Students should challenge themselves by taking the hardest courses for which they are academically prepared, as recommended by their teachers. (However, they should not try to take courses that are beyond their academic level, as this will result in frustration and disappointment. In some cases, low grades may endanger their graduation.)
International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, offered in Grades 11-12, cover the material learned in three years, including the first year of university. The IB exams, usually at the end of Grade 12, give students a chance to demonstrate how much they have learned. In many cases, students can also take Advanced Placement (AP) exams based on content similar to the IB subjects, since they are the same advanced level.
When students take college-level courses in high school, this demonstrates to college admissions committees that they are academically able, committed, and motivated. This shows that the students are not satisfied to slide by with the minimum effort; instead, they have challenged themselves above and beyond the ordinary high school graduation requirements.
Taking advanced courses (for which they are academically prepared) shows that students are capable of handling advanced, university-level concepts and workload while they are still in high school, and that they will make a smooth transition to the demands of university courses. This also proves that their ability in English and other key areas is up to the standards that colleges require.
Some universities, especially in Britain, Canada, and Australia, emphasize the scores on IB or AP exams, whether predicted by teachers (in January of Grade 12) or actual results (announced in early July, after graduation). Other universities, particularly in the U.S., are impressed by the fact that students are taking advanced-level courses and exams, even if they don’t know the actual scores when they make admission decisions.
However, this advantage cannot make up for low grades in these courses, which require hard work throughout Grades 11-12. Students who are not prepared academically or who are not motivated will not gain any advantage in college admissions.
Once students are accepted to a university, they can use IB and AP scores for two advantages: Advanced Placement and Course Credit. Advanced Placement means that they can skip the introductory courses in each subject (which are often filled with hundreds of freshman in a big lecture hall) and directly enter the more advanced courses (usually small seminars with more chance of direct contact with the professor), since the IB or AP score proves that they have already mastered the introductory content.
Course Credit means that the university will give credit that counts towards graduation requirements, just as if the student had taken a course in college, based on the IB or AP score. This depends on how high the score is, and whether it is Higher Level or Standard Level. This means that a student may be able to graduate early, take time off during college, or combine two or more majors together, which might be impossible otherwise. Students and parents should keep these points in mind when they decide on the courses to take in Grades 11-12, which lead to IB (and in some cases) AP exams.