The Difference between AP and IB Classes

If you are the parent of a middle or high school student, you’ve probably heard that it’s very common for students to take college level classes while still in high school. Studies show that students are more prepared for post-secondary education when they’ve taken at least one college level class.

Washington DC, Northern Virginia, and Maryland AP and IB Options

High schools throughout the DC area offer one of two types of college-level courses: Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate. Here’s what you need to know about both options.

Advanced Placement (AP)

AP programIn the metro DC area, the majority of schools offer the AP program. AP classes offer high school students a college-level curriculum with the possibility of earning university credit. Students take a challenging class which culminates with a national AP test in May. Depending on a student’s score (on a scale of one to five), colleges may grant credit upon enrollment and exempt students from introductory level courses in that field. AP classes cover a wide variety of subjects, from mainstays like European History and Calculus to more creative pursuits like Music Theory and Studio Art. AP classes look great on a college resume, but take care that your student is not overloaded.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

IB programYou’ll find the exacting IB program at international schools like British School of Washington and Washington International School, but also at American schools, such as Holy Cross. The IB program is based on challenging international education guidelines that are popular in European educational systems. The high school program includes some unique practices. For instance, students take classes in ethics, write an extended essay, and enroll in a Theory of Knowledge (TOK) seminar. IB programs place a high emphasis on writing, critical thinking, and the humanities. Colleges and universities around the world respect the IB program for its rigor and high standards.

AP vs. IB: Which One Is Better?

Both the AP and IB programs are considered equally attractive to a college admission board. They are rigorous and intensive, but there are some differences. Many AP courses cover a vast amount of material in a short period of time, and focus on memorization and critical analysis. IB, on the other hand, tends to be a deeper curriculum because less information is generally covered. There is a greater focus on writing. That doesn’t mean that one is better or worse than the other—rather they take slightly different approaches.

If your child attends a public school and wishes to take college-level classes, he won’t have much choice whether to partake in the AP or IB program. Schools will offer AP or IB, not both. There is some degree of choice in most districts, however. For example, a student slated to attend Elm School, which offers AP, can request a transfer to Maple School, which offers IB.

I’ve worked with a number of families over the years that have sent their child outside of their base school so he or she can enroll a different program. I personally don’t think the coursework is different enough to warrant such sweeping measures as a change of schools. If your child is a motivated student, he or she will do well in either the AP or IB program.