When Is It Worth Taking IB Classes

When it comes to college-level classes high schoolers may take, two names stand out: Advance Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB). You may have heard that the IB is much more difficult than the AP. You may have heard, too, that competitive higher education institutions look for students who challenge themselves.

The IB program is worth it for students who wish to earn a globally recognized diploma and get into selective universities. It’s also for those who wish to have access to IB-specific scholarships and save up to 32 college credits. On the other hand, IB classes are hard and costly.

On the other hand, the IB is not worth it for students with bad study and time-management skills.

Thinking about taking IB classes instead of AP ones? Don’t stop reading now.

Below, we will discuss just about everything you need to know about the IB before you approach your high school’s IB coordinator.

There are many things you have to take into account before you start taking any IB classes. Knowing them can spell the difference between earning up to 32 college credits and having unnecessary stress and frustration.

What are the Differences Between the IB and AP?

Compared to the AP, the IB is harder and costlier. It’s also the less popular of the two, given the fact that fewer US high schools offer IB classes and fewer high schoolers take them, too. However, the IB is recognized by more colleges and universities worldwide and has a more structured program.

Before anything else, it’s a must for students planning to take IB or AP classes to know the things that set the two apart. This will allow them to have an idea of what they are about to get themselves into.

Knowing the key differences will let them know which one is more suited for their college goals.


The IB was founded in 1968 in Geneva, Switzerland. It’s an international program, which means that it focuses on global education in order to prepare high school students for a globalized society. The IB program was introduced in the US in 1971.

As of 2021, it is available in 159 countries across the planet.

On the other hand, the AP program was established in 1951 in the US by the College Board, the same organization that invented and administers the SAT. The AP was created to address concerns that US high schools were not adequately preparing students back in the Cold War.


Despite the fact that the IB is an international program from the get go, both the IB and AP are available in various countries. As mentioned earlier, the IB program can be taken by high school students in 159 countries. The AP program, in contrast, is available in just over 60 counties.

In the US, however, the AP is more popular than the IB in the sense that more secondary education institutions offer it. As a matter of fact, 22,169 high schools in the nation offer on-site AP classes. On the other hand, IB classes are offered at considerably fewer US high schools — it is available in only 931 of them.

But let’s not forget the fact that more than 5,500 high schools on the planet have the IB program.

Unfortunately, fewer high schoolers in the US take the IB. For instance, based on 2019 data, only around 166,000 high school students took it. On the contrary, over 2.8 million high school students in the US took the AP.


Besides being more international, the IB is also more structured.

For instance, IB students have to take six subjects from different subject groups, typically three from standard-level courses and three from higher-level courses. IB scores are based on both the IB exam and work done in the classroom.

Needless to say, to be able to take the IB exam, you should enroll in an IB program.

It’s a completely different story when it comes to the AP. For instance, you can take the AP exam without taking any AP classes. And speaking of which, AP classes are more flexible than IB classes — students can pick the courses they want or are interested in through an a la carte manner.


The general consensus is that IB classes are more difficult than AB classes. It doesn’t really come as a surprise since IB students have many additional requirements to complete the program.

Partaking in extracurriculars, for instance, is a must. The activities focus on creativity, action, and service (CAS).

Students enrolled in an IB program should also complete the TOK requirement. Short for Theory of Knowledge, TOK aims to encourage students to reflect on their own culture as well as the culture of others.

Then there’s also the Extended Essay, which promotes high‐level research and writing skills as well as creativity and intellectual discovery.

Related Article: Does a C in an AP Class Look Bad?


Both IB and AP exams do not come free of charge. But between the two, high school students taking the IB to complete the diploma program have to shell out more money.

An IB exam costs $119. On the other hand, an AP exam costs $94.

The difference in the cost of the IB and AP exams is not significant alright. However, it’s important to note that many US high schools have fee-waiver programs for those who wish to take the AP exam. So, in other words, if you qualify, the sticker price of taking the AP exam could be lower.

Still, keep in mind that the cost of either the IB or AP exam is lower than paying for the cost of the equivalent course in college, which means that it’s still a wise move for high schoolers from budget-conscious backgrounds.

College credits

Both IB and AP classes allow high school students to earn course credits.

However, the number of credits earned that can be transferred to a college or university will vary from one institution to the other.

For instance, some schools only give credit to IB subject grades of seven, which is the highest possible grade IB students can earn. But then there are colleges that also give credit to scores four and above.

Some colleges give more credit to one program than the other. For instance, the University of Michigan typically gives more credit for IB classes than AP classes. On the other hand, the University of Colorado Boulder gives some AP exams more credit than some IB exams.

Before taking IB or AP classes, it’s a good idea to check out the IB and AP transfer credit policies of the college or university you plan to apply to as different schools have different rules regarding this matter.

Related Article: Can You Get Into A Good School Without APs or honors?

How Many IB Classes are There?

If high-level and standard-level classes are counted separately, a total of 57 IB classes exist. The different IB classes can be categorized into six different groups. To earn IB diplomas, students must take a total of six IB classes from all groups. Some IB schools might not offer all IB courses.

Earlier, it was mentioned that more high school students take AP classes and more high schools offer AP classes. However, there are more IB courses students can choose from — 57 vs. 36.

Prior to taking the IB, if you prefer it over the AB, it’s of utmost importance to know which IB classes are available. This will allow you to see if there are courses that will go very well with your personal preferences and interests. More importantly, this will help you learn if there are courses that can help you attain your college and career goals.

