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Let’s Get A Head Start: IB, AP, and More, ... Which Path Works Best for You? | AA Articles

Updated: Apr 3, 2022

By Swamini Patel

Let’s be honest, making decisions in high school is not exactly fun. Every school year consists of around 185 days, which happens four times over, meaning we have about 740 days to spend in high school. These 740 days can have some of the most grueling experiences of our lives, or the most memorable. However, making choices on the classes you will be taking for each of these days is something that is stressful for almost everyone. The options can be overwhelming, ranging from Advanced Placement classes to attending college at 16 through Dual Enrollment programs. But, we’ve learned that getting advice from others who’ve taken these different paths can always make this process go easier. So, here’s some guidance on finding what path would work best for you:

Advanced Placement (AP):


  • AP classes are college-level courses run by the national nonprofit organization, College Board.

  • AP courses and exams are available for students to take in high school. Some students opt to self-study and only take the exam.

  • Because this is an American establishment, AP classes are available almost everywhere throughout the U.S. and recognized in several other countries as well.

  • These classes can range on level of rigor based on the class you choose, but they are guaranteed to be more work than other standard and honors classes.

Testing [a.k.a. AP Exams]

  • These are the final exams of AP courses.

  • They usually take place around early to mid-May.

  • They are timed (ranging from 90 minutes to 3 hours and 15 minutes), and scored 1 to 5.

    • 1 and 2 are failing

    • 3 to 5 are passing

  • Tests can consist of:

    • Free Response Questions (FRQs)

      • These are part of almost every course and can range from doing long math problems for AP Calculus, to writing long essay responses for AP US History.

    • Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs)

    • Performance Tasks



Credit: AP credit in college is dependent on the school you attend, however, the general pattern is that the higher up in ranking the school is, the less likely the credits will be accepted.

For example, let’s say your dream school is UNC Chapel Hill. There is a large variety of AP scores that will be accepted at this school and you typically only need to have scored a 3 to earn some credit.

Now, let’s say your dream school is Harvard. Even if you get 5s on all of your AP exams, credit is not guaranteed to transfer. That’s not to say don’t take APs if you want to go to Harvard. In fact, they want to see that you’re challenging yourself academically.

Variety: There are 38 AP courses offered.

There is an extremely large selection of AP classes available to students, several in each subject of study. View all courses here.

Many schools either do not provide certain AP classes, or limit the number a student can take per year or semester.

College Applications:

Colleges appreciate rigor and seeing you challenge yourself.

AP classes are always great to have for not only the credit, but to display that you are a hard-working student. They can show excellence in academics and prove your worth to colleges.

Nowadays, taking a few or even over 20 AP classes does not guarantee you admission. They can’t hurt, but they don’t necessarily always help.

All in all, AP is a path many have taken and made great success in. Luke Drago (@reallukedrago), a History & Politics student at Oxford University says that AP classes “taught [him] how to write, how to research, and how to problem solve.”

As for some general advice as a former AP student myself:

  • These courses can be a great way to get the less enjoyable college requirements out of the way (e.g. US History, English, and the dreaded physics!). If you take them now, in college, you can have time to focus on your interests instead or even graduate early.

  • AP courses can help not only those who know what to pursue, but also allow for those who don’t know to get a chance to explore different fields and careers.

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International Baccalaureate (IB):


  • The IB is an internationally based educational organization that raises globally aware, communicative students.

  • These classes are not seen everywhere in the U.S., but there are still countless schools that offer them. IB is present internationally, meaning what you learn in an IB class in the state of say, California, would be the same content taught in IB classes in France.

The Diploma Programme:

  • The Diploma Programme is an extremely rigorous, in-depth path to earning your IB diploma.

  • In this program, you must take a minimum of 3 Higher Level Classes, and the rest at Standard Level.

    • Higher Level, or HL classes are the same as SL ones, but with a few more units, and a curriculum that goes more in depth into the subject.

    • With 3 HL classes, there are 4 SL ones left. You take 7 of these college-level classes for 2 years.

