Which is Better: AP or IB?

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, it’s all about the student’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 students—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.

Mark Montgomery
Montgomery Educational Consulting


About the Author

Mark is a leading educational consultant. His experience as a professor, college administrator, and youth mentor help him guide students from around the country and around the world.

198 Responses to “Which is Better: AP or IB?”

  1. Mark Montgomery says:

    Hi, Kate,
    Colleges like both the IB and the BAC S. They will have the ability to “translate” the two different diplomas for their purposes. What is most important is how the student performs in those programs. I’d choose the program that is best suited to each child. It sounds like you’re doing that, so don’t worry about the future implications. Performance in the present determines more than the actual configuration of the diploma.
    Hope that helps. We work with kids from all over the world, so let us know if we can be helpful to you and your family.

  2. Mark Montgomery says:

    Hi, Kate. If your son is a top student, he should stick with the full IB diploma. Unless he plans to really bomb history, in which case should switch. But his record this past year does not indicate he will bomb. Tell him to stick it out and get the IB diploma. It’s good training: sometimes you have to eat your academic spinach.

    On the other hand, if he is really not interested in it, and if he is not planning on going to a selective college, then it doesn’t really matter. So he can take what he likes.

    You see, there is no cut and dried answer to this question. Everything depends on everything else. We specialize in helping kids–like your son–make their own decisions. Different people will tell you different things, based on their own assumptions about what is “good” for him. We help him decide what is good for him, and then live with the consequences that may (or may not) flow from that decision. This is what he will have to do as a grown-up: make tough decisions for himself. Let us know if we can be helpful.

    Thanks!

  3. Mark Montgomery says:

    Hi, Majed,
    The curriculum itself will make little difference. What will matter is your performance in the curriculum you choose to pursue.
    Good luck!

  4. Mark Montgomery says:

    No, Stephanie, you won’t be penalized. Your reward will come from pursuing excellence in all you do. Best of luck!

  5. joseph says:

    Hi, I’m currently in my first week of Senior year and I’m in the IB program. I am thinking of switching all because of one class: Spanish. I dont feel i can get any grade higher than a C and that would be a stretch. My teacher even told me that she felt i am not prepared for the class. My school won’t let me mix so it’s either all IB or nothing. I do want to stay in IB but this spanish class will be my anchor towards the school i want to go to. But if i switch out i feel i am also holding myself back. It is difficult to describe my situation besides the fact my parents are in full support of AP but I’m torn and i dont know what to do? Will one class really hold back my college acceptance or is it just me being paranoid? I have by the end of the week to decide.

  6. Mark Montgomery says:

    Joseph,
    There is no easy answer here. One class won’t kill you, but it may affect your chances at particular schools. Since I don’t know the entire scenario, it’s hard to advise you. If you are doing well otherwise in IB, my initial inclination is to encourage you to stick with it, and to find some way to improve your Spanish. Have you looked at Speak Shop (http://speakshop.com). This is a tutoring company that offers one on one tutoring by a native speaker over Skype for a very low hourly fee. The teachers are very experienced, and my own kids have used it. Ask for Milvia in Guatemala, and tell her I sent you. Seriously, this could be your salvation if you stick with IB. But it’s going to take some work and dedication. And if you really want to get better in Spanish, consider spending your Christmas break in Guatemala studying at Probigua, the school where Milvia teaches. I know it would be expensive, but hey…college is going to be even more expensive.

    Again, it’s hard for me to give you specific advice on this. But perhaps this will give you another way to think about your chances of passing that Spanish course.

    Best of luck!

  7. Mark Montgomery says:

    Hello, Anna.
    College credit is a policy that each college implements on its own. Generally, those that give credit for AP courses also give credit for IB courses. You can look up these policies on the websites of colleges that interst you. And yes, IB is much more rigid than AP, if you do the full diploma program. The switch itself will not look bad. What is important is why you made the switch, and how well you perform.
    Hope this helps.

  8. Mina says:

    I’m currently in 8th grade, applying for two magnet programs. One has IB, and the other has a lot of housing programs(Poolesville). i’d like to get into one of them, preferably the one with IB (Richard Montgomery). I have to admit that I didn’t get the best grades in 7th grade (a couple of B’s) and now I’m worried that I won’t get into neither of them because of it. I’m working really hard for this year, but since I can’t change last year’s grades, I want to know if it’ll put a big impact on the applications…

  9. Hi Mina,

    It is difficult for us to assess your chances for these programs since we are unfamiliar with their application review process. The best thing you can do is keep your grades up and submit the strongest application possible!

