Admissions Advice: Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate

Without being aware, many students and their parents lay the foundation for today’s youth to study abroad at a very early age.  With a much more competitive application process across North America and globally, today’s student must prepare years in advance for admission consideration at many of the world’s quality universities.

The psychology behind gaining a quality education has increased with more countries affording their youth the opportunity to gain education abroad. With that, the universities are reviewing applications in depth and many are – at a glance – quick to deny a common application. For students across the United States, it is important to plot your path for a successful application by navigating the course options throughout your primary and secondary school years.

The increased popularity of a global education has created a stronger need for an enhanced academic resume. The Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate are two programs available to those seriously looking to increase their net worth so to speak.

What’s the difference?

While both will provide students with the opportunity to experience a pre-university education curriculum and of equal value, the way they are structured is quite different.

The Advanced Placement Program

In short, the Advanced Placement Program (AP) is an academic credential – recognized globally – that enables motivated students to experience university level studies while achieving credit towards an undergraduate degree. With a strong AP score, these credits will allow them to skip introductory level courses, hence, an earlier completion date once enrolled.

There are currently 39 AP courses (see table 1) available to high school students, and most of these will cover standard subjects that include the subject areas of Arts, English, History and Social Sciences, Interdisciplinary, Math and Computer Science, Sciences and World Languages and Cultures; language courses in Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Latin and Spanish are particularly appealing both the student seeking to study abroad and the schools they’re applying to.

The College Board, a non-profit educational organization guided by a panel of educational experts, develops and administers the Advanced Placement courses and exams. More familiarly known as administrators of the common SAT tests, the College Board provides standardized testing and college preparation testing to schools throughout Canada and the United States.

The program is a 3-year sequence of courses in a specific subject and is available to students from grades 10 – 12. The examinations then take place in May of each graduate’s year. The exams are evaluated and scored on a 5-point scale – (1 of which is a failing grade, 5 being the best possible). It is not unlikely for the highly competitive student to take on up to 10 AP courses; those scoring higher on all exams will likely gain entry into the most selective schools. Despite enrolling in many AP courses, many students will not score well on the exams, and in fact some of them don’t even take them. For those that do, and score well, the results can be sent directly to the university of their choice. Recognized as a global credential, AP exams scores are accepted by universities in more than 60 countries around the world (outside of the United States) and can significantly increase the likelihood of a successful application and admission. In some cases the exceptional scores can offer a student the chance to skip an introductory course or may offer credit towards the undergraduate degree.

The AP International Diploma

A globally recognized certificate, the AP International Diploma (APID) is awarded to students who throughout a diversity of disciplines, display outstanding achievement in AP programs. 

The APID is available to students in U.S. high schools that are applying to international schools – outside the United States and demonstrates an exceptional academic excellence. It is important to note, however, it is not a substitute for a high school diploma. To qualify for APID, U.S. students must score 3 or higher on 5 or more AP exams and must be applying to university(s) outside of the United States. The certificate is awarded automatically in the year that all eligibility requirements are met. The College Board will notify students of their award at which time students may self-produce an APID certificate from their AP scores.

International Baccalaureate® (IB)

Mission Statement: The International Baccalaureate® aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect

To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment.

These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.3

According to the International Baccalaureate (IBO)4, IB is recognized and respected by many of the leading universities around the world and evidently suggests that higher rates of students go on to university and higher education than non-IB students.

The IB is a comprehensive curriculum, which is designed to help students in their pursuit of a tertiary education. Offered in three different languages – English, French and Spanish – IB programs aim to educate by developing inquiring, knowledgeable and caring people. The development of students who are motivated to succeed, through intercultural understand and respect, will ultimately build a better world.

 A non-profit foundation registered in Switzerland the International Baccalaureate® is led by a Board of Governors, who appoint a Director General to hire members of the Senior Leadership Team. It is, however, the Board of Governors who set the strategic direction of the IB.

The IB consists of three different Programme levels:

  • Primary Years Programme (PYP): for children aged 3-12 years
  • Middle Years Programme (MYP): for students aged 11 – 16
  • Diploma Programme (DP): students aged 16 – 19

Diploma Programme (DP)

Established in 1968, the DP and was the first programme offered by the IB. The curriculum focuses on the DP core and six difference subject groups.

According to the IBO6, the three DP core elements are: 

  • Theory of Knowledge (TOK): students reflect on nature of knowledge and how we claim to know what we know
  • The Extended Essay: independent, self-directed and researched compilation culminating in a 4000 word paper
  • Creativity, Activity, Service: a project related to each of the concepts completed by the student

The six subject groups (which offer different courses within each group) are:

  • Language and literature studies
  • Language acquisition
  • Individuals and societies
  • Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • The arts

Offering a pathway to university internationally, each year DP students apply in more than 3300 higher education institutions representing close to 90 countries; including those universities ranked as top worldwide. There are currently 946 schools in the US authorized to offer the DP Programme.5

Many perceive the IB courses as holistic; courses are commonly 2-years, focus on specific subjects and applying them in many areas. Students seeking an IB diploma for example, will have to take two years [exclusive] IB courses following the instruction set out the IBO; those pursuing the diploma must take 3 higher-level courses. More specific details about the choosing the subjects in the Diploma Programme are available on the International Baccalaureate® website.5

Testing is conducted in such a way so as to have students utilize the knowledge they’ve gained and assesses their ability to implement it. By effective problem-solving, presentation of facts and data evaluation, assessment procedures are aligned in such a way so as to measure to what extent a student has mastered advanced academic skills. Knowledge retention, comprehension of key concepts and the application of standard methods are also part of the more basic assessment. International outlook and intercultural skills are strongly encouraged within DP assessment when appropriate. The IB when assessing the DP uses both external and internal assessments. Because of their high levels of objectivity and reliability, examinations form the basis of assessment for most courses. [See table 2)

Upon graduation from high school, however, students who meet the IB criteria will receive two diplomas – one being their high school diploma and the second the respected International Baccalaureate Diploma.

Which one is the right one?

There are far more schools in the United States that offer AP programs vs IB, largely due to the recognition that they receive throughout more domestic colleges and universities. Either way, AP + IB show a strong commitment to discipline, contribution to ones’ environment through dedication and hard work. Understanding the student, their ability and their ambition will help determining which program is best suited for them.

References and Resources

By Lindsay Taylor