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Articles / Applying to College / Impact of Switch from IB to AP in Senior Year?
Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | May 14, 2016

Impact of Switch from IB to AP in Senior Year?

Question: How would it affect my junior student who is currently taking IB courses if he only took AP classes his senior year.

If your rising-senior son is in an International Baccalaureate Diploma program and then drops out at the end of his junior year, it will raise a flag or two for admission committees but isn't a deal-breaker. He should, however, provide an explanation of this choice, using either the “Additional Information" section of his applications or a separate letter.


Obviously, there are some explanations that will play better in admissions offices than others. For instance, if your son is opting for Advanced Placement in order to avoid the most rigorous IB classes, favoring instead some of the AP alternatives that admission folks might dub the “fluffy" ones (e.g., AP Psych, AP Econ, AP Environmental Science) then this revised schedule could hurt his chances at the colleges that are the most hyper-competitive. Even if his explanatory letter points out that these are the subjects that interest him the most and that intersect with his career goals, admission officials may be apt to publicly nod in agreement while privately inching your son's application toward the Reject pile. 🙁 However, at colleges where admission decisions are not so hairsplitting, a change like this one should have little or no negative impact.

But if your son's AP load will be as challenging as his IB classes would have been and includes heavy-hitters like AP Calculus, AP Physics, AP Chem, AP History, etc., the admission folks won't be so wary of the change, but they will still want to know why it happened. Perhaps there are logistical reasons (e.g., IB classes conflict with band, yearbook, or some other endeavor that your son is passionate about) or maybe the IB program at your son's high school is not well organized and/or the best teachers seem to be assigned to AP. These are all valid reasons for the new plan that should be reported to the colleges.

The bottom line is that your son needs to pursue the program that feels right to him, regardless of how it will be viewed in admission offices. But you also should realize that admission officials will be curious about why your son made the 11th-hour switch. You don't want them to attribute it to phantom problems such as a disagreement with a teacher or program director; frustration with the work load; even anxiety or depression, that don't actually exist at all. So make sure that your son provides his rationale for the new direction … and, ideally, it's one that emphasizes his love of learning rather than his love of wangling a little more free time. 😉

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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