AP & IB Classes, Demystified: The Pros And Cons Of Each

Teacher with a group of high school students in classroom
Teacher with a group of high school students in classroom

By Sydney Nolan

Remember kindergarten, when your only choice was whether you wanted apple or grape juice during snack time? Well, the further you get in school, the more choices you have to make—and the more options you have. Now that you’re in high school, you’ve got a ton of options facing you with regards to what kind of classes and subjects you want to take. Her Campus is here to help you make sense of it all! Read on to learn more about the AP and IB programs, two of the more common advanced curriculum options available for students across the country. Since these classes are more challenging than regular high school courses, they also give you the opportunity to earn college credit!

Breaking it down: AP

AP (short for Advanced Placement) is a US-based program run by the College Board (the same people that create and administer the SAT) for high school students. If you’re enrolled in an AP class, you’ll spend most of the year practicing skills that you’ll be tested on at the end of the year in what’s called (not surprisingly) an AP exam. These tests are scored on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest score you can earn, and 5 the highest.

There are ton of different subjects that are offered as a part of the AP program. A complete list can be found on the College Board website. Most high schools don’t offer all 34 subjects, but pick and choose based on what their teachers can teach. If you happen to be an expert on a subject that’s not offered at your school, or you didn’t have time to squeeze a particular AP class into your schedule, you can also take an AP test without having taken the AP class for the subject. If a class isn’t offered at your particular high school but you’re still interested in taking it, it’s always a good idea to check with other schools in the area, including local community colleges, to see if you can take the class there instead.

Most students don’t have a full AP schedule because the curriculum for each class is so intense. It’s pretty common to spread out AP subjects over three or four years of high school instead of bunching them up all during your junior and senior year. Of course, the policy on how many AP classes you can take and when varies from school to school, so double check before banking on a set few. Figuring out which classes to take when often depends on which semesters certain classes are offered and how your high school structures schedules and creates their curriculum. It’s always a good idea to check with a high school guidance counselor as a freshman if you’re interested in pursuing AP options at your high school. Remember—there’s no right or wrong number of AP tests you’re required to take. It’s up to you to decide what you’re comfortable with.

Breaking it down: IB

In contrast to AP, the IB program (short for International Baccalaureate—quite the mouthful!) has options for students as young as five years old! These classes also tend to be more intensive and challenging than standard high school classes. IB classes are offered at both IB-only schools and in many public school districts as well. In high school, IB students typically fall into three categories: Middle Years Programme students, IB diploma students, and IB certificate students. What options are available, as well as who is eligible for what program and what classes are offered, often varies from school to school and district to district.

The Middle Years Programme usually starts in middle school and continues through 10th grade. In order to graduate from this program, you’ll have to complete something called a Personal Project. This is a long-term assignment that requires you to work closely with a mentor to research and develop a project or create something based on a passion or interest. Lots of MYP students make documentaries, build something by hand, teach a skill or class to people in the community, or write an extensive research paper. It’s a really great way to wrap up your time in the MYP program.

Starting in 11th and 12th grade, students interested in IB typically have two options when it comes to earning IB-based college credit: going for an IB diploma, or pursuing an IB certificate in individual subjects. The IB diploma is more rigid, and requires more from students as you’re expected to maintain a schedule of most, if not all, IB-level classes. Those pursuing a diploma will have to take a philosophy-centric class called “Theory of Knowledge” and complete something similar to the Personal Project from MYP as a part of the class called the Extended Essay. The Extended Essay, or EE for short, is an in-depth essay students work on throughout their two years of the IB diploma program.

Obtaining an IB certificate, on the other hand, simply requires you to enroll in an IB class for whatever subject you’re interested in, complete all the necessary classwork, and take a final exam in May of your Senior year that’s created and proctored by the International Baccalaureate Organization, the organization that oversees the IB program in schools around the world. Most schools require you to earn at least a four or five on exams to get credit for the class in college.



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