    Katherine Price
    Educational Consultant

  10. Lauren says:

    I’m currently a sophomore in high school and thus far my only AP class is in Spanish 4. I go to a relatively small high school where AP classes are only offered to juniors and seniors or students that have the necessary prerequisites. I’m making a 100 in Spanish 4 but should I fail the AP exam would that reflect badly on me? Would it be better to not take the exam?

  11. Mackenzie says:

    Hello,
    I am a Freshman at a good public high school in Kentucky. My parents are thinking of moving our family abroad next year, and I would attend an international school in the UAE that has an American curriculum, but would be back in Kentucky for my Junior year.
    My question is this: which do you think will give me a better education and look better to prospective colleges: studying in an international school for a year, or taking AP classes. (If I stay here, I can take two or three APs my Sophomore year…the school in Abu Dhabi doesn’t offer AP, just the IB program, but it doesn’t start until 11th grade.

    Thanks for any advice.

  12. Cara Ray says:

    Hi Lauren! I think it is always worth giving the AP exam a try. If you are doing that well in the course and study appropriately is likely that you will do well on the test. Best case scenario is that you do well enough to earn some credit heading into college and if you don’t try it you will never know. Thanks for your comment!

  13. Jenny Dong says:

    I’m currently a freshman and now I need to do the pre-registration. The school offers AP classes for several subjects for the 10th graders. If I take AP classes in 10th grade, is that too early? Can I switch to IB classes for 11 and 12 grades or should I continue taking more AP classes? Should I wait and go for IB diploma, since I currently don’t have interest in a specific major?

  14. Dilawar Javaid says:

    For medical school in Canada ,which is better I.B or A.P.I mean for bachelors degree in college for pre -med,is I.B better to prepare you or A.P and what is more widely accepted.Please tell me as soon as possible.I want to apply in high school [public or private].My plan is to go to Mcgill University for m.d,c.m.Also please tell me which college is best for this in Toronto.I have heard of Seneca and Centennial.Is Seneca better.
    Thank you.

  15. Mark Montgomery says:

    Hello, Dilawar. I’m not an expert on Canadian education…I specialize in the US. But either the AP or the IB can get you where you want to go in either country. It’s more about your performance in those programs than the content of the curriculum.
    Best of luck.

  16. Saswatha Anireddy says:

    I am undecided on whether to go on with the IB program at my school or switch to the AP. I am currently a sophomore in the IB program offered at my school. I am in the top 10% and have scored a 22 on the Act Plan. I want to get into a Ivy League School. Would I have a better chance to get into a Ivy League School with the AP program or IB? I realize the IB program is more rigorous and will take more effort but I am very undecided. What would you recommend? (My school requires English and History at HL and I would like to go into medicine).

  17. Brittany says:

    Hi, I will be in my first year of high school next year and I got accepted into and IB Diploma Program, but there is another school about 2 minutes away that offers AP courses. Will IB offer me any advantage at getting into certain universities and what is the max amount of college credits I can get with IB and AP programs.?

  18. Ashley says:

    Hi Mark,
    I am currently a sophomore at my high school and am trying to decide whether I should take all IB for the diploma or all AP. I have heard that ivy league colleges prefer students to take the most challenging classes that their school has to offer, and I’m not sure whether that would be IB or AP. Also, I’ve heard thath IB is more of writing and not as strong in math and science which will be crucial for me to go into pre-med school. If you could help me decide, that would be great. Thanks!

  19. Michelle says:

    Hello,

    I am a US citizen who recently moved to Alberta on a 3 year assignment. I have an 8th grader with straight A’s who is VERY bored here (seems to be behind his school in the US). In selecting high school classes, I am concerned with our ability to transition to the US smoothly in his Sophomore or Junior year,while maintaining his ability to take higher level courses in high school in the US. The school that we left in the US was very competitive reguarding who was allowed to take AP and IB classes. Demand exceeded availability. Does that make sense?

    We have 2 high schools in town, one with IB and one with AP. Any idea which will transfer to the US more smoothly?

    Thank you.

  20. Hello,

    Interesting question. There are both AP and IB programs in the US. Do you have any idea where you may live in the US when you transfer? If so, I would begin your research there. Some high schools offer AP programs, some offer IB. I would say that most high schools, regardless of which program they offer, should be able to handle the transfer.

