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International Baccalaureate or IB classes cause a lot of confusion for students in the United States.

While IB growing in popularity here, it is much more common in Europe. Students become even more confused when they have the opportunity to choose between IB and Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

Here is some information about the IB programs and what makes them different from AP courses to help you make the decision if you should enroll in them.

What is IB or International Baccalaureate?

The non-profit organization International Baccalaureate, headquartered in Geneva Switzerland, was founded in 1968. The organization offers four programs ranging from primary years to career-related and works.

Students who participate in IB are between the ages of three and 19 years of age. According to the IB, the programs “develop the intellectual, personal, emotional and social skills needed to live, learn and work in a rapidly globalizing world.”  IB courses are known for being more challenging and encouraging students to think critically.

How IB programs are different from AP courses

The biggest misconception about IB is that it is the same as AP courses. However, there are a few ways AP and IB differ:

  • Students can take part in IB as early as elementary school. The primary years programme (PYP) and middle years programme (MYP) are offered at IB schools throughout the world, including the United States. The PYP and MYP encourage students to have independent learning skills and to take responsibility for their own learning. AP courses, seen as college-level work, are only offered during the high school years.
  • IB in high school has different options. Just like AP, students can pick and choose the IB courses they want to take. If students choose, they can sit for the higher-level (HL) or standard-level (SL) IB tests and be awarded a certificate. Other students, if it is offered, can take the full IB program that ends with an IB diploma. When students participate in the IB diploma programme, students take six subjects – three at the HL and three at the SL.
  • Students think about how they learn best. AP courses have specific information that must be covered and no specific way in which they are taught. However, IB students study the IB’s “theory of knowledge” (TOK) course and are encouraged to try different approaches to learning. IB students are strongly encouraged to ask questions, think critically, and develop research skills.

Considering whether to take IB courses

IB is very challenging and can be time consuming.

For students working towards the IB diploma, they may not be able to take the elective classes that their friends in the general classes are taking. Instead, they must take courses from the six subject groups IB requires: studies in language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics, and the arts.

The IB programme is very involved and requires a lot of dedication from students. However, because of the methods of the program and the requirement to ask questions, think critically, and work independently, most IB students will transition into college academic life smoothly.

The IB program is not for everyone. Therefore, students should first determine if they are up for the challenge and requirements. They should also work with their school counselor to determine if the IB program is the right fit for them.

While there are some big differences in AP and IB, colleges do not always see a difference between the two during college admissions. There is no question that IB courses are challenging and admissions offices are likely to be impressed by students taking IB courses. However, because IB is not as widely found in the United States as AP courses, there are still many colleges that do not understand IB. In addition, although there are still differences in how colleges award college credit for AP exams, many give college credit for a 4 or 5 on an AP exam.

IB, on the other hand, is still a mystery to many colleges. For example, some less-selective colleges do not have policies on how or if they award college credit to IB students. Even if colleges do offer college credits, many colleges require students to get the highest score possible on the HL exam to award college credit.

Benefits of taking IB courses

Whether the college you ultimately attend gives college credit for IB courses or not, taking IB courses give great advantages to students:

  1. Better prepared for college. IB courses are at a higher level than the general courses in high schools. Many see IB courses as college-level. Therefore, if students are doing well and are able to keep up in their IB courses, the transition to college work should be smooth.
  2. Critical thinking skills. IB strongly encourages students to think critically. This is not always the case for students in general classes. Critical thinking skills are important for everyone to have, and are much needed as a college student.
  3. Impress the admissions committee. Even if the college does not offer college credit for IB courses, most admissions committees see IB as challenging. Most students who partake in IB courses choose to take the classes or the IB programme. Therefore, this is proof that students are pushing themselves academically. This is something that most admissions officers want to see students do in their high school career.
  4. Help with major selection. IB courses dig much deeper than general courses. Therefore, IB students get to experience a lot more of a subject than they would in a general class. This can help students narrow down their list for the major they want to study in college.
  5. Potentially prepared for AP test. If colleges do not offer college credit for IB courses, but do give credit for AP tests, IB students will probably be prepared to take the AP test.

There are many great advantages to participating in the IB program listed above. The advantages above are enough for many students. However, some students really want to get college credit if they participate in IB. If college credit is a necessity before you choose to participate in the IB program, the only way to be sure is to contact each college you are considering to get the information. The individual colleges will be able to share information on their specific policy on how they view IB courses and exam scores.