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Opinions on AP vs. IB

  1. Mar 24, 2012 #1

    I'm a high school freshman who's in need of some advice from those who have gone through AP or IB. In your opinion, which is more beneficial and looks better on a high school transcript for universities such as Harvard, Stanford, or UC Berkeley?

    I'm really unsure which pathway to choose. It is quoted on Harvard's admissions site that a student should acquire the most rigorous curriculum available. However, my high school only offers Standard Level courses on almost all of their IB options. I'd also feel like I wouldn't be taking full advantage of opportunities at school, since the IB Diploma program dictates every single course you must take, leaving one elective that I'd end up most likely using academically. AP on the other hand is more widely used, and while I know it is still strenuous, I don't know if it would be as prestigious as that of the IB. I've also heard that mixing the courses, taking a few IB here, a few AP there, is not always looked upon as the smartest idea by admissions officers.

    If anyone has gone through either program, I'd love to hear your pros and cons, and where you ended up collegiate-wise. Some information on myself is that while I'm only a Freshman, I have a full honors schedule that includes many sophomore or junior courses (4.0 GPA), as well as am taking an online math course in order for me to be allowed to take Pre-Calculus next year. My strongest subjects are math (which my high school does not offer IB Math HL) and science, and am potentially looking into a career associated with either astrophysics or neurobiology.

    Thank you so much for your feedback. :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 25, 2012 #2
    I went through the IB program at my school.

    Collegiate-wise, I attended UT Austin. While this is by no means a Harvard or Berkeley, it was difficult to get accepted if you weren't in the top 10% of your high school class. I was not even that close, to be honest. But, from what I understand, they looked very favorably at the IB program. Out of my IB peers, one went to Harvard, one to Brown, one to Dartmouth, a couple to Duke, and two to Brandeis. That's all I can remember off the top of my head.


    -we were told the focus of the program is being able to demonstrate what you do know whether than being able to answer multiple choice questions (like part of the AP exam)
    -you will likely get a chance to take classes that are different than the normal high school courses(e.g., the Theory of Knowledge sequence)
    -I think the emphasis on writing will really improve your writing skills
    -the Extended Essay provides a good opportunity for you to choose an interesting topic from a variety of fields and study it in a rigorous way
    -it was a smaller program at my school, so the group was really close


    -focusing on what you know whether than what they want you to know is great, but it doesn't always do a good job of preparing you for further coursework where there are certain things you need to know
    -regardless of reputation, I really think AP courses and exams are more challenging
    -as far as I know, IB doesn't offer a good course on calculus
    -you do probably end up doing more work outside the classroom than AP kids - essays and projects, for example - this may not be all bad, but it means much less free time, especially if you play sports and work

    Overall, I'm glad I did IB. I think it helped me accomplish my goals for undergrad, which ultimately got me to where I am now. I have friends who did AP and things turned out well for them, too.

    I'm not going to tell you what you should do. Hopefully this will give you a glimpse into someone's experience, though.
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2012
  4. Mar 25, 2012 #3
    IB is better for humanities while AP is better for math and science. I took AP but from what I saw of the IB program and exams the AP covered more in terms of math and science.
  5. Mar 26, 2012 #4
    I have first hand experience with both A-Levels and IB. I have never sat for an AP exam and this, will refrain from commenting on them.

    I find that the HL Mathematics and SL Further Mathematics courses look quite interesting. I was in HL Math and it was my favourite class. That also had to do with the fact that I had a very dedicated teacher.

    A touch that I liked was the "Internal Assessments" and how all labs were assessed that way, meaning that at the end of the two years, I would have only three exams to sit for my science subjects and not have additional ones for "experiment, data collection and evaluation" and "experiment planning", two additional exams which I had for A-Levels.

    The literature courses, in my opinion, were quite simplistic. (if I recall correctly, all languages at A1, have a similar syllabus) It did not require much thinking for one to score well and as such, I didn't find the course encouraging at all. In this regard, I found the A-Level English Literature course much more demanding. The "foreign languages" A-Levels, while not to the level of English Lit, in my opinion, require more work than for IB.

    While I have not studied the IB "Ab Initio" SL courses, they seem appealing, upon first inspection. (note that this was a while back...)

    I did not particularly like the TOK course as I felt it was too narrow and the focus was more on exam technique, rather than actual learning. In fact, I've observed that for whatever course that is externally assessed by some board (IB, A-Levels, SAT, AP, etc), one would be lucky to find teachers - let alone, a whole school - whose teaching would be geared more towards educating students as opposed to training them to score well on the tests. Every school would like to brag about their 100% IB pass rate or how 75% of the graduating class scored >35 points...

    For my intents and purposes - which, by the way, is learning mathematics and physics - I was not satisfied with either the A-Levels or the IB and I highly doubt I would have been by either of them. I don't think either prepares one to study mathematics or physics (cannot comment on chemistry and biology) at the university level. While I did enjoy HL Math, if memory serves me right, it is still largely a "high school mathematical methods" course, albeit a slightly "harder" variant. HL Physics covered a wide range of topics but lacked enough mathematics and apparently, this was to accommodate for students in the "Mathematical Studies" SL course.

