If you’re a gifted high school student, you may be wondering if you should be taking AP, IB, or early college classes. How can you choose which gifted student path is the best for you? The answer depends on what you want to get out of the experience.

Understanding the Differences Between AP, IB, and Early College Classes

Before you can make an educated choice, you have to understand the pros and cons of these three options:

AP Classes

Advanced Placement (AP) classes are rigorous high school courses that teach college-level material at your high school. At the end of the AP course, you can pay a fee and take exams (which are prepared by the College Board) and earn college credit, as if you’d taken the course at a college. You will be graded both on a scale of 1-5, and you must get at least a 3 to pass. Some colleges will only accept a score of 4 and above if you are to get college credit, while others will accept any score over a 3.

Advantages of AP Courses:

  • You can save yourself time and money by testing out of college courses
  • Colleges view AP classes favorably, increasing your chances of getting into the college of your choice
  • Most colleges are familiar with AP courses, whereas some colleges are not well-informed about IB program courses, so there is a slight advantage to choosing the AP course route
  • AP courses can elevate your GPA significantly if you do well, since most high schools allow you to get a 5 or 6 (instead of limiting you to a 4-point GPA scale), meaning you can graduate with higher than a 4.0 GPA.

Disadvantages of AP Classes:

  • You will have to pay for the exam, which usually costs approximately $87 (although you can get a reduced fee of as low as $22 per exam if you qualify for financial aid)
  • You’ll have to work harder than when taking a typical honors course or a mainstream course (although this is the case with all three of these options)

IB Program Classes

IB courses are challenging high school courses that teach college-level material following a curriculum overseen by the International Baccalaureate Organization. At the end of the IB course, you will be graded on a scale of 1-7 (you will need at least  4 to pass the course.)

When taking IB courses, you can either take individual IB courses or pursue an IB diploma, for which you will complete a specified number of IB courses along with a 4,000-word essay and log at least 150 hours of creative, active, and community service hours.

Advantages of IB Courses

  • Most colleges will accept a score of 4 or above for college credit for specified college courses
  • You will definitely develop strong reading, researching, writing, and study skills if you participate in this rigorous program
  • Most colleges are impressed by participation in IB programs, especially of students who have earned an IB program diploma, which will increase your chances of getting into the college of your choice

Disadvantages of IB Courses

  • You may end up investing more time and energy for the same number of college class credits than you would have if you’d chosen to take either AP classes or college classes since the IB program requires extra courses, the 4,000-word essay, and 150 hours of community service and pursuit of creative activity
  • The IB program is not as well-known as the AP course program, so you may want to check to make sure the colleges of your choice recognize IB programs by researching on the IB program’s website

Early College Classes

If you live near a college that participates in the early college/high school initiative, you may be able to take college classes and receive both college and high school credit at the same time. In fact, your high school may be willing to pay for the college tuition—including your books and exam fees—making this a perfect way to get college credit while finishing your high school diploma.

You’ll need to coordinate with your high school to make sure the college classes you take also meet the high school curriculum requirements and to find out if you qualify for the program. Qualification requirements vary significantly from high school to high school, and not all schools are hooked up with colleges for this kind of opportunity.

In some areas, specific high schools are designed to offer the college classes inside the high school itself, but most high schools partner up with a local community college or state university, requiring you to travel to the college itself and take classes with other college students.

Advantages of Early College Classes

  • You’ll get both college credit and college experience
  • It’s more likely that colleges will accept those college credits (as transfer credits) than if you are asking them to accept credits earned through AP or IB courses
  • You may be able to continue on and finish your college degree at the same college, which can be a smoother transition and set you up for an easier time when you do enter college as a full time student
  • It’s possible that you could get an Associate’s degree and graduate both from college and high school at the same – which would be an entirely free college degree!

Disadvantages of Early College Classes

  • You may have to get help with transportation to and from college classes
  • You may have to take classes at odd times, since the college class schedule may conflict with your high school class schedule
  • Some of the courses you may be required to take to satisfy your high school’s requirements (P.E. or health courses, for example) may not help you towards your chosen college degree, and yet you’ll still be working much harder in those classes than you would have if you’d taken the high school equivalent
  • You will be in class with people who are anywhere from 2 to 6 years older than you, which can be intimidating

How to Choose?

You’ll need to determine which of the three options will best meet your needs. Are you looking to improve your academic skills as much as possible and get into a very competitive college? Then the IB program may be exactly what you need. Are you looking to get as much free college as possible or cut down the length of time between now and getting your Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree? Then the AP or early college classes may be a better option for you. Ask your high school counselor to help you choose, but keep in mind all three options—AP, IB, and early college—will put you ahead of the class, no matter which you choose.

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