High School Curriculum – International Baccalaureate (IB) or Advanced Placement (AP)?

While most high schools offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses, some schools offer another option for advanced studies. The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme is a two year program that requires students to take courses in six academic areas. All students pursuing the IB Diploma also take the year-long Theory of Knowledge course, where they explore areas of knowledge and ways of knowing. They develop critical thinking skills, challenge their assumptions, examine biases and consider different cultural perspectives.

In addition to completing the required coursework, students must write an extended essay, which is a 4,000 word research paper. This is excellent preparation for writing papers in college. The final requirement is Creativity, Action, Service (CAS). Students spend a minimum of 150 hours fulfilling this requirement. They can choose a project that incorporates creativity, action and service, or become involved in different activities that address each requirement.

The IB program’s combination of coursework, extended essay and CAS hours is designed to develop the student as a whole person. Students become active rather than passive learners, and they gain a global perspective. If they complete the IB Diploma, they are well-prepared for a rigorous college curriculum, and colleges recognize that.

While some high schools offer both the AP and IB curriculum, and students pursuing the IB Diploma may be able to take some AP courses, many schools, especially smaller ones, can only provide one program. High schools have to pay the International Baccalaureate Organization a school membership fee as well as a registration fee for every student in an IB class. Since the College Board doesn’t charge these fees, it is less expensive to offer AP courses. The IB program also requires additional training for teachers as well as a designated IB coordinator.

Students can be awarded college credit for AP scores of three or above, though some colleges require a score of four or five. Students taking IB courses can also get college credit if they take the Higher Level exam and receive a score of five, but some colleges require a score of six or seven. While colleges generally require students to take Higher Level IB exams for college credit, some will allow students to fulfill their general education foreign language requirement by taking the Standard Level IB exam. Both AP and IB exams are given in May, and cost more than $85 for each test. Still, that is a bargain when you consider that a three semester hour college course can cost thousands of dollars. Some highly selective colleges restrict the amount of credit that can be awarded.

Students taking AP courses often have more flexibility in their curriculum. The IB program is a more comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach. Most colleges view both AP and IB favorably. Whether you take AP or IB classes, if you plan to apply to very selective colleges, it’s important to take full advantage of what’s offered at your high school. Earning the IB Diploma will enhance your application, but taking one or two IB classes is not very impressive. If your school offers 20 AP classes and you have taken two, admissions officers at competitive colleges will wonder why you didn’t take a more challenging curriculum, and that is not what you want them to be thinking as they read your application. Taking a rigorous curriculum in high school is important, and not just because it looks good on college applications, but to prepare for college level work. Being able to think critically and write clearly will be enormously helpful in college and beyond.

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