Published On: Wednesday, August 10, 2016|Categories: Education Info, Parents, Tenney Subscribers|

As the days of summer wane, it’s time to start preparing for another school year.  Even though students are basking in summer’s glory, it’s never too early to begin thinking about registering for courses and programs that will count towards college level classes or credit. High school students have three choices when it comes to obtaining college-level credit or testing out of college level courses: Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), or Dual Credit (DC). So, which one is better? Let’s take a closer look at each one and compare their strengths and weaknesses.

Advanced Placement (AP)

The AP is a U.S. backed program run by the College Board (composed of the same individuals who design and administer the SAT). Since it is backed by the United States, most U.S. colleges accept AP courses, which is an important factor to consider. The AP offers high school students a large variety of individual classes from which to choose. Courses fall in one of the following categories:

  • Capstone
  • Arts
  • English
  • History & Social Science
  • Math & Computer Science
  • World Language & Cultures

Within these broad categories are individual course selections. Students enrolled in AP courses focus on mastering particular subjects. For instance, if a student excels in math, then he or she may take an AP course in one of the math choices. After completing the course, students take an exam on that particular subject. Students’ scores range from one to five, with five being the highest possible score. A three on the exam is required in order to gain college credit or test out of the college class.

As college level courses, AP classes are more rigorous.  They require more work, independent learning, and higher level thinking than standard high school courses.  Students are allowed to take several AP courses at once.  Though each student’s capability and work ethic should factor into how many AP courses a student takes.  Mixing a difficult AP course with a lighter class load makes sense for some students.

International Baccalaureate (IB)

The IB program is international in its effort and objectives. Situated in Geneva, Switzerland, it seeks to educate students to “create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.” Students participate in this unique program across the globe. The scope of the IB program is focused heavily on the “integration of disciplines.” When a student enrolls in the IB program, they are completing a course of study that delivers a two-year diploma at the end of the program. Furthermore, the philosophy of the program is weaved throughout the curriculum, as well as the requirements. The Diploma Program (DP), specifically for students in the last two years of high school, is comprised of six core subjects, as well as the DP core. The DP core includes:

  • Theory of Knowledge (TOK)
  • Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) (150 hours)
  • Extended Essay (4,000 words)

The DP core develops the student’s understanding of “the nature of knowledge.” Additionally through the program, students flex their research skills and participate in community outreach. Upon completion of the IB, the student receives an IB Diploma.


The differences between the program goals of the AP courses and IB program is evident; the AP offers students an array of course selections that he or she may choose based on the students expertise or preference, whereas the IB program offers an entire two-year program with a diploma at the end. Furthermore, the entire philosophy or goals of each are different. The IB is international and multicultural in its focus; the AP does not make internationalism or multiculturalism a staple in its focus.

Parents and students may wonder which program is better to have for college admissions — AP or IB? Either one is considered a great boost to have on the student’s transcript. Most colleges merely want to see that the student took challenging work during high school and succeeded. Princeton is “more interested in how hard your schedule is considered at your school rather than whether you chose AP or IB.” One note, however, if you opt for the IB program, be sure you complete the full diploma program; some schools do offer individual IB courses, but colleges do not recognize this the same way they do the diploma.

Dual Credit

The last option we want to consider is the dual credit course.  When a student enrolls in a dual credit course through their high school, they actually earn college credit upon successful completion of the course. College credits for dual credit courses are awarded by community colleges like Houston Community College or Lone Star College.  The credit can be transferred to other colleges or universities. Students select courses offered at their high school based on their interest or classes that fulfill a necessary requirement for their degree. Obtaining college credit before high school saves the student time and lifts a piece of the financial burden.

As students prepare for the upcoming school year, it is a good time to put some thought into which program is best for you. The AP and IB programs may allow you to skip past college entry courses or give you credit for college level classes; the DC courses give you college credit. Students who like a more holistic, integrated approach that is rigorous and offers a highly recognized diploma at the end will benefit from the IB. Those students who need the flexibility to select courses they excel in and do not want to be “locked” into a full program, will benefit from either AP or DC. Before making a final decision, check with the colleges or universities you hope to attend. Ask them questions about how they determine eligibility for course skipping and how they view the different programs.

If you prefer video, you can check out a slightly updated video version of this article.

At Tenney School, we are committed to excellence in education and helping students achieve their goals. If you would like to discuss this topic further, please contact us today!


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