    Katherine Price
    Senior Associate

  21. Hi Ashley,

    College do want to see you take the “most challenging courses available to you”. An full IB diploma is pretty straight forward in terms of being “most challenging”. For an AP curriculum, it depends on the number of AP courses you take and how many are available to you. The benefit of an AP curriculum is that you can pick and choose which AP courses you want to take, so if you wanted to take more math and science, you could. The answer is that both programs are challenging, it just depends on which one is the right path for you.

    Sincerely,
    Katherine Price
    Senior Associate

  22. salman says:

    hi am doing my final year of IGCSE am actually on the verge of finishing, am doing the exams right now. ive got an option to do IB or AP. but the school told me my D in math wont be good enough for AP, but this other school said they will accept me and they do IB. but then again the AP school has asked me to repeat my final IGCSE year, now here is the dilemna. although the AP school is supposed to be better known and you have a better chance of getting into a university, what should i do?

  23. Sunil Bang says:

    My son is currently in 8th grade. he is very good in Math and science. He more inclined towards engineering as his college/career choice, not very much interested in Biology. He got an admission to CIBA (IB school in East Hartford CT) which has very good rankings. The only issue is they have biology in freshman and then IB biology in Jr, Sr years, no physics and not much flexibility. I just want an opinion on whether he should join CIBA or go to some other school where he may be able choose and pick his courses. Of course subject to staff in school which course (IB or AP) will better prepare him for SAT and have better preparation for college is he has to pursue engineering.
    Thank you

  24. Sumrah says:

    Hi.
    I’m currently in 8th grade, and I have a choice of two high schools. One offers many AP courses, but the other is a school completely devoted to getting an IB diploma. The IB school is really new, and has only had one class. Next year, when I’m a freshman, there will only be freshmen and sophomores. My parents are convinced that IB is way better than AP, but I disagree. I’d much rather do AP instead of IB. My sister took one IB course, hated it, and took 5 AP courses throughout high school, and she got accepted into the University of Michigan, which is where I plan to go. I also think that they can’t judge IB over AP as just the programs. Whether or not I do well will depend on the teachers. I know many people that go to the high school and are taking AP courses, and most of the teachers are at least decent, and I know some that are very good. The IB school only offers actual IB courses in 11th and 12th grade, and as stated before, there are no junior or senior classes yet, so there is no way to determine whether the teachers will be good or not. That’s my personal opinion, but I’d really like someone with better knowledge’s opinion. Are my parents right? Would the IB program be better for me? If not, how can I convince them to let me take AP courses at the other high school?

  25. Hello,

    It is true that an IB diploma is seen as a very competitive and challenging curriculum, but an AP curriculum can be just as impressive. AP classes are seen more as “al a carte” allowing students to pick and choose their courses, where the IB curriculum is completely structured. I think if you do choose the AP curriculum, you need to make sure that you plan out the courses you want to take. Some students are experiencing challenges with AP classes due to scheduling conflicts. I think you need to choose the curriculum that you think you will be more successful in.

    Please feel free to give us a call if you or your parents have any additional questions.

    Katherine Price
    Senior Associate

  26. Hello,

    Thank you for your question. Either curriculum would prepare him for engineering, however, the AP curriculum offers more flexibility since it allows students to pick and choose their courses. The IB diploma is very competitive, but it is also very structured. He should choose the curriculum that would provide the best learning environment for him.

    If you have any further questions, please feel free to give us a call: +1.720.279.7577

    Katherine Price
    Senior Associate

  27. Hello,

    Thank you for your question. This is a difficult situation for us to comment on without knowing all of the details. Do you feel that you will be able to perform well at the AP level? Do you want to be able to choose your courses or does the structure of the IB diploma appeal to you. From the information you provided above, it sounds like you are choosing between the quality of the schools and not the quality of an AP or IB program.

    If you have further questions, please feel free to give us a call at: +1.720.279.7577

    Sincerely,
    Katherine Price
    Senior Associate

  28. Hi Brittany,

    The IB diploma is viewed as a very competitive curriculum, but you can have an equally competitive curriculum with AP courses. The answer do your questions lies in you asking yourself which curriculum, and which school for that matter is better for you. With regards to limits on how many AP and IB credits colleges accept, yes there are limits, but the policies vary from college to college. Some colleges only let you “place out” of lower level course, which does not really give you credit.

