When my oldest child was an 8th grader preparing to register for high school classes, we faced a dizzying array of course selections including “college prep,” Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) options.
Even with the help of a school counselor, it was hard to know which classes to guide him toward as he sketched out a 4-year plan that would ready him for college.
For the motivated college-bound student, particularly one whose sights are set on highly selective colleges or competitive scholarships, a strong high school curriculum filled with plenty of advanced courses is a must.
But questions remain: How do you help your student decide which classes to take? Are AP and IB courses regarded similarly by admissions staff? Is it worth taking these classes if your student plans to start off in community college? Is it imperative to complete the full IB diploma? Should your student take every advanced class available, or is it important to “have a life,” too?
Let’s take a closer look at how to navigate the specifics of an advanced curriculum.
The College Board’s AP program offers college-level courses in more than 30 subjects. From music theory to environmental science, from macroeconomics to Japanese language and culture, AP courses provide varied opportunities for intellectual immersion. While some schools offer a slate of specialized AP courses, more provide a limited number of “basics,” such as English Literature and Composition, U.S. History or Biology. Check with your high school counseling office to learn which classes are available to your student. Each AP course concludes with an exam scored from 1-5. Many colleges offer credit for scores of 3 or 4 or higher.
Founded in 1968 to further global understanding, the International Baccalaureate program is administered through an international education foundation based in Geneva, Switzerland. While IB also offers primary and middle-years curricula, most parents become acquainted with it through the secondary IB Diploma Program. Diploma students complete assessments in six different subject groups plus three core requirements including an independent research essay, a theory of knowledge course, and a “creativity, action, service” component.
Some schools allow students who do not wish to pursue the arduous diploma to take one or more individual IB subjects. Exams are scored on a 7-point scale, and a score of 5 or higher may provide college credit.
While you may encourage your student to stretch her potential by tackling a demanding set of advanced classes, help her find balance and joy in her academic life, too. I know parents who wouldn’t permit their high-schoolers to take music classes because the grades weren’t weighted, and that’s sad. It’s important to focus on the advantages of AP and IB programs without turning our students into stressed-out test-taking machines.
Other recent articles by Wendy Worrall Redal:
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