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Articles / Applying to College / AP vs. IB ... Any New Thoughts?

AP vs. IB ... Any New Thoughts?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Sept. 26, 2013

Question: While I know that this question has been asked before, it was quite a few years ago and since there is constant change, I want to ask it again. Do colleges have a preference for IB over AP or the other way around in their admission process?

No preference whatsoever.

Well, admittedly, some admission officials (whether they’ll say so or not) bring their own prejudices to the committee-room table. This applies to everything from favorite band instruments to favorite sports to political or even religious views, and it may occasionally apply to seemingly comparable curricular options as well.

But when it comes to considering one approach (IB or AP) more rigorous and/or desirable than the other, most admission officials are neutral.

One warning, however, is that not all AP classes are created equal. In the eyes of admission folks … at least at the snootier schools … some AP classes such as psych, art, and econ aren’t valued as highly as the sciences or calculus. Even AP Stats (which my own son is taking right now) is considered something of a poor-relation in the AP world. I personally feel that it’s a very valuable class, especially for students who go on to major in fields such as business or psychology. And certainly many math teachers have argued the same. But, even so, like Rodney Dangerfield, AP Stats doesn’t get a whole ton of respect from many admission officers (except perhaps those who took it themselves and know better).

So an applicant who has pursued an AP program that is top-heavy with the more “lightweight” AP classes would probably take a back seat to a candidate doing the full IB diploma. But, in most cases, it doesn’t matter which route a student follows as long as he or she has successfully taken on academic challenges.

But, since you were speaking of “constant change,” you should also keep in mind that some colleges seem to periodically revise their policies on credits awarded for AP and IB exam results. So this is one area where one program might trump the other at a particular institution. However, because most students who have a choice between AP and IB make their decision long before they know which college they’ll attend, and because these colleges do amend their policies from time to time, it probably makes little sense to plot the academic course of a 14-year-old based on how many college credits might be awarded down the road.

The vast majority of high school students don’t get the AP vs. IB choice anyway. But, for those who do, personal preference and logistics (e.g., attending the nearby high school with busing and not the more distant one without it) should rule the day.


Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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