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Considering AP vs. IB for your student? What you need to know

Posted March 6, 2019 12:01 a.m. EST

IB is a program where courses overlap. There is also a "CAS" component - which stands for "creativity, activity, and service." The IB program uses CAS to encourage students to reflect and bring additional learning into the classroom - learning that program coordinators hope helps cultivate in young people a keen interest in community service and the arts. (Photo Courtesy of the Montessori School of Raleigh)

This article was written for our sponsor, the Montessori School of Raleigh.

The number of students in the United States who are projected to graduate from high school and apply to college over the next few years is expected to increase 10 percent, driving up competition to get into all types of schools from state colleges and universities to Ivy League institutions.

To become more competitive, many high school students opt to take college-level courses, either through International Baccalaureate (IB) or Advanced Placement (AP) programs. Both programs offer opportunities for college credit while showing admissions teams that a student is taking advanced coursework.

If given the choice, should your student go with AP or IB?

"The first question universities ask is about the classes available to you as a student, did you challenge yourself?" said Kevin McLean, former AP coordinator and current IB coordinator at the Montessori School of Raleigh.

The AP Program

The AP program was developed in the U.S. to give students the opportunity to learn college curricula and earn credit for it.

Many schools offer AP courses in varying subjects, such as psychology and calculus, that are included in their academic schedule and help students prepare for the AP exam. However, independent study programs for each of the 36 AP courses are also available, and AP exams can be taken without taking a course.

If you take three or more AP exams and receive a score of at least a three on each, you are considered an AP Scholar, and you can receive additional distinctions if your scores are better or you take more exams.

The IB Program

The IB program was created by an international cooperative as a diploma program.

Students must take certain courses in a variety of subjects. There are standard-level and higher-level courses offered, and both prepare students for college-level work.

IB is a coordinated program where courses overlap. There is also a "CAS" component – which stands for "creativity, activity, and service." The IB program uses CAS to encourage students to reflect and bring additional learning into the classroom – learning that program coordinators hope helps cultivate in young people a keen interest in community service and the arts.

You can earn a full IB diploma by taking six classes and completing an extended essay, which is a year-long research paper on a subject of the student's choice.

Which Program Is a Better Option?

Both programs are rigorous academically.

For example, in both AP and IB biology, students will learn the same 50 chapters of college freshmen-level biology, but that information is covered over different time frames.

"In AP bio, those 50 chapters are covered in just one year, so teachers have to be very centered and lecture the whole time," McLean said. "Students who are good memorizers do OK, but you don't know if they have a deeper understanding to be able to evaluate and apply what they learn."

The same content in an IB course would be spread out over two years, which allows students to investigate, write, debate and collaborate over the material.

"Students have a different understanding of the same material with IB. The learning profile the IB program develops is about students as thinkers, communicators, appropriate risk takers and so much more," McLean explained. "Every unit of every class, teachers have to bring those characteristics into the lessons."

Program popularity also differs internationally.

While AP courses are prevalent across the U.S., and most colleges and universities accept AP credits, the IB program is more international and still growing in popularity in the United States.

If you know what schools your students are looking to apply to, check their websites to see what credits they offer for each, and at which levels.

Additionally, not all schools provide IB courses.

While many schools offer AP classes, it is a more rigorous process for a school to become IB certified and the process takes several years. IB World Schools are certified with stricter criteria and have become the new gold standard in the eyes of many college admissions offices.

This article was written for our sponsor, the Montessori School of Raleigh.

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