    Katherine Price
    Senior Associate

  29. Cara Ray says:

    Mackenzie, thanks for your message. I think you have some great opportunities ahead of you. Remember, colleges like to see that you have challenged yourself. Both AP and IB will do this for you. In addition, a school abroad will certainly provide a new experience for you that may open your eyes to new interests. Please let us know if you would like assistance with your college search!

  30. Saswatha,
    It’s wonderful that you are doing well in your school. Colleges like both AP and IB programs, because they like to see students challenge themselves and both programs clearly show this. So, you can’t go wrong whatever path you choose. You will need to work hard and achieve in either AP or IB if you have aspirations of attending a very selective school. Simply having a challenging course curriculum will not by itself make you Ivy League material. Remember, too, that even if you do take an AP or IB course curriculum and do well, this is no guarantee that you will be gain admission to an Ivy League school. The schools look at much more than just your GPA and course rigor. So, keep working hard, and please let us know if you would like assistance with your college search!

  31. Nancy says:

    Hi,
    I have recently finished my IGCSEs and my results will be out in august. However my expected results are all either A or A*. i have done 10 IGCSE courses which are: English First Language, English Literature, Sociology, Business Studies, Information Communication Technology, Extended Mathematics, Extended Biology, Extended Chemistry, Extended Physics and Arabic Second Language. Ihave already recieved my results for th arabic and ICT exams and have achieved an A* in both. Now i am trying to choose between doing AP or IB. I’m not sure what aspects I should consider when deciding. I know that both courses are quite rigorous and appreciated by universities. Besides that I don’t know much about either. Unfortunately my parents don’t have any experience in dealing with these things since both of them graduated in Egypt where things are a lot different from Canada. And since i’m their first-born this is the first time they have to consider these subjects. So i need some help with this crisis please.

    Thanks,

    Nancy

  32. Hello Nancy,

    It is difficult to offer advice without knowledge of you as a student. The basic difference is that IB is more structured than AP. AP you can pick and choose the courses you want to take. With IB, you have a set curriculum.

    I hope this is helpful.

    Sincerely,
    Katherine Price
    Senior Associate

  33. Nancy says:

    Hi Katherine,

    Thanks for the information. However I’d love it if you could give me some more guidance. So here’s some info about me:
    Well, i have just gotten my IGCSE results and have achieved top scores after studying my heart out for the duration of the 2 year course. I’m a very hard worker and very committed to mu studies.
    I plan on entering Medical school and therefore becoming a doctor. I would also like to attend top medical schools.

    Thanks,
    Nancy

  34. Julie Chan says:

    I am currently stuck between schools. One offers IB and the other offers AP. I am currently in PRE-Ib and next year will have to test into IB. However, the AP program is apparently very top notch at my other school and im not sure which one i should pick because i hope to study abroad in Europe or some other country for college. which one should i pick?

  35. Hi Julie,

    IB programs tend to be recognized on an international level, but you should still pick the program that is a better fit for you academically.

    Katherine Price
    Senior Associate

  36. Hi Nancy,

    As I mentioned in my previous comments, it is difficult for us to advise your on your course selection without knowing you. As you mention, both programs are highly regarded, but the question is which program is a better fit for you as a student? I suggest that you do more detailed research on the courses required for the IB diploma and the courses offered for AP. Here are some links with more information: http://www.ibo.org/diploma/curriculum/
    http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/ap/subjects.html

    This will hopefully direct you towards which subject area is a better fit for you.

    Sincerely,

    Katherine Price
    Senior Associate

  37. Kelly Williams says:

    Hi, I’m an 8th grader in the IB program and there are two different high schools I can choose from. I can either go to an old high school and take IB programs or go to a new high school and take AP. My problem is that I don’t know which is more recognized by colleges and how much more credit you get for each program. I have been researching and all I can find is biased infornmation. Everyone in the IB program at my school is trying to choose, some are going to continue and some are going to the AP programs. I really don’t know what to do.

  38. Kelly,
    Thanks for your question! When it comes to AP versus IB, colleges respect and appreciate both curricula. One is not preferred over the other, so you won’t go wrong no matter which path you choose to follow. I suggest you look at the different course requirements of both programs and see which one suits you best. AP allows more freedom in course selection, but you may prefer the full spectrum of courses that is required by IB. Ultimately, your own personal preferences should drive your decision since colleges will be happy with either program.

  39. Tiger Michael says:

    If someone was applying to one of the top 10-20 university or a top-notch university, and they received high marks, would the high marks in AP or the high marks in IB make them more likely to get into a top university?If someone wants to go to a top university, should they take IB or AP?IF you want to go to an elite top-notch top university and you have the choice, should you take IB or AP?Which do colleges/universities like more?Would IB or AP help you more and increase your chances of getting into a top university?

