The International Baccalaureate program and Advanced Placement courses are both beneficial for a high school curriculum, preparing gifted students for the rigors and rewards of college-level learning. Both are designed to provide a more advanced intellectual experience not usually offered in a high school curriculum. However, there are differences between the two both in structure and learning style. As students’ learning strategies and strengths vary, success will largely come down to matching the student with the right program.

Structure of IB Program

The International Baccalaureate program is a multiyear diploma program for students interested in a well-rounded gifted education. It is designed to be broad and comprehensive, incorporating the six disciplines of Studies in Language and Literature, Language Acquisition, Individuals and Societies, Sciences, Mathematics and the Arts. Because the program is a global enterprise, students can study and take exams in English, French or Spanish, and the exams are scored internationally.

Structure of Advanced Placement Program

The AP program is United States-based, and offers a college-level curriculum and examinations for particular subjects. As of 2013, there are over 30 examination subjects, from chemistry and Latin to music theory, Russian language and culture, and studio art. Many high schools offer AP courses; however, home-schooled or students unable to take AP courses in school are also able to take the exams. The exams are taken locally and sent to the Educational Testing Service for scoring. AP courses and exams are good options for students who wish to only take certain subjects at a higher level.

Coursework and Curriculum

The IB curriculum is designed to be more integrated and comprehensive. It includes one subject from each of the disciplines except arts, then one additional subject either in arts or another from the first five disciplines. Degree candidates also need to complete a Theory of Knowledge course requirement, an extended essay of up to 4,000 words, and a Creativity, Action and Service requirement of 150 hours. With some taught over a span of two years, IB courses tend to go at a different pace than AP courses, to foster more in-depth intellectual exploration. AP courses are more like college introductory survey courses, and move at a rapid pace to provide a broader view of the subject area. Many courses from both AP and IB require large amounts of reading and higher-level analytical thinking. The IB program has greater emphasis on writing skills, and all of its exams are written. The IB exam score is compiled from both the written exam and the student's performance in the course. The AP score is based solely on the exam.

College Preparation

AP and IB credentials are essentially equal in terms of college course equivalents in the United States, and students from both programs get a large boost of confidence in college preparedness. However, if a student is interested in getting a degree from an institute of higher learning outside the United States, the IB diploma will be more universally accepted around the world. Because the IB program focuses so much more on writing skills and in-depth analytical thinking, many professors think this diploma will help students be better prepared for college. However, for students with particular disciplinary goals in mind for college study, the singular AP courses and exams might be more helpful.