Why You Need to Know Course Credit Policies

Empowerly Team
Empowerly Team

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In high school, students sometimes have a choice: AP or IB? It’s a perennial question that strikes both students and parents with confusion. It makes sense, given that in order to attend well-regarded higher institutions, not just elite colleges, it’s necessary these days. Now students must demonstrate their academic caliber through not only stellar grades, but also rigorous courses. Most high schools offer AP and/or IB courses; but given the choice, many parents don’t know the differences. This is why you need to know course credit policies.

Are These Course Credits Necessary?

When it comes to college admissions, you can’t really go wrong with either way to earn credits. Applications will ask student guidance counselors to indicate the level of difficulty of a student’s academic schedule. For students in a fair amount of AP or IB courses, most counselors indicate “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.

AP Course Credit Policies

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 not; this is because schools have to offer enough classes for the IB diploma to host an IB program.

IB Course Credit Policies

However, in some schools, students can sign up for selected courses without going the full IB program route. 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, choose the program where you can select from the larger program of courses. 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.

How Does That Work?

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.

Our Recommendation

If you are planning to graduate in less than 4 years to save money or for other reasons, stacking up credits is a surefire way to do that. 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.

Final Thoughts

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!