  40. Hi Tiger (or is it Michael?),
    Both AP and IB are very strong programs but they are very different. Both programs show colleges that you are choosing to challenge yourself academically but colleges will also consider how well you do in your chosen program. If you take IB or AP and do poorly that won’t help your case for admissions, so you want to make sure to evaluate the programs to see which is the right fit. That being said, both are looked upon very favorably. The other thing to think about is that students can just take random AP classes whereas a student who is invested in the IB program and seeking an IB diploma has to take a specific set of courses. That being said, no college is going to say there is a preference of one over the other. They are both highly recommended, so you need to determine which is the right fit for you and then perform well.

    I hope that helps.

  41. Madison says:

    Hello,
    So my entire life I have been a straight A student. However, I have slacked off for the past two years. I am now a sophomore in High School fully regretting my decision to take the easy route. I have made the decision to make a dramatic change that all in all will change my life. Next year I am leaving the past behind me and joining the complete IB diploma program. I am ready to work harder than I have ever worked in my life. My dream I to go to college at Richmond: The American University in London. I will work harder than I have ever worked. I currently have 100% in AP English. My current GPA is a 3.5 and I am immensely disappointed in myself. I want to do a full 180 and turn my life around. If I ace every one of my classes for the next two years do you think it will be possible for me to be accepted into Richmond?

  42. Hello Madison,

    It is difficult for us to assess your chance at a particular school without seeing your full transcript and test scores. I will tell you that colleges love to see upward trends with grades. This is especially true if the student has increased the challenge of their curriculum. It sounds like you are doing all the right things, so keep up the good work!

    Katherine Price
    Senior Associate

  43. Gayatri Chowdary says:

    Hello, I’m an 8th grader. I want to go to medical school (my goal is Harvard or Stanford). I dont know if I should take IB or AP. My school district offers both and three other programs as well. I’ve narrowed it down to these two. If I want to be a science major, which one should I choose? I’ve heard that IB is more work and that I will have to pull all-nighters if I choose to do it. Is it beneficial for me to take IB? And will AP be easier? Can I get better grades if I take AP? So far, I am a pretty good student and I am taking all Pre-AP courses along with being in the gifted and talented program. My grades are all A’s. Please advise me with the best solution to my dilemma. Thank you.

  44. Sarah Lee says:

    I’m currently in 9th grade, and I’m doing the MYP program at my school as it is mandatory, but once I finish 10th grade I want to transfer schools so I can do the IB Diploma program (I want to get the full diploma). The thing is, I’ve been looking into it online and it’s supposedly very hard and stressful. Lots of people are saying it’s not worth it and there’s too much work, whereas others are saying it’s great preparation for university. I really want to do it, but I’m afraid I might get overloaded with homework or fall behind in some classes. I’m a pretty good student; I’m getting 90-95% in all my classes except gym and drama, but I’m still scared the program might be too hard for me, any advice? Oh and if it’s any help, I want to study to become a dentist when I’m finished school.

  45. Mark Montgomery says:

    Hi, Sarah,
    The decision about whether to pursue the IB is a personal one. People who complain that the IB diploma is stressful and requires a lot of work are correct: it is hard. But good students can do very well in it. Undoubtedly it is great preparation for university. But what you don’t tell me here is what your current high school would offer you as an alternative. It is quite possible that your current high school offers an excellent curriculum delivered by excellent teachers who would also prepare you well for university. Whichever curriculum you choose, the curriculum itself is not what prepares you for college. Or for graduate school. So, please remind me again why it is that you are so keen to do the IB diploma?
    Best,
    Mark

  46. Mark Montgomery says:

    Hello, Gayatri,
    Your choice is a personal preference, not a strategy. Either curriculum can be beneficial and help you achieve your goals. Which school is closer to home? Where will your friends be going? Do you like the rigid structure of the IB that will likely allow for only one science course to be taken in grades 11 and 12, or do you prefer the flexibility to take several different science courses in high school? This choice of curriculum is important, but it should be set in the context of your other choices, as well as your goals and preferences.
    Oh, and remind yourself that in the US medical school starts after you finish your undergraduate degree. There are a number of direct admit programs, but as they say, those programs are “where fun goes to die.” So what’s important to you in your life–beside your career path?
    Let me know if I can help.

Leave a Comment