    Ultimately, if learning mathematics and physics is your goal, I do not think the IB would be the way to go. If you have the required level for it, I believe that your interests would be better served by taking courses at a local community college or 4-year college, if possible. Alternatively, I find that ArtofProblemSolving.com has some good high school mathematics courses on offer and I would have gladly taken them, had I known about them in the past. You might also want to look into Stanford's Educational Program for Gifted Youth. (EPGY)

    Good luck.

    N.B: Every mention of the A-Levels I made, was for the CIE A-Levels and not the other boards, such as Edexcel or OCR.
  6. Mar 26, 2012 #5
    Thank you all who replied.

    Bromden, after completing IB, from which SL courses did you get college level credit for? I know that a lot of universities hardly even look at some of the SL scores, only HL, and even then, you have to be able to do well. And with the calculus aspect, since my school only offers Math at standard level, I'd have my senior year open to possibly take AP Calculus. Also, was all the work truly worth it in the end? Thank you again.

    Mepris, thank you for your feedback. I have considered taking community college courses, but I've been deterred by my counselor (who handles almost 800 students at a time), who thinks I wouldn't be able to handle it. I personally think I'd be able to, but I've currently acquired a few other long term goals to receive some collegiate level credits.

    I keep going back and forth. And it's unfortunate my counselor is of no help to me, nor has anyone in my family taken the IB curriculum to compare.

    Would it be difficult to take the IB Diploma Program, AP credit electives, and potentially enroll in a community college? Or would I be setting myself up for failure?

    Thank you all.
  7. Mar 26, 2012 #6
    I did AP classes at a special math/science/computer school. Took I think 5 total AP classes. It was one of the top highschools in the country. Applied to 3 state schools and of course got accepted to all, went to the one that offered the most scholarship money. One didnt offer any at all. I didnt apply out of state or for Ivy leagues because I couldnt afford them, I think going to a good school means a lot and taking good classes means a lot but I probably wouldnt have gotten in to a lot of them because I didnt have any extracurricular activities.

    I took AP english and history classes and I think those did really help with my writing. I was always good at english classes without having to try hard. I ended up getting the college credit from passing the test. We had to take 4 years of english in highschool anyways so I figured might as well take the most challenging they had. If youre a science kind of person I would lean towards the AP classes if they are more geared for science and engineering and of course you can take some in english/writing.

    I dont think private colleges are worth it if you dont get a free ride and have to take on a ton of debt. Also keep in mind you dont have to go there for undergrad. you can go to a state school for undergrad and do real well and go to one of the big name schools for a MS or PhD and be a TA/researcher and get your courses paid for.
  8. Mar 26, 2012 #7
    The IB and AP classes will be harder than the first year college classes. Its not a matter of community college being difficult but it will be hard going to school all day and then trying to go to a night class on top of that and still do all of your homework for regular school. Plus you will be trying to get some college credit for your AP classes anyways and if you are looking at going to a big name private school you should check first what their policies are on credit transfers. During one of the summers would be a good time to take a community college class or two but just check that it is something you could transfer and use.
  9. Mar 27, 2012 #8
    That seems to be a fair assesment.

    It seems that, like high school in general, your experience will boil down to your teachers. I had outstanding physics, literature, and TOK teachers, and so I immensely enjoyed those classes. My math teacher, on the other hand, was really terrible. (It was HL, but the small amout of calculus covered in that course was mostly laughable, in my opinion.)

    I agree that institutions using external assessments are much more likely to "teach to the test". I do believe, as far as external assessments go, IB tends to be the most flexible with grading the material.

    I agree with this, in the sense that the material itself isn't going to do just a whole lot for direct preparation you for your science classes in college. What the IB program does well, though, is push you in the right direction of doing serious learning and thinking on your own, through the different internal assesments and the extended essay.

    You say your main goal in high school was to learn math and physics, so I guess that's why our opinions differ. Had that been my main focus, I would certainly be inclined to agree with your assesment (and that he should look into community college.)

    I had no idea what I wanted to study in college. IMHO, high school is more than just learning certain material. It's also a time to work on a wider variety of skills - working in groups, research projects, volunteerism, etc. - that IB provides.

    Check out this link for an idea of what type of credits schools will give for IB exams. It really depends on the university, to be honest. Check some of the websites of schools you may want to attend to find specific details.

    Some people at my school did that with calculus. The school had it worked out such that it was managable, though I don't remember all the details. You may want to check with your school's program coordinator. I'm sure this is a common concern.

    Hmm. Like I said, for me, it was. But I'm condsidering more than just the knowledge gained. It was, overall, a positive experience. Do I look back and think "man, I learned all this physics and math really well in IB." Not at all. However, I believe it gave me some useful skills and a good foundation on which to build my higher education.

    Well, I'm not sure you'd be setting yourself up for failure, but it would be a lot of work. Even if you could do all those things, you wouldn't have time be physically active and have a social life, which are very important things.
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