A prospective client emailed me yesterday with a question that is regularly asked of me when I give presentations on college admission around the Denver area.
Which is better, Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB)? Do colleges find one more impressive over the other?
In my opinion, both the AP and IB programs are equally valuable, in that the exams associated with those courses provide an external measure of quality. Any student who does well on the end-of-course assessments associated with either program can genuinely claim to have done college work in a high school setting.
The structures of the two programs are very different, however. Think of AP and IB this way: AP is a smorgasbord: pick the courses you want, leave behind those that tempt you less. IB, by contrast, is a “prix fixe” menu: you get all or nothing. There is a range of choice within IB, but the entire high school curriculum is dictated by those initial choices.
The fact is that highly competitive AP students are taking 6, 7, 10 AP courses and doing well on the exams (scores of 4 or 5 out of five possible points). Likewise, highly competitive IB students are not only taking the IB courses, but are scoring 5, 6, or 7s (out of seven) on the diploma tests. However, there are also plenty of students who take lots of AP courses who do not do well on the exams (many do not even take them!). Similarly, there are students in IB programs who are unlikely to fulfill all the requirements of the IB diploma.
As to whether colleges prefer AP or IB? Colleges like them both. Both programs represent tough curricular requirements. But in the end, itâ€™s all about the studentâ€™s performance: did they perform at the very top of the scale for either program? Did they pass the independently administered exams with flying colors? If so, colleges will be heavily recruiting those studentsâ€”regardless of the AP or IB label.
One thing parents (and students) ought to keep in mind as they look at schools and at individual teachers: ask about their pass rate. That is, ask what percentage of students enrolled in these programs take and pass (or get perfect scores) on the AP or IB assessments? The answer to this question will be a better indicator of program quality than the label. I have several clients who are getting very high grades in AP courses, but who will never be able to pass the AP exams. Their teachers are simply not up to the job of presenting such a demanding curriculum and helping students achieve to the standards set by that curriculum.
So to reiterate, both the AP and IB programs are excellent preparation for college, and the colleges seek out students to excel in either environment. Students and teachers should look beyond the labels to ask about the quality of the programs on offer. Just as we don’t judge books by their cover, we should not judge a program by its label.