AP or IB: Why You Need to Look At Credit Policies

AP or IB? A perennial question that strikes both students and parents with confusion. It makes sense given that in order to attend any well regarded higher institution, not just elite colleges, it’s necessary these days for students to demonstrate their academic caliber through not only stellar grades, but also rigorous courses. Most high schools offer AP and/or IB courses but many parents are confused about which track is better.  

When it comes to college admissions, you can’t really go wrong with either. Applications will ask student guidance counselors to indicate the level of difficulty of a student’s academic schedule and for students who take on a fair amount of AP or IB courses, most counselors will determine the student’s course load to be “Most Demanding” or “Very Demanding.” You can double check with your counselor to make certain that your course schedule receives the right distinction. Colleges look at AP and IB courses similarly, however, there are a few things to consider.

Most schools offer AP courses and therefore, it’s a much wider known and prevalent academic program. To offer a little background, “Over 2 million students took AP exams in 2014, but only about 135,000 took IBs. According to AP, over 30% of US public high students took at least one AP exam. While AP is quite widespread, the IB program is rarer since schools have to be able to offer enough classes for the diploma to host an IB program.”

However, in some schools, students can sign up for selected courses without going the full IB program route and that certainly can weigh into admissions. I would suggest that parents and students look into the full set of courses offered through each program, if you have that sort of flexibility, and choose the program where your child will be able to select from the larger set of courses/ a full program. Many schools offer limited IB courses or don’t offer certain AP courses, so make sure you have an understanding of the full breadth of offerings before committing to either choice.

Another factor to keep in mind is how credits for IB classes are seen at colleges. Some more selective colleges will only give college credit for IB classes taking at the HL ( “Higher Level”) and in an IB course program, students take 3 classes at that level and the rest at SL (“ Standard Level”). Other colleges only give credit for IB exam scores of 7 ( the very top) while others may accept lower scores. This means that, even if you are an incredibly high performing student, you may only get college credit in 3 areas while AP students could end up with credit in many more subjects contingent on how many AP courses the student takes, what the college’s credit standards are, the student’s scores, etc. Because the AP program is more widely known, there are fairly typical standard guidelines and credit policy acceptances across the board while IB credit is a little more ambiguous or limited in scope. However, don’t let this dissuade you from an IB course program – particularly if that is the only route your school offers. All colleges are aware of both, and have varying policies regarding credit and how to judge them on a school by school basis. And for many students, earning college credit is not the main focus – many students are focused on having an academically competitive schedule, and either route is sufficient in accomplishing that.

However, if you are planning or would like to graduate college in less than 4 years to save money or for other reasons, stacking up credits to bypass general core classes are a surefire way to do that, and in that case, AP might be the better route. Also consider the time commitments for each program and how that may impact other options. Would scheduling affect the student’s ability to sign up for electives like Music, Drama or Leadership? Would the student have less opportunities to take other types of classes or extracurricular programs? Also consider how the testing options are different for each program and what suits and fits your child’s abilities and skills better.

At the end of the day, if you are a high school student or a concerned parent, understand that both the AP and IB course programs offer a rigorous, challenging high school curriculum and will be attractive to college admissions. Consider the differences in methodology, the credit policies, breadth of courses, and other logistical and design factors, but if you still need help ascertaining which route to go, make sure to chat with an Empowerly college counselor!

Questions? Let us know!