    • One of these classes is only seen within IB: Theory of Knowledge.

      • In this course you will question: How do you know what you claim you know?

  • In this program, you have the same teachers, classmates, and classes, allowing for great long-term relationships (hint hint, recommendations!!).

  • This program takes a holistic approach where in the end you will be comfortable in every subject area.

  • If you aren’t a fan of the mindless memorization found in some classes, IB is just for you!

    • The assignments and examinations are primarily open-ended, and you learn to analyze.

You need to score a minimum of 24 points out of 45 to earn the diploma.

  • This score is determined through exams which consist of oral presentation, essay writing, and research.

  • Scored out of 7 (4 out of 7 is average/passing)


  • Okay, that was definitely a lot to handle at once, BUT the advantages to this program may sway you further in the direction of this program.

1. College credit, or more specifically, the rate of its acceptance is almost identical to how AP credit transfer works.

  • Even if you are not able to get the credit for your IB class, by saying you attempted and succeeded in the most rigorous program offered at your school, you can distinguish yourself from other students applying.

2. Your writing and communication skills will develop to college level.

  • Writing papers in college will become a breeze for many who make it through IB.

3. IB classes are weighted the same as APs (an A means a 5.0 weighted). So, taking 7 of these classes for 2 years will for sure boost your GPA.

4. The IB requires special projects including a college-level research paper called the Extended Essay and a service project called the CAS Project. These can differentiate you from others when applying to college.

  • As an IB Diploma Programme student myself, the IB has helped me not only improve in academics, but also as an individual--emotionally and socially.

  • To learn more about this Program, click here.

  • For some personalized advice, check out our interviews with IB Alum, Noelle Sorich and Daniel S.

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Dual Enrollment


  • Dual Enrollment is offered at almost every school in the U.S. This is essentially where high school students can take local community college classes to get ahead.

Things to Consider:

  1. Taking either online, hybrid, or in-person college courses (depending on your school) can save tons of time and money during undergrad, but it is very important to check beforehand if your credits will transfer to the college you wish to attend.

  2. Although these classes may not be the most rigorous, they are weighted the same as AP and IB classes. If you need an easy weighted GPA boost, this is the way to go.

  3. Because you are enrolling in a college, you will likely get your choice of professor. Aspects like these allow you to get that early college experience.

  4. If you choose the right pathway and complete your classes through your local community college, you can also get your associate's degree in high school! In college, you can graduate early as well.

  5. It may be hard to build long term relationships because students in your age group would not be in this environment.

Mojo Joshua Sonola, an alum of California Institute of Technology, speaks about his experiences with Dual Enrollment here.

Here is some personal feedback from our very own Secretary, Siya Patel, who is a Dual Enrollment student currently pursuing her Associate’s Degree in Science:

“This path has helped me save money and time for my future in college, and the manageable workload has really helped me decrease my stress. I’ve definitely improved my time management skills as well.”

* * * * * * * * * *

and more….


  • If none of these caught your interest, don’t fret! There are countless other options you can pursue.

  • If you know what career you wish to pursue, check out:

    • Magnet schools

      • Enrollment in Magnet schools accelerates your education in your career interest, forming a specialized schooling system to send you on the best path for your interests.

      • Mojo Joshua Sonola, also a Dual Enrollment Alum, simultaneously took part in the Wheeler High School magnet program. For experiences and tips on pursuing a magnet school or program, check out his interview here.

  • Trying to get ahead? Try:

    • Middle College

      • A part of Dual Enrollment, attending Middle College consists of taking only college courses. Throughout grades 11-12 and your first year of college, you can simultaneously get your high school diploma and cut out a few years of college with that.

* * * * * * * * * *

Overall, all of these options can be beneficial in their own way. Now that we’ve given you the inside scoop on what each provides, it is up to you to choose what fits your learning style and goals best. And hey, no big deal if the first choice you make isn’t the right one - learning from your experiences is what high school is all about!

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Want more advice to succeed in high school? Find out what works for you by subscribing to our *NEW* newsletter, AlumniAlert (seconds issue out December!).

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