Which Is Better, AP or IB?
Taking a number of AP classes or participating in the full IB Diploma Programme will almost certainly be considered “most rigorous” in terms of college admissions. Admissions officers view both programs as equally rigorous and do not prefer one over the other. So if you’re primary concern is colleges’ perceptions of the rigor of the program, you’re safe either way.
The primary difference between AP and IB is that IB is a structured program while AP is not. You can pick and choose the AP courses you want to take and even taken AP exams without having taken an AP class (see self-studying). With IB, however, you take three standard level (SL) and three higher level (HL) or two SL and four HL. Higher level courses are considered to be at the college level.
The IB program stresses critical thinking, writing, and development of the whole person far more than AP. It requires extended essays and community service. At many schools, IB classes will last two years. IB tends to focus more on depth while AP tends to focus more on breadth. When you successfully complete the IB program you receive a specialized IB Diploma. AP has no diploma though it does have awards for students who perform well on numerous exams.
Typically, HL courses are the only ones for which colleges will grant credit. However, you can earn credit for most AP courses at the majority of colleges and universities. Since IB students are limited to only two or three HL courses, students can earn credit for those two or three exams. Students who participate in AP can earn sometimes up to 12 or more exams worth of credit.
That said, students who are part of the IB program have the option of taking a few AP courses here and there. Students who are not part of the IB program though typically do not have the option to take just one or two IB courses.
In summary, AP and IB are both demanding college preparatory programs. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Given that college admissions officers view the programs as comparable, you should pick the program that suits your own needs and interests.