Advanced Placement®, International Baccalaureate® Programs, and Dual Enrollment
Earning college credit simultaneously with high school credit--through Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), or Dual Enrollment/ Dual Credit programs--is a great way for academically gifted students to demonstrate their talents and tenacity to competitive college admissions departments.
Furthermore, the successful completion of these classes also allows students to bypass the mundane, entry-level lectures that their not-as-fortunate college freshman classmates will have to endure. Bypassing these basic classes not only allows students to explore more interesting offerings, but it can also potentially save generous parents tens of thousands of dollars.
Why Take Advanced-Track Courses
Academically gifted and talented students should strongly consider taking advantage of their school’s most rigorous course offerings. This suggestion is based off of at least three reasons:
Advanced classes feed a student's desire to learn more information at a deeper level. Advanced classes move faster than their counterparts. The faster pace of these classes allows teachers to cover more topics at a deeper level. For example, an on-track biology class might read about frog anatomy out of a book while an honors class has time to read the book and actually dissect the frog in a lab.
Selective colleges favor students who challenge themselves. According to the College Board, the not for profit administrator of the AP program, 85% of selective colleges and universities report that taking Advanced Placement courses improves their chances of admission. When reviewing applicants, colleges and universities examine the courses that students take in high school. Understanding the additional effort that goes into succeeding in advanced offerings, they favor students who enroll in more difficult classes.
Sometimes enrolling in more difficult classes results in lower grades. However, most high schools recognize this fact and calculate grade point averages (GPA) accordingly. For example, a school grading on a 4 point scale (A=4.0, B=3.0, C=2.0) may in fact give additional points for an honors or Advanced Placement class (A=5.0). Even if a high school does not award such bonuses, colleges are more likely to appreciate an applicant earning A’s and B’s in advanced classes versus a student earning solid A’s in on-track classes.
Students can earn college credit for classes taken in high school. Students enrolling in Advanced Placement and/or International Baccalaureate classes are studying entry-level college material. At the completion of the class, students have the option to take an independently administered examination. Successfully completing this exam can lead to earning equivalent credits in college. For example, if a student takes the AP Exam in Computer Science A and scores a 4 or 5 (out of 5), the University of Texas at Austin will award credit for having taken its CS 312 class, a three credit hour class. A student could therefore enroll at a college as a sophomore (usually 30+ credit hours) without having taken one class (or paying tens of thousands of dollars) at the college.
Introduction to the AP and IB Programs
The Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs are the two most widely offered and recognized methods for obtaining college credit for demonstrated performance in high school classes. The American non-profit organization College Board administers the Advanced Placement (AP) program; this is the same organization that administers the PSAT and SAT standardized tests. The College Board offers two programs, the Springboard Pre-AP Program for middle school students and the flagship Advanced Placement college-credit program for high school students. The Swiss non-profit foundation International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) administers the International Baccalaureate (IB) programs. The IBO offers four main programs depending on age: Primary Years Programme (PYP), Middle Years Programme (MYP), and the flagship Diploma and Certificate Programmes.
The History of AP and IB Programs
The Advanced Placement Program dates back to the end of World War II, when the Ford Foundation funded two committees to help bridge the gap between secondary and higher education. The first committee included prestigious prep schools Andover, Exeter, and Lawrenceville and universities Harvard, Yale, and Princeton; the committee concluded that secondary schools and colleges should work together. The second committee was tasked with figuring out how these schools and universities should work together. The product of their labor was an 11 subject pilot program in 1952, which was then handed over to the College Board for administration beginning in 1955. Today, more than one million US high school students participate in the AP program every year.
The International Baccalaureate Organization dates back to 1948 when the “Conference on International-Minded Scholars” asked the International School of Geneva (Ecolint) to create an international schools program. The initiative gained strength when the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) provided a $2500 grant in 1962 (and later another $10,000) to organize an international conference of teachers about the idea. In 1964, three influential men in education—Alec Peterson of Oxford University, Harlan Hanson of the College Board AP Program, and Desmond Cole of the UN International School—came together and founded the International Schools Examination Syndicate (ISES). This project gained more support when the Twentieth Century Fund commissioned a report to establish an international education curriculum and examination system for international schools. The Ford Foundation funded additional studies on international education. This research finally culminated in a reorganization of the ISES into the International Baccalaureate Council of Foundation, which ultimately saw the IB organization headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland in 1968. Today there are over 900,000 IB students across more than 140 countries.
