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Advanced Placement vs. International Baccalaureate: What is the Difference?

June 5, 2022

Students and families seeking a rigorous college preparatory program will discover much information online about Advanced Placement classes and exams, as well as International Baccalaureate classes and the associated IB Diploma program.

Both the Advanced Placement and the International Baccalaureate academic pathways offer high school students challenging and engaging coursework respected by colleges and universities around the globe, and both offer the possibility for high schoolers to earn college credit or exemption from introductory college courses.

How, then, are the two academic pathways different? And what are the advantages of each?

advanced placement vs international baccalaureate program

What is the International Baccalaureate?

The International Baccalaureate program is an established program for students in preschool through 12th grade that focuses on critical thinking and global awareness. As of February 2022, more than 5,400 schools in 159 countries offered an IB program.

The IB consists of four programs: the Primary Years Program (ages 3–12), the Middle Years Program (ages 11–16), the Diploma Program (ages 16–19) and Career-related Program (ages 16–19).

The schools approved and designated to teach International Baccalaureate, as well as the faculty who are trained and experienced in its pedagogy and mission, encourage and support students to think critically, creatively, ethically, and globally. 

High school students can take individual IB courses if their high school offers them. Or, they can enroll in a full IB program that culminates in the IB Diploma Program, a two-year program for high school juniors and seniors.

All students in the IB Diploma Program must take courses from six areas of study: sciences, mathematics, studies in language and literature, language acquisition, the arts, and individuals and societies. At the end of each class, students take an IB assessment and earn points. Each assessment receives a score between 1 and 7. Students who earn at least 24 points can graduate with an IB diploma. Diploma participants must also finish three core components: Theory of Knowledge; the Extended Essay research paper; and Creativity, Activity, Service projects.

Dwight School of New York, the flagship school of the Dwight Schools worldwide network, has been a pioneer in the Americas to offer all four IB programs. Dwight’s IB program provides an education that crosses disciplinary, cultural, national and geographical boundaries, and champions critical engagement, stimulating ideas, and meaningful relationships.

In 2021, Dwight was honored to be the first school in the world to launch the IB Diploma program online, through the Dwight Global Online School. The full complement of IB course offerings online is detailed in Dwight Global’s Curriculum Guide.

What Are AP Classes?

Advanced Placement (AP) classes are college-level courses offered in high school.

At the end of each AP course, students are offered the opportunity to take the corresponding AP exam. Exams are scored on a 1-5 scale, with 5 the top score.

Unlike the IB assessments, which require a student to finish the related course first, students can take AP exams without enrolling in the accompanying courses.

For example, a student who is fluent in a world language or familiar with music theory from pre-professional studies outside of school might feel confident taking the related AP exams without taking the course first.

Advanced Placement courses are accelerated; consequently, they require more time and effort than many courses. Some schools may limit AP courses to juniors and seniors. Both IB assessments and AP exams charge fees for their tests.

Are There Other Differences?

AP Courses Are More Prevalent Than IB Courses

There are 38 AP exams available. Although not every high school in the U.S. offers AP exams for all subjects, most public and private high schools offer at least a few. According to the College Board, 1.2 million students took 4.1 million AP exams in 2020.

IB courses and programs are more popular outside of the Americas. As of July 2021, there were 5,500 IB schools and 7,500 programs offered worldwide. Roughly 1.95 million students ages 3-19 participated in IB courses and programs. More than half of these programs were based in countries other than North or South America.

Each Program Has a Different Focus

Both AP and IB courses prepare students for college through challenging academic work.  

Overall, however, the Advanced Placement program seeks to provide students with college-level courses while they are still in high school. Each course stands alone, and there are no additional requirements apart from the exam.

IB courses focus on developing critical thinking skills, understanding the process of knowledge, and studying issues interdisciplinarily. The IB Diploma Program also requires community engagement, writing and speaking skills, and global awareness.

The Timing of Exams Differ

AP exams are intended to be taken in May after completion of the corresponding one-year AP course.  This means that a student may take AP exams at the end of each year in high school, and they will be able to submit AP exam scores from freshman, sophomore, and junior year when they apply to college or university.

IB DP classes are two-year classes taken in 11th and 12th grades.  IB DP exams are taken in May of senior year, at the conclusion of the two-year course.

Do Colleges Prefer AP or IB?

Both academic options are looked on favorably by colleges and universities, and both can help earn a student college credit, depending on exam scores. The IB is increasing in popularity in the United States, especially among international families and students who hope to study abroad.

Some schools offer both AP and IB classes. A student can choose one pathway and stick with it, or choose to take a mix of both AP and IB classes. However, pursuing the IB Diploma and preparing for AP exams simultaneously can be exceptionally time consuming, with a student struggling to fulfill all the requirements for both programs, at the expense of  outside pursuits, extracurriculars, and family commitments. It is possible to take IB courses without pursuing the diploma.

How Does AP or IB Lead to College Credit?

To determine whether a specific college or university awards credit for IB or AP classes, it is a good idea to check the school’s website.

Taking AP courses may allow a student with high AP exam scores to earn college credits and graduate from college early, depending on the individual college or university policies. Most colleges award credit for scores of 4 or 5, regardless of the AP subject. Some colleges also accept a 3, depending on the subject.

For IB, some public and private universities in the United States award up to a full year of credit to students graduating with an IB Diploma. College and university admissions representatives consistently speak highly of the program, saying success in the IB Diploma program correlates with success in competitive colleges.

Students not pursuing the IB Diploma, but instead successfully completing individual IB courses, may also be awarded credit for individual exams depending on the college or university they attend.

Dwight Global Online School offers both IB and a range of challenging Advanced Placement courses. Because Dwight Global students are able to choose across standards, they receive a truly personalized education to set them up for success. 

Dwight Global students deciding between the Advanced Placement and IB paths have a detailed meeting with their Dean and College Counselor, who together with their families help them choose the program that best aligns with their goals, interests, and passions.

For more information about AP classes and the IB program at Dwight Global, visit this link.