Students at most American high schools have the option to take rigorous college-level coursework. The two common options that extend beyond the honors level are Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB). Both programs allow students the opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school. Broadly, this blog will thoroughly explore IB vs AP and will help you decide which may be the better fit for your needs.

We will also explore the following specific topics:

  • What is an AP Class?
  • What is an IB Class?
  • The IB Diploma
  • Is IB harder than AP?
  • Is IB better than AP?
  • What is the cost of IB and AP?
  • Do colleges prefer IB or AP?

Let’s begin with an overview of the more common program found in the United States.

What is an AP Class?

AP or Advanced Placement courses are a series of 38 courses created by the College Board, the same company that administers the SAT. These courses have existed since the mid-1950s but have become immensely widespread across American and Canadian high schools in the 21st century.

AP classes are available at roughly two-thirds of the public high schools in the United States. Many private schools offer them as well. Over 2 million students per year sit for at least one exam.

The 38 courses on the menu are as follows:

  1. AP Art History
  2. AP Biology
  3. AP Calculus AB
  4. AP Calculus BC
  5. AP Chemistry
  6. AP Chinese Language & Culture
  7. AP Comparative Government & Politics
  8. AP Computer Science A
  9. AP Computer Science Principles
  10. AP English Language and Composition
  11. AP English Literature and Composition
  12. AP Environmental Science
  13. AP European History
  14. AP French Language & Culture
  15. AP German Language & Culture
  16. AP Human Geography
  17. AP Italian Language & Culture
  18. AP Japanese Language and Culture
  19. AP Latin
  20. AP Macroeconomics
  21. AP Microeconomics
  22. AP Music Theory
  23. AP Physics 1: Algebra-Based
  24. AP Physics 2: Algebra-Based
  25. AP Physics C: Electricity & Magnetism
  26. AP Physics C: Mechanics
  27. AP Psychology
  28. AP Research
  29. AP Seminar
  30. AP Spanish Language & Culture
  31. AP Spanish Literature & Culture
  32. AP Statistics
  33. AP Studio Art: 2-D Design
  34. AP Studio Art: 3-D Design
  35. AP Studio Art: Drawing
  36. AP U.S. Government & Politics
  37. AP U.S. History
  38. AP World History

Students can take an exam at the end of the course that is scored a 1-5 scale. You also have the option of self-study for the exam. You do not need to be enrolled in an AP course to take AP test.

For more on AP classes, visit our archived blogs:

What are IB Classes?

The International Baccalaureate program was developed in the late 1960s in Geneva, Switzerland. As of September 2022, more than 5,500 schools in 160 countries around the globe offered IB programmes. Just 700 American high schools offered IB courses back in 2010. Today, that number has more than doubled.

Just as with AP courses, students can take an individual IB course. However, they also have the option to enroll in a full diploma programme (more on this in a moment). The individual courses that are available are as follows:

  1. Language A: literature
  2. Language A: language and literature
  3. Literature and performance
  4. Classical languages
  5. Language B
  6. Language ab initio
  7. Business management
  8. Digital Society
  9. Economics
  10. Geography
  11. Global Politics
  12. History
  13. Information technology in a global society
  14. Philosophy
  15. Psychology
  16. Social and cultural anthropology
  17. World religions
  18. Biology Chemistry
  19. Chemistry
  20. Computer Science
  21. Computer Science Design technology Environmental systems and societies
  22. Physics SL/HL pdf
  23. Sports, exercise and health science
  24. Mathematics: analysis and approaches
  25. Mathematics: applications and interpretation
  26. Dance
  27. Film
  28. Music
  29. Theatre
  30. Visual arts
  31. Creativity, activity, service
  32. Extended Essay
  33. Theory of Knowledge

Many of the aforementioned courses are available at two levels of difficulty – Standard Level (SL) and Higher Level (HL).

The IB Diploma

Students ages 16-19 have the option to complete a two-year IB Diploma Programme (DP). This involves taking courses in six academic areas as well as an interdisciplinary course called Theory of Knowledge, m essay project, and community service/school involvement.

There are three components that comprise the Diploma Programme core:

  • Theory of Knowledge
  • The extended essay
  • Creativity, activity, and service

There are six total subject groups within the IB curriculum:

  • Studies in language and literature
  • Language acquisition
  • Individuals and societies
  • Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • The arts

Students take exams in the 6 majors areas. Those exams are scored on a 1-7 scale. A “4” in generally considered passing and a total of 24 (over the 6 exams) is required to earn the diploma.

Is IB Harder than AP?

Those taking AP courses can pick and choose their courses. This allows them to take advanced courses in their areas of interest/strength. Those taking IB courses on an individual basis can do the same. However, students pursuing an IB Diploma must engage in rigorous study in each discipline.

Is IB Better than AP?

No, there is no meaningful case to be made for either program being “better” than the other. The quality of an IB or AP course is highly dependent on the teacher delivering the instruction.

What is the cost of IB and AP?

The standard cost of an AP exam in the US or Canada is $97. International students pay $127 per test. Two tests cost $145 a piece—AP Seminar or AP Research.

Do colleges prefer IB vs AP?

Highly-selective colleges want applicants to have engaged in the most rigorous coursework available to them. Both IB and AP accomplish that mission. The vast majority of schools will also offer college credit for strong results on IB or AP exams.

College Transitions Final Thoughts – IB vs AP

Both programs offer American students the opportunity to advance their critical-thinking ability while in high school. Either program is a viable pathway to engaging in a rigorous high school curriculum that will position you well for admission into competitive colleges.