Advanced Placement courses have long been considered the go-to option for U.S. high schoolers who desire more challenging work than what's offered in the standard curriculum.
But students may have more options for getting an academic challenge. An increasing number of American high schools offer the International Baccalaureate program which, like the AP program, offers a rigorous set of courses.
The IB program is still relatively small compared with the AP program in the U.S.: only about 830 schools offer the IB diploma, according to the program's organizers. Nearly 14,000 public high schools offered AP courses during the 2012-2013 school year, according to the College Board, which administers the AP program.
"We see strengths in both programs," says Darren Bessett, honors program director at Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado. His school offers IB and AP classes.
But both programs have their own distinct features. Read on to discover the differences between AP and IB classes.
• The educational objectives differ: AP courses tend to focus intensively on a particular subject, while IB courses take a more holistic approach.
"In an AP class, you may look very deeply at an issue and look at if from multiple perspectives," says Matthew Nelson, director of advanced academics for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools in Tennessee.
"In IB, it would probably be more, still looking at an issue, but you may be looking at an issue over time and how it has impacted other parts of the world and how there is that connectivity to it all," he says.
Bessett's school in Colorado actually offers some classes that use the IB and AP curriculums together, which allows students to benefit from the strengths of both programs, he says.
• IB students can earn an IB diploma: High schoolers who have embraced IB's global educational philosophy can elect to earn an IB diploma, which is recognized by colleges around the world.
IB is primarily an international program – there are nearly 4,000 IB schools in close to 150 countries, according to the program's website.
Students take a standard set of courses and corresponding assessments in the rigorous two-year program, which they complete during their junior and senior year. There are other requirements, too, such as community service and a research paper, says Bessett.
"What's nice about IB and the diploma particularly, is you're saying, 'Hey, I'm willing to challenge myself in areas of strength, but I'm also willing to challenge myself in areas where I'm not as strong as well,'" he says.
But if students do not want to commit to the diploma program, they can pick and choose which IB courses they'd like to take, just like with AP classes, he says.
• Students can earn college credit with either: Both IB and AP classes culminate in an exam, and depending on the score, students may be able to earn college credit.
However, a student must be enrolled in an IB class to take an IB exam, Bessett says. This differs from the AP program, as students can take an AP exam without taking its corresponding AP course.
"If you are successful on the assessment, then it is invaluable in terms of how much money you save on college credit," says Nelson.
Both educators agree that they think college admissions officers look favorably on students who take either AP or IB classes.
"It's always, where are you at as a student? What's your goal? What is your strength? What can we try to achieve by you taking this particular class?" says Bessett, in terms of deciding on AP or IB classes.
Bessett says that he doesn't advise students to take one course over the other – the students' choice depends on their academic goals. In some cases, a student may take an AP English class instead of the IB English class because of the type of literature the class is reading, he says.
Most students he advises take a combination of both, he says.
Tags: education, students, K-12 education, high school, teachers, college admissions, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate