AP vs. IB: from the student’s point of view

By Diana Kesablyan

Junior year is known to be the most important year for students interested in a four-year college. Knowing the significance of the upcoming year, some students may not know their next steps, and what is right for them. Two rigorous choices to consider are advanced placement (AP) courses and the International Baccalaureate (IB program). 

IB Coordinator Sean Lewis and AP Capstone coordinator Spencer Wolf have begun their “advertisements” to sophomore classrooms, explaining the benefits of each program. The latest was AP/IB Night which recruited future students. While both programs promote a rigorous curriculum, and do brief the students of what they would be signing up for, the information we are given may not be all that we need to decide the course of our final two years of high school. 

The IB program promises community, critical thinking, and collaboration. AP Capstone promises a fast paced and individualistic academic achievement. What the two both pledge to guarantee is college credit, success, and an attractive resumé. 

In order to explore the implications of joining one or the other, I sought to find those who have experienced the programs. 

International Baccalaureate 

Being a part of IB does look good on college applications, but only if you hold yourself accountable for your work and actions. The classes are difficult, and you are surrounded by intimidatingly intelligent students. However, the culture within IB classrooms makes it a collaborative academic experience, and you truly become part of the IB community. You are with the same kids in all of your classes, everyone helps each other out. You also have the constant guidance and support of your teachers and coordinators. 

“I feel comfortable and accepted in all of my classes, which is crucial to my performance and engagement in the subject. This program has offered a lot, but most importantly, it’s given me the opportunity to create irreplaceable memories that will surely bring me nostalgia in the future. In IB, you know you’re going to be challenged, but you also know that there are other students like you who are going through the same pressure,” IB Diploma Candidate and senior Wonseo Jang said. 

However, this isn’t the case for everyone. As a result of online school, and the unique academic style and approach to education, many first year IB students decided that IB was not the right path for them. 

“I didn’t feel the sense of community that I thought I would, and I think it’s partly due to how I experienced IB online. However, because I met two of my best friends, I did find community to some extent, but definitely not in the way and on the scale I imagined,” former IB student and senior Subah Awal said. 

Despite this, both students agreed that IB has helped them improve their own character, and shaped them into the people they are today. 

“Even though the program didn’t turn out to be everything I wanted it to be, it taught me a great deal about myself and taught me valuable knowledge and skills that have been super useful to me in completing college applications, as well as in my current academic courses, and life in general,” Awal said. 

“Through this program, I’ve been able to work on my communication skills and also work on my self-discipline, two aspects of my character that are extremely important to me,” Jang said. 

It is also important to consider other opportunities that IB provides. The community service project (CAS) promotes engagement in the community and enriches a student’s personal growth while allowing them the creativity to explore their interests. A student can also volunteer to be a member of the IBN, the IB student-led newsletter. 

Finally, both Awal and Jang had words of advice (and warning) for students interested in participating in the program. 

“Please do more research before choosing a program. Don’t be like me and base your decision purely on how you feel in the present moment because the program might not be what you expect,” Awal said. 

“There is no set of rules on who can and can’t join IB, but I will warn that not all students graduate with the blue IB stole around their neck. The best advice I can give is to throw away your notions about a class environment before you walk into IB. It’s different from your other classes and if you expect it to be the same, you’ll be sorely but pleasantly disappointed. I hope that prospective students looking to join IB will take it seriously. If you apply, apply with a purpose. It helps you take yourself seriously, too,” Jang said. 

AP Capstone

Much like IB, AP Capstone looks good on your college applications because of its rigor and recognized level of difficulty. The flexibility of AP Capstone allows the student to take the classes they want, as long as they complete the required AP courses. In AP Capstone, you are not guaranteed to have all your classes with the same group of kids. Finally, the research skills attained from taking AP Capstone are sure to serve as an advantage to students as they enter college. This research aspect of AP Capstone captures the interest of many students because they are allowed the outlet to learn more about what they are personally passionate about. 

“Something that I think that I gained from being a part of the program would be my research skills. Something that you do a lot of in AP Capstone is read complex academic articles in order to support your project, and I think that these skills will be really useful in college,” AP Capstone student and senior Kailyn Maranan said. 

The practicality of AP Capstone, which promises a GPA boost and complex research skills, proves to be extremely beneficial for students.

Despite the freedom of the class schedule that AP Capstone provides, it may not be the best option for those with an extremely busy personal agenda. 

“I chose to join AP Capstone due to the flexibility of the course. I was able to continue taking classes I was interested in, while taking an additional class required for Capstone. However, the reason I decided to leave the program was not the rigor of the course, but what I was involving myself coming into my senior year. I am currently in a sport and the officer of two clubs. I did not want to overestimate my abilities by trying to handle such responsibilities. Because of that, I made the choice to leave so I would not burn out early in the year or overwhelm myself,” former AP Capstone student and senior Andrea Pauline Rodriguez said.  

One benefit of AP Capstone is its transparency. What you see is what you get with the program, as explained by both Maranan and Rodriguez. 

“I think it was pretty much what it was promised to be. I expected it to be a program where we would be able to learn different skills that are transferable to my future, and I think I found that in AP Capstone,” Maranan said. 

“The Capstone program was everything I thought it would be. From the multiple research papers to the presentations. While it was an overwhelming amount of information, it was expected,” Rodriguez said .

Making the Decision

The two programs, as rigorous and difficult as they may be, both provide personal growth and an opportunity for individual advancement. The decision should not be one based on purely academic validation or the need to look like a perfect college candidate. Rather, it is important to know what is best for you, and what you are capable of performing.