Pre-AP & IB For Elementary and Middle School Students
Springboard® is the College Board’s official Pre-AP Program designed for students in grades 6-12. The curriculum only includes guidance for English Language Arts and Mathematics. Springboard is specifically designed to prepare more and a greater diversity of students for the college-level difficulty of AP courses in high school without the need for future remediation. The College Board does not endorse “locally developed” courses as being labeled “Pre-AP.”
The IB Primary Years Programme (PYP) is designed for students aged 3-12. The curriculum is designed around six core subjects: language, social studies, mathematics, arts, science, and physical/ social/ personal education. The curriculum emphasizes an inquiry-based approach to learning and international-mindedness while being flexible enough for local schools to accommodate state requirements. The PYP is designed to prepare students for the Middle Years Programme (MYP). The IB Middle Years Programme (MYP) is designed for students aged 11 to 16. The curriculum is designed around eight core subjects: language and literature in the student's native language, a second language, humanities, sciences, mathematics, arts, physical education, and technology. Similar to the IB Diploma, students in their final year of the MYP must also complete an independent project in a self-selected area of interest. The MYP curriculum emphasizes students making a connection between their studies and current events to become “creative, critical, and reflective thinkers.” The MYP is designed to prepare students to continue to the Diploma or Career-related Certificate program in high school.
AP Program Fundamentals
The AP program offers high-school curriculums and examinations in approximately 34 subjects ranging from Calculus and Physics to Latin, Human Geography, and Studio Art. Schools participating in the program typically do not offer all 34 subjects. The standard offering for Houston private schools is approximately 10-15 classes.
Any student taking any class (including home-school students) can pay the approximately $80 fee to take an AP examination at a registered testing site. However, most Houston schools have rules about who can take what classes and exams. For example, some schools will not allow freshmen and sophomores to take AP classes at all while other schools may require students to earn certain grades in the class before sitting for an exam.
AP examinations are standardized tests administered at approved testing sites, which may include the host school. They are administered in early May and scored on a scale of 1 to 5, with the highest score being a 5. A score of 3 is passing, although many selective colleges and universities require a score of 4 or 5 to earn college credit. Rice University requires scores of 4 or 5. The University of Texas at Austin accepts a range of scores (as low as 2 for German); however, higher scores allow students to place out of a wider range of classes.
Schools wishing to offer Advanced Placement® titled classes must submit their curricula to the College Board for approval. However, even if a curriculum is not approved, students may still sit for the AP exam, oftentimes at their school, without being enrolled in certified classes.
IB Diploma Programme Fundamentals
The IB Diploma Programme is a comprehensive two-year program for juniors and seniors. To successfully attain the Diploma, students must complete three core requirements and six subject courses. The subject courses are divided into Standard Level (SL) and Higher Level (SL). Generally, students take three SL classes and three HL classes, although individual school requirements or offerings may vary. Only one of the core requirements, Theory of Knowledge, is an actual class. All subject courses culminate in a final, standardized examination.
The core requirements are Extended Essay (EE); Theory of Knowledge (TOK); and Creativity, Action, Service (CAS). Extended Essay is an independent research paper. The Theory of Knowledge class is the one course that all IB students around the world are required to take; it is a kind of philosophical introduction to the practice of learning. CAS is the extra-curricular component of the IB Diploma; it mandates that students participate in activities such as community service and sports. A counterweight to pure academics, CAS is not a class but a general expectation that students will spend approximately 3-4 hours a week involving themselves in non-academic endeavors.
Students are required to take six subject courses. More than 50 course offerings are divided into six groups: 1) Language A1 (native language) 2) Second Language 3) Individuals and Societies 4) Experimental Sciences 5) Mathematics and Computer Science 6) The Arts. Students must take one class from categories 1-5 and select the sixth from any of the six categories. Although Diploma candidates are required to take three Higher Level classes, they may take more if their school and schedules allow.
Students earn points for each of the six IB classes ranging from 1-7; additionally they may also earn up to three more points for the core requirements for a maximum possible score of 42. 24 points are required to graduate, with at least 12 coming from Higher Level Subjects, 9 from Standard Level, and 3 from core requirements. Scores of 4 and above on the exams are considered passing and generally make the student eligible for college credit. More selective universities generally require a score of six or above. Rice University only grants credit for scores of 6 and 7, and only on Higher Level exams. The University of Texas awards credit for a range of scores but generally requires a score of 4 or above on either Standard Level or Higher Level classes.
