks promising. Whichever program you choose, know that they are both very challenging and intellectually demanding. The work load is higher than honors high school classes and the pace and depth of learning is much more intense. Don’t sign up for either one of these if you’re looking for something that will “look good” on your college applications.

If you’re looking for a challenge and your high school offers either program, you can’t go wrong with either the AP Capstone or the IB Diploma.

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