The International Baccalaureate Program (IB) is a two-year program of study. It is made up of thirteen courses and an extended essay. Less tangible requirements are creativity, action and service.
IB is a good choice for students who wish to pursue a well-rounded course of study that includes classroom work and outside projects, all of which may help you get into Harvard or Stanford.
The Advanced Placement Program (AP) is made up of eighteen independent courses of study. It is a good choice for students who may excel only in certain academic disciplines.
The main difference between the IB and AP program for Ivy League Admissions is that the IB program has program requirements that you have to complete, whereas the AP program is a lot more flexible.
With Advanced Placement you can choose to take all the AP History classes. If math isn’t your best subject, you can choose not to take AP Calculus. There’s more flexibility, and you take a standardized test at the end of the year.
IB is a more holistic program in that you have to fulfill the various areas of study. You have to take English, you have to take history, you have to take a math, a language, and a science. With International Baccalaureate you take a standardized test at the end of the year, but you’re also required to complete six tests from certain areas.
The other thing that IB requires you to do besides the end of the year test is an outside project for each of the classes.
For IB math you do outside math projects – something that schools like Harvard may be impressed by. For sciences you do what’s called a Group 4 Project where you have to write your own experiments.
The biggest addition to the IB program is the extended essay which is a ten to twelve-page paper on a topic of your choosing. It’s a research paper that you write over the course of your junior and senior year.
International Baccalaureate contains a lot of outside activity that AP doesn’t, as well as a structure that you have to follow and fulfill by taking specific classes. That’s the difference in workload.
As far as the difference in value as college prep goes, I don’t see a major difference.
I do think that that IB may look better on your college application, especially on the common app. As a part of the recommendation form that your recommender has to fill out, they have to check a box saying whether or not you took the most difficult classes that you could at your school.
IB is a generally more challenging curriculum to follow. If you take only AP classes and didn’t take IB classes, naturally, your recommender couldn’t check the box on the application that indicates IB courses were taken. That’s really the only concrete thing IB does for you. On the other hand, your school may not offer both programs, or may have a school specific substitute for the IB.
In a less tangible way, IB is helpful in your personal growth and confidence. In retrospect, looking back at where I am in college now, writing the extended essay was really helpful because when I had my first ten-page paper to write in my freshman year at college, it wasn’t as daunting as it would’ve been if I had never written a paper that was that long.
So you may accrue a few extra skills with the IB program, but I think it really depends on whether the you think you can handle the program.
If you can’t, it’s much smarter to go the AP route so you’re not taking tests that you know won’t reflect well on your academic character.
All in all, when you are choosing whether to take IB courses or AP, it all boils down to really knowing your strengths. Determine how much you want to challenge yourself, and make sure the challenges address your strengths.
Also, be sure not to stretch yourself too thin by giving yourself a heavy GPA workload! This will cause your final results to be less than desirable.