Don't Count on College Credits For AP, IB Courses

By Jay Mathews
Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dear Extra Credit:

Why take International Baccalaureate or Advanced Placement courses? This topic has been and will continue to be debated for a long time. The ideal reason would be to take challenging courses. As a former AP teacher, present-day college instructor/AP grader and parent of a college sophomore who took five AP courses, I can see many reasons, many with merit. My high school offered AP and IB biology. At the time, AP aligned almost exactly with college biology 101-102 curricula, but IB did not. This might have changed.

It is unfortunate that Calder Stembel ["IB Students Deserve Some Credit," Nov. 27] feels shortchanged at George Washington University. Students should be warned that not all schools accept AP or IB test results for credit, and that it is not a good reason for taking the classes. It is more likely that a public college will accept AP for credit than a private school, as our daughter found out.

The Midwestern college at which she matriculated did not accept any of her AP courses, even though she received 5s. What was most annoying was that she took calculus BC (second course) in high school and was told that she still had to take a math class. It had to be calculus 3 or an equivalent, not a lower-level course, because she received a 5. Yet her major was in the foreign languages department, not engineering or something for which high-level calculus would be useful. Talk about being punished for doing well.

I hope that colleges will reevaluate their positions on accepting AP and IB credit. Thank you for trying to present balanced opinions on educational topics.

Nancey Parker

Howard Community College

This shocks me. I thought all colleges had ways for us nonmath types who survived calculus in high school to avoid further pain. What happened to Algebraic Uncertainty in "Battlestar Galactica" or Advanced Baseball Statistics? Please send me the name of that college so I can warn my Admissions 101 discussion group at

Dear Extra Credit:

I read with interest your Nov. 27 column. The topic of IB versus AP credit evokes a great deal of teeth-gnashing over issues of fairness. As a longtime IB diploma program coordinator at a local high school and a graduate of George Washington University, I offer the following observations.

Earning college credit by taking high school advanced academic courses is a gift, a concrete recognition of accomplishment. Sure, the credits are fun to talk about, and certainly many credits provide bragging rights and might even save some tuition money.

But the intrinsic gift of learning how to think and being prepared for college study and for life outweigh the credit pay-off. Involvement in IB creates thoughtful, independent learners who understand how to apply their content knowledge in a variety of situations. They often earn college credit. Taking AP courses specifically for college credit might indicate mastery of a test form, but is not necessarily indicative of understanding the content.

Additionally, the scope and sequence of IB courses, higher level (HL) and standard level (SL), most taught over a two-year period, involve students in demanding yet engaging academic rigor, enhanced by varied and multiple assessments, all of which include written components. The more familiar AP courses are a year long. The fewer hours of instructional time per course, it seems, give short shrift to both content and application of knowledge in favor of amassing a greater number of courses and then perhaps more credit.

The side-by-side comparison of time and assessments reveals clear differences. IB English at either the HL or SL level includes a series of expectations designed to develop students' thoughtfulness, quest for knowledge and open-mindedness in ways that encourage not only analysis of literary texts both orally and in writing but also understanding the nature of literary study as it applies to academics as well as to life. Conversely, AP offers an end-of-course exam composed of several elements that assess multiple-choice testing skills and the ability to think fast while writing three analytic essays in a short period.

The bottom line, however, is that there are no guarantees. Credit for IB or AP courses depends on the test score, the year and the department at the college or university granting the credit. My hope is that GW and other institutions that question the rigor of IB will take a closer, more studied look at the demands of each course in comparison with AP to make informed choices about granting credit. Ultimately, what counts is the experience of learning.

Linda Blair


I applaud your standing up for IB and against colleges' senseless policies that give no credit for IB tests but award credit for similar AP tests. But I don't buy your view that IB is deep and AP shallow. IB, unlike AP, does dispense with multiple-choice questions, but the essay portions of AP exams seem to me, who took both AP and IB exams 30 years after leaving college, just as challenging as the IB essays.

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