The following are the different IB subject groups and the different IB classes under each one:

Studies in Language and Literature

  • Literature – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Language and Literature – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Literature and Performance – Level(s): Standard level

Language Acquisition

  • Classical Languages – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Language ab Initio – Level(s): Standard level
  • Language B – Level(s): High level and standard level

Individuals and Societies

  • Business Management – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Economics – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Geography – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Global Politics – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • History – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Information Technology in a Global Society – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Philosophy – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Psychology – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Social and Cultural Anthropology – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • World Religions – Level(s): Standard level


  • Biology – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Chemistry – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Physics – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Computer Science – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Design Technology – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Sports, Exercise and Health Science – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Environmental Systems and Societies – Level(s): Standard level


  • Analysis and Approaches – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Applications and Interpretation – Level(s): High level and standard level

The Arts

  • Dance – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Theater – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Film – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Music – Level(s): High level and standard level
  • Visual Arts – Level(s): High level and standard level

Pros and Cons of the IB

The IB program is recognized worldwide, and its curriculum is more extensive. It may also help lower the cost of going to college and accelerate the completion of a college degree. However, the IB is considered more time-consuming, challenging, and expensive than the AP.

When it comes to taking college-level classes in high school, students can choose between the IB and AP.

Each one of them has its own set of pros and cons, which is why one is more suited for certain types of high schoolers, and the other is more ideal for other types of college-bound teens. And this is why it’s a good idea to know the pluses and minuses of being an IB student before you decide to become one.

Pro #1: Global recognition

International Baccalaureate — the name alone makes it clear that the IB puts you on the global stage, which is perfect if you are considering becoming an international college student after high school.

Compared to country-specific programs, the IB is recognized by colleges and universities outside the US.

This means that your IB credits will be honored in various institutions worldwide.

However, completion of the IB program does not mean automatic admission. You will still have to get high scores if you want to get an acceptance letter.

Pro #2: Well-rounded curriculum

Earlier, it was mentioned that IB students need to choose six from among the 57 various IB classes.

However, to ensure successful completion, lazy students cannot simply opt for some of the easiest courses that they can find, which is very much possible for AP students who are not that willing to work hard.

To be able to complete the program, you will have to choose both high-level and standard-level classes.

That’s a good thing because the IB will give you the preparation you need for an increased chance of succeeding in college.

In addition, it will allow your application to look more attractive to the admissions officers of your chosen school — competitive schools have a penchant for kids who took challenging IB courses in high school.

Pro #3: Personal growth

The IB allows you to grow not only as a student but also as a human being. That’s because, unlike AP classes, IB classes also require high schoolers to partake in extracurricular activities.

CAS, which is short for creativity, action and service, is one of the main components of the IB. As the name suggests, it involves participation in activities outside the classroom that foster social and emotional development.

And because the IB is international, it allows for awareness of one’s culture and the culture of others via the TOK component.

Pro #4: Faster and cheaper college

A bachelor’s degree usually takes 120 credits.

Completing the IB program allows you to receive up to 32 credits.

If you gain admission into a college or university that offers generous course credit for both the IB diploma and individual IB exams, you could graduate at a much faster rate than students who didn’t take up the IB program or exams in high school.

For instance, Barnard College, a prestigious school in New York City that has a partnership with Columbia University, offers as many as 30 credit hours for IB diploma scores of 30 or above. The University of Michigan, on the other hand, offers 28 credit hours for IB exams with a minimum score of four.

Suppose that the college of your choice offers you 32 credits for having the IB diploma. Then you can skip taking up to ten three-credit classes, which allows you to finish college up to a year faster.

Graduating quicker is not the only perk that you might enjoy for being an IB student but also a cheaper college.

According to data from Student Loan Hero, one credit is equivalent to about $594.46. This brings the total cost of earning a degree to $71,335.20 (cost per credit x 120 credits). If your IB diploma allows you to receive the full 32 credits, you will have to pay a four-year institution $52,312.48 only!

Con #1: Difficult Classes

As mentioned earlier, the general consensus is that IB classes are usually more challenging than AP classes.

This means that you will have to work harder and be more committed if you wish to complete your IB program successfully. This is especially true since you will have to choose both high-level and standard-level classes.

Otherwise, you may wind up wasting time and money and missing rare admissions opportunities, too.

But since IB classes are generally more difficult, getting high grades can help considerably increase your chances of getting accepted into selective colleges and universities that prefer to admit students who are not afraid of challenges.

Related Article: Good Safety Schools For Ivy League Applicants

Con #2: Lengthy

Besides being more challenging than the AP, the IB also takes a longer time to complete.

Earning the IB diploma takes about two years, requiring more than 32 hours of study per week. On the other hand, all AP courses are one-year courses, which means they won’t take up much precious high school time.

As a result of this, you may have to sacrifice your social life. And if you are bad at managing time, your GPA may suffer, too, which can make your college application look detestable rather than remarkable.

Con #3: Expensive

The IB exam is slightly more expensive than the AP exam — $119 vs. $94.

However, that’s okay because the credits you will earn can help bring down the overall cost of going to a college or university that offers generous course credit for successful IB students.

The secret is choosing the right school. This is when the importance of reading IB and AP transfer credit policies comes in.

Just Before You Take IB Classes

To gain admission into some of the best colleges and universities, you need to be able to show your college readiness.

In general, having IB classes requires you to invest both time and money. However, successfully completing the program earns you course credits, which could make college cheaper and quicker. On the other hand, the IB is not worth it for students with bad study and time-management skills.

Above, we talked about the things that differentiate the IB from the AP, as well as the pros and cons of taking it. Take your time when deciding whether or not you should take college-level classes via the IB program to avoid unnecessary issues that could impact your high school performance and college experience.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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