Both the International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement programs offer challenging courses to prepare students for college. While there are many similarities in the type of courses offered between the two programs, students should pay attention to the differences in curriculum and decide which program best fits their individual needs.

The IB Program

Under the International Baccalaureate Organization’s curriculum, students pursue an IB diploma that incorporates a global perspective and focuses on intensive writing and research. The program is a two-year commitment beginning junior year and does not provide much flexibility to deviate due to its uniform, worldwide requirements. Students are responsible for completing core curriculum requirements, consisting of a Theory of Knowledge course, a 4,000-word essay on a topic of their choice and community service. In addition, students must take one subject from each of five areas: language, science, math, literature, and individuals and society. Students must also take an additional subject from the arts or one of the other five areas and at least three higher-level courses in one of these areas. Students who do not advance past the standard level courses, or who would like to take individual IB courses, receive the IB certificate -- instead of the diploma -- after taking a minimum of two IB diploma courses. Once students have completed a course, they can take the corresponding standard level or higher level IB exam to gain college credit.

The AP Program

AP courses adhere to a U.S.-based curriculum created by the College Board. These courses tend to cover topics at a rapid pace to prepare students for final examinations to gain college credit. While students do not have to take core curriculum courses like the IB program requires, they must demonstrate to school officials through previous coursework that they can handle the rigors of the AP curriculum. Students can choose from over 30 lecture-based courses, including calculus, history, physics and studio art. Students who score sufficiently well on the AP exams can gain college credit. Based on a combination of exam performance and number of exams taken, students may, in addition, receive the AP Scholar, AP Scholar with Distinction or AP Scholar with Honor award.

Difference in Exams

While students who take an IB exam must have taken the corresponding IB class, any student may take an AP exam and does not have to have been previously enrolled in the corresponding course. IB and AP exams are graded on seven-point and five-point scales, respectively, with a score of 1 being the lowest. Colleges typically award college credit for IB scores of 5 or higher and AP scores of 3 or higher.

Choosing Your Program

Choosing the most ideal program depends upon a student’s learning style. Students who prefer a more hands-on, research-based approach to learning may find the IB program best fits their needs. Students who prefer a more structured, lecture-based curriculum may find the AP program best for them. Whichever program a student chooses, he can rest assured that both programs will provide him with the critical thinking and writing skills necessary to succeed in college.