A Note About the IB Certificate:
Students attending schools that offer the IB Diploma Programme may usually take IB classes but not pursue the full Diploma requirements. In this way, they may pick and choose classes just as they would if they were participating in the AP program. Students pursuing this route earn an “IB Certificate” for each Standard Level or Higher Level exam that they successfully complete.
Differences Between AP and IB
The AP program follows a “pick and choose” philosophy for both schools and students. Schools can decide what classes they will offer, and students can then select from those offerings. Alternatively, students at schools without any AP classes can still prepare for and take AP exams.
The IB Diploma Programme is a curriculum and holistic teaching philosophy. Schools offering the curriculum must be prepared to offer the full Diploma curriculum. Classes must emphasize internationalism. The core curriculum is what most differentiates the IB Diploma. However, the IB Certificate is very similar to the AP’s à la carte methodology.
Students seeking the greatest number of college credits will probably be better served with the AP curriculum. As it was established in the United States and is older than the IB program, American universities are more likely to award credit for it in a wider number of courses than they would the for IB program.
For example, Rice University accepts only IB Upper Level exam scores and offers nearly twice the number of aggregate credits for AP exams than it does for IB exams. If a college only accepts Upper Level exams, then an IB student is probably looking at no more than 9 to 12 credit hours (3-4 exams earning 3 hours each) versus an AP student who could theoretically take all 34 of the offered exams and earn more than 90 hours of credit. However, some IB schools will allow students to take more than three Upper Level courses, thus enabling them to earn more college credits.
IB Diploma recipients attending public colleges and universities in Texas, Florida, Colorado, and California are guaranteed a minimum of 24 hours of credit because of state legislation. Because of this legislation and increasing awareness, colleges are liberalizing their attitudes toward IB credit. Additionally, while many universities overseas award credit for the AP program, IB acceptance is more widespread worldwide.
Breadth of Offerings
The IB program offers more choices, more than 50 to AP’s approximately 35. In particular, schools offering IB programs generally offer literature courses in a student's native language, which can be taken online and through independent study if a fluent teacher is not available at the school. However, each school’s actual offerings will vary.
The AP and IB programs are both excellent ways for students to study at a deeper level, push themselves, and earn college credit. Realistically, once admitted to a school, students will unlikely have the option to choose between the two programs as the school will have already made the choice. (Exception being that anyone can take an AP exam). Regardless, parents and students cannot go wrong with either program.
An Alternative Option: Dual Enrollment/ Dual Credit
Dual enrollment, generally speaking, is the practice of taking college courses while in high school, often at little or no cost. Some students who take dual enrollment courses get special dispensations from their guidance counselors to do so; others are able to take college courses through organized dual enrollment programs at their schools. Still others may enroll in schools that center entirely on dual enrollment - like the Texas Academy of Math and Science (TAMS), where students in grades 11-12 live on the campus of the University of North Texas and take courses there.
In addition to TAMS, a number of high schools profiled by the Houston School Survey offer dual enrollment programs. Public schools offering dual enrollment include Bellaire, DeBakey, HSPVA, Lamar, Reagan, and Westside. Private schools offering dual enrollment include Fort Bend Christian, Incarnate Word, Marine Military, St. Pius X, Strake Jesuit, and Westbury Christian.
At most of these schools, public and private, dual enrollment is specifically offered in partnership with the nearest campus of Houston Community College. Notable exceptions are Marine Military, which partners with Southmost College, and Westbury Christian, which has protocols in place to allow students to dually enroll as part-time or even full-time students in any local university which accepts them.
At most schools which have organized dual enrollment programs - including all such HISD schools - the dual credit courses available to students are actually taught on the high school’s campus. The teacher may be a professor from the partner college or a teacher from the school that has been certified by the partner college to teach that specific course.
At the HISD schools which offer dual enrollment, it is available to all juniors and seniors who apply and are accepted to HCC, and who also meet the academic qualification requirements detailed here. While private school policies vary, they typically follow this basic pattern.
One last note: the absence of an organized dual enrollment program does not necessarily mean that a school will not allow students to take dual enrollment courses for credit. Many school guidance offices will accommodate gifted students who want to take advanced courses not offered through the school. In these cases, dual enrollment classes would be taken at the college rather than at the high school, and the student would typically be responsible for his or her own transportation between campuses. Additionally, in the absence of an organized dual enrollment program, it is unlikely that a college tuition waiver will be available. Nevertheless, if your child has exhausted the high school’s resources in a given subject area and wants to move on to studies at a higher level, it’s definitely worth asking your guidance office about this option.
