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AP or IB Classes: Which Is Right for You?

A student hidden behind a stack of AP and IB textbooks.

Image via Pixabay by Wokandapix

Taking college-credit courses during high school is one of the best ways to get a head start on your undergraduate career and to look more attractive to top universities. If your student happens to attend a school that offers both Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes, here’s a guide to help you decide which is right for your goals.

Key Features of Advanced Placement Classes

Advanced Placement classes are offered at thousands of schools across the United States. Your student’s school may offer AP classes in a variety of core subjects that they will continue to pursue during their college career. Frequently, a student can take an AP class in lieu of the standard version of that same class. For example, instead of taking the standard chemistry class, your student might be able to replace it with an AP Chemistry course. These AP classes are generally more challenging than their standard counterparts.

At the end of the school year, your student should be able to take an AP exam for the class they attended. And at many universities, he or she will receive college credit for that class if he or she earns a high enough score on the test.

The questions you should ask your student’s advisor before signing them up for AP classes are:

  • Are the AP classes at your child’s school approved by the College Board?
  • Is there an AP exam offered at the end of the class?
  • Is college credit awarded for high scores on the AP exam at the schools that interest your student?

Read our detailed guide on DBQ, part of your AP exam.

Key Features of International Baccalaureate Courses

International Baccalaureate courses are rarer than their AP counterparts. The Diploma Programme that offers college credit is generally available for upperclassmen (juniors and seniors) at fewer than 1,000 schools in the United States, but the IB has offerings for students from ages 3 to 19. The IB program’s focus is on training students to be more discerning, productive, and successful people in an international world. If your student enrolls in the Diploma Programme, he or she will learn about community and ethics as well as physical, intellectual, and emotional health.

The IB program comprises several elements beyond conventional classes, including a long-form essay and a hands-on community service project. The classes a student takes as part of the Diploma Programme may be counted for college credit at some universities.

Questions you may want to ask about the IB program include:

  • Does my student have the extra time to dedicate to the IB program?
  • Does my student’s top university choice recognize the IB program?
  • Is the extra cost of the IB program going to be an issue for me?

Which Is Best for My Student?

Odds are, your student’s school offers AP classes. If they’re the only options, they’re a powerful tool that can help your student get into the school of his or her choice. But if your student’s school offers both kinds of classes, here are some things you may want to keep in mind as you decide between them:


If your student is attending a public high school, he or she will be able to take any available AP classes free of charge. However, the AP exams do require you to pay a fee of $95 per exam in the 2020-2021 school year.

Enrolling your student in the IB program includes registration and exam fees. Those fees may vary from school to school, as each institution has to pay a fee to offer the course. Registering your student in the IB program may cost around $160 per year. Exams are over $100 each.


If you’re wondering which looks better to prospective universities, don’t worry. Both AP and IB credit will impress college admissions departments, as long as the classes and exams your student took are verified. However, if your student’s goal is to get into a liberal arts university, the IB’s rounded education may be a more attractive option. To be on the safe side, you may want to ask the admissions department of your student’s desired universities whether they accept IB credits.

Desired Experience

When deciding between AP and IB courses, one of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make is the type of experience you and your student are seeking. AP classes are straightforward. They’re designed to help students advance through college more quickly. They are also a great way for students to improve in subjects they’re already good at, which may aid them as they pursue their degrees at a university.

The IB program takes more of a holistic approach to education, making better thinkers and world citizens of youth rather than simply smarter students. Students enrolled in an IB program will still be required to take upper-level classes in conventional subjects, but they’ll also take classes such as Theory of Knowledge. IB classes are designed to more closely resemble more in-depth and hands-on classes that your student may take in college.

Time and Effort

Gaining college credits from the AP program is often easier than it is from the IB program. Since AP classes replace the lower-level class your student would have otherwise taken, your student isn’t required to take extra time out of their school year to complete them, save the AP exam at the end. Students might also have the option of taking the AP exam without attending an AP class at all.

On the other hand, the IB program requires more of students. There are extracurricular activities involved with the program, such as the community service hours students must put in. Students will also have to spend time writing and editing a 4,000-word research paper, and they need to complete the classes in order to take the IB exams. This extra dedication may be a fantastic opportunity for some students to shine, but the added time may make the IB program a less desirable choice for others.

The road to college involves several choices, but with the right help, the path becomes clearer. Reach out to the consultants at Spark Admissions to help your student get into your top-choice schools. When you have the nation’s highest-rated college admissions consulting firm on your side, your higher education goals will be more attainable than ever, no matter which tests your student decides to take.

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