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What’s the Difference Between AP and IB Classes?

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There are many options for challenging coursework in high school. Usually, high schools will offer an assortment of classes that allows for varying degrees of difficulty. These might range from vocational classes to college prep classes to honors classes and beyond.


Top students might wonder what lies beyond honors classes, and how these choices stack up to one another. In this post, we’ll discuss AP and IB classes, describe what each is, and discuss how they differ from one another. To learn more about these choices in advanced high school classes, don’t miss this post.



What Are AP Classes?

Advanced Placement (AP) classes are a set of standardized college-level classes developed by the College Board. If you’re wondering where you’ve heard that name before, the College Board is also the organization that develops the SAT. Their intention in creating AP classes is to allow high schoolers to access a standardized level of challenging college coursework.


Most AP classes culminate in an AP exam (though some now have other assessment methods). If a student passes the AP exam, he or she may be able to earn college credit or place out of entry level classes in college.


There are currently 38 AP classes available. These range from common subjects like Biology and US History to less common high school offerings like Psychology and Human Geography. Students usually enroll in AP classes through their school, but you are also allowed to self-study for an exam. If you self-study and pass, you will earn the same amount of credit as someone who took the actual class.


If you score well enough on multiple AP exams, you are able to earn formal recognition for your achievements. The titles of AP Scholar, AP Scholar with Honors, and AP Scholar with Distinction are awarded to top performing students. Top performers are also recognized at the state and national levels. To learn more about these distinctions, check out our post Your 4-Point Checklist To Becoming An AP Scholar.


AP classes are most common in the United States. In 2017, more than 1.17 million students took AP exams. Eight states plus the District of Columbia require that all school districts offer AP classes.


To learn more about AP classes, check out these CollegeVine posts:


How Important Are AP Scores For College Admissions?

Guides For Acing Your AP Exams

AP Exam Scores: All Your Questions Answered

Can AP Tests Actually Save You Thousands Of Dollars?

How To Choose Which AP Courses And Exams To Take



What Are IB Classes?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) program offers a highly rigorous, well-respected and standardized curricula for upper level high school students. It is essentially a two-year sequence of classes, projects, and other requirements usually available only to 11th and 12th graders. Some schools might allow 10th graders to take IB classes, and some schools might allow students to enroll in IB classes on an a la carte basis, but usually these classes are taken as part of a comprehensive program over the course of 11th and 12th grade, culminating in an IB diploma.  


IB programs aim to expose high school students to college-level work across the subject areas through a holistic approach. Students who participate in the IB diploma program are required to complete an independent Extended Essay Project. Additionally,  students must take a Theory of Knowledge course in which they study and write a paper about the nature of knowledge and give an oral presentation based on their research. Extracurriculars and community service projects round out requirements in addition to a suite of other academic courses. You can read a full list of the IBDP requirements here.


As with AP classes, IB classes conclude with a final exam scored on a five-point scale. If you pass your exam, you might be able to receive college credit or place out of lower level college classes, depending on your college’s specific policies.


The IB program is highly regarded by colleges, but it is not widely available. Of the 5000 schools offering IB programs worldwide, fewer than 2000 are located in the United States. The program is more common in Europe, where it originated.


To learn more about the IB program, check out these CollegeVine posts:


The Beginner’s Guide to the International Baccalaureate Program

To IB or Not to IB: Is International Baccalaureate Right For You?

How to Earn an IB Diploma

What Are the Benefits of Earning an IB Diploma?

Top Testing Tips for IB Exams

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How Does the AP Program Compare to the IB Program?


AP Program IB Program
Can lead to college credit YES YES
Can lead to placing out of entry level college coursework YES YES
Availability Available at over 22,000 schools in the US. Some availability internationally Available at fewer than 2000 schools in the US. More availability internationally
Number of Classes 38 56
Nature of Classes Most classes are subject specific and designed to be taken on an individual basis. More holistic approach. Classes are generally more broad and are most often taken as part of a comprehensive curriculum.
Method of Assessment End of year exams with open answer and multiple choice. Some have portfolios or other assessments. End of year exams based primarily on open answers, essays, and data response questions. Teacher assessments of classwork, lab work, fieldwork, and oral performance are also included.
Other Recognitions Available AP Scholar Awards IB Diploma
Level of Difficulty All classes are considered college-level While all classes are considered college-level, many have two separate offerings: Higher Level and Standard Level


If you’re considering a challenging track of classes during your upper high school years, the choice between AP classes and an IB program might be a tricky one. Both are well-respected by college admissions committees and both have a robust course catalogue offering a wide variety of classes to choose from.


Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academicschoosing coursesstandardized testsextracurricular activitiesand much more!


Want access to expert college guidance — for free? When you create your free CollegeVine account, you will find out your real admissions chances, build a best-fit school list, learn how to improve your profile, and get your questions answered by experts and peers—all for free. Sign up for your CollegeVine account today to get a boost on your college journey.

Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.