How to Decide Between AP and IB Classes

For high-achieving high school students seeking a challenge, there are two abbreviations to become familiar with: AP and IB. AP, or Advanced Placement, classes help prepare high school students for college by providing the opportunity to take one or more college-level courses and earn college credit. IB, or International Baccalaureate, classes are part of a system where high school students can earn an internationally recognized diploma by following a specific course program.

Both AP and IB courses offer students a challenging academic experience and the opportunity to earn college credit. Students can choose between AP and IB classes by understanding the goals of each program, researching program availability, and examining the time commitment of each.  

If you’re looking to challenge yourself academically this fall, keep reading to discover how to decide between AP and IB classes.

AP vs. IB classes: understand the goals of each program

Both AP and IB courses set out to give students an advantage when applying to colleges. That being said, it’s important to know the specific goals of each program, in an effort to choose the right one for you.

The main goal of an AP course is to educate students about very specific content in subjects ranging from biology to U.S. history. Students interested in AP classes should note the following:

  • AP students are tested on what they have learned via a multi-hour exam at the end of the course. The exam includes several question formats, but is primarily multiple-choice. The score students earn, on a scale of one to five, dictates whether or not they receive college credit.

Like an AP class, IB courses discuss specific subjects. The International Baccalaureate Organization presents a curriculum that primarily incorporates exams, papers, and projects. Students interested in an IB class should note the following:

  • Tests may be scored by external assessors, who assign a score between one and seven. While IB courses require exams, the focus is on question formats that are not multiple-choice.

[RELATED: What High School Students Should Know About IB Courses]

AP vs. IB classes: research which courses are available to you

AP courses are more widely available in American schools than IB classes. However, there are many American high schools that offer IB courses as well.

Students who don’t have access to AP courses in school can also take them online, which makes them much more readily available. If you’re interested in learning more about what’s offered at your school or how to take AP classes online, speak to your guidance counselor.

[RELATED: The Ultimate Study Plan for AP Courses]

AP vs. IB classes: examine the required time commitments

Students can take one or more AP classes of their choosing throughout their high school career, with each course lasting the length of the school year. IB students, alternatively, are required to take a somewhat set program of advanced courses in order to receive a diploma for the program. Certain high schools also offer standalone IB classes.

If your schedule is packed with extracurricular activities or personal obligations, it may be wise to take fewer advanced courses so you can devote the appropriate time to each.

AP vs. IB classes: note the cost of each program

Enrolling in an IB diploma program is more expensive than taking an AP course or courses. There’s a $172 registration fee to enroll in an IB program, plus a $119 fee per exam, according to International Baccalaureate.

AP classes, on the other hand, are free to enroll in and only cost $94 per exam, according to the College Board. Students are only required to take the exam if they want potential college credit.

The cost of the two programs can be a large factor when deciding between AP and IB classes. It can be helpful to talk to your parents to see which option is the best fit for you and your family. Note that there are fee waivers available for both AP and IB exams. When in doubt, meet with your guidance counselor to gather more insights on choosing between AP and IB classes.  

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