How Does Dual Enrollment Measure Up to AP and IB?
The most-touted benefit of dual enrollment is the savings. In public schools with organized dual enrollment programs, the tuition for the college courses is waived entirely - there is no cost whatsoever. Private school programs typically also include waived tuition for the college courses, though they may require an additional school fee. While dual enrollment is significantly cheaper than paying by the hour for college credits, though, it is only slightly more cost-effective than AP and IB, which charge a fee of less than one hundred dollars per credit-earning exam.
Another important caveat is that free college credits are only useful if they are accepted by the college or university which the student ultimately decides to attend. AP scores are accepted at most universities nationwide, and IB scores are accepted by many of the most prestigious institutions worldwide, but dual enrollment credits have a much narrower range. Dual enrollment classes are subject to universities' transfer policies. Each university's policy is different, and if there is no standing transfer agreement between two schools, it may be difficult to obtain any transfer credit at all. Most dual enrollment programs in Houston schools offer classes through HCC, which has standing transfer agreements with most public universities in Texas and Louisiana, but no other states. If a student chooses to attend an elite private university, or even a public university in another state, it is unlikely that his or her dual enrollment credits will be accepted.
Dual enrollment also provides fewer advantages than AP and IB in the realm of college admissions. AP and IB provide students with two ways to showcase excellence to admissions officers - a course grade, and a universally normed exam score. All students who take AP and IB exams in a given year take the same exams and are scored according to the same rubrics. This gives admissions professionals a quick and easy way to compare a student with every other student who has taken the same exam. Dual enrollment, in contrast, yields only a course grade. While taking dual enrollment will still demonstrate a student's willingness to be challenged, it fails to provide a universally normed measure of excellence, which is a tremendous asset in the college application process.
When offered alongside AP and/or IB, as is the case in many Houston schools, dual enrollment programs have another significant downside from an admissions standpoint - they may not be perceived as the most challenging courses available. Even though dual enrollment classes are typically taught on high school campuses and often taught by high school teachers, they are taught and graded according to the standards of the partner college - in most cases, HCC. If the high school has a reputation for excellence, like the nationally ranked DeBakey, admissions professionals are likely to perceive dual enrollment courses as less rigorous than the school's own AP and IB offerings.
When is Dual Enrollment the Right Choice?
It is very important to note that most of the weaknesses of dual enrollment programs only apply when they are offered as part-time options alongside AP and IB. Schools that offer full-time dual enrollment, like TAMS, are widely regarded as excellent in their own right. The simple fact of having been accepted to such a school and completed a course of study there will be looked upon very favorably by admissions professionals. Moreover, credits earned at TAMS are more widely accepted than those earned through HCC-partnered dual enrollment programs: Rice University accepts some TAMS courses for transfer credit, as do a number of state universities nationwide. TAMS is on par with AP and IB in terms of both credit and college admissions, and for students who excel in science and mathematics, it is an amazing opportunity to take courses which would not be available to them otherwise.
The availability of non-standard courses is a noteworthy feature, not only of TAMS, but of dual enrollment programs in general. AP and IB offerings are mostly restricted to core courses, but part-time dual enrollment programs typically offer a balance of core courses and electives. Frequently, these electives are ones which would not otherwise be available at the high school level, such as accounting or web design. If a student has career interests related to a dual enrollment elective, then the student should absolutely take the class. It demonstrates to admissions professionals that the student is serious about that area of study, and regardless of whether the class is ultimately accepted for credit, it will give the student a head start on their future college major.
And of course, there are student for whom the downsides of dual enrollment, as compared to AP and IB, simply do not apply. Students who plan to attend state schools and are eligible for admission under the "Top 10% Rule" need not worry about the impact of their coursework on their admissions prospects. They also don't have to worry about whether a given course will be accepted for credit, because many state schools publish lists of which HCC classes can be used for transfer credit - like this one for UT Austin. For these students, the only practical difference between AP, IB, and dual enrollment is the selection of available classes.
Advanced Placement® is a registered trademark of the College Board. International Baccalaureate is a registered trademark of the International Baccalaureate Organization.
Article last updated on September 29, 2014.
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