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AP, IB treated equally in college admissions

February 09, 2011 - Ask, and ye shall receive.

Oxford parent Jan Matsumoto e-mailed this newspaper a question last week that we felt deserved an answer.

"If two students with identical qualifications apply to the same university in Michigan, would it matter to the university that one has an (International Baccalaureate) diploma and the other has a regular diploma with (Advanced Placement) classes?," she wrote. "Or put another way, are universities in Michigan impressed by IB diplomas as a factor for admission?"

Matsumoto is curious because a teacher recommended her daughter enter the IB track at Oxford High School next year. However, she likes the fact that AP classes can give her daughter college credits and save money.

OHS, along with the district's six other schools, is a candidate to become an IB World School. AP classes are currently available at OHS and have been for years. For an overview of the IB and AP programs, see Page 11.

After posing Matsumoto's question to representatives from six major Michigan universities and a local one in Rochester Hills, the short answer from most of them is one program is not preferred over the other as far as the admissions process goes.

"They're both enriched curriculum; they're both enriched experiences," said Jim Cotter, director of admissions for Michigan State University. "We would advocate very similarly for both . . . Whether it's IB or AP, I think they would weighed almost identically, if not identically, in terms of our review process. We wouldn't consider one stronger than the other."

"They're both very rigorous and ideally, we're looking for folks who have challenged themselves," Cotter noted.

"We weight it equally – IB or the AP," said Jane Rohrback, director of admissions for Lawrence Technological University. "(Both) are obviously stronger than regular high school curriculum, so we do take notice that students have taken more rigor in their studies and we like that."

"If a student had AP classes or IB classes, we would consider that student to be a very strong student, well-prepared for university-level work," said Judy Benfield Tatum, director of undergraduate admissions and orientation for Wayne State University. "We would look very favorably on a student who has taken IB classes and/or AP classes . . . We would not say that we thought one was better than the other."

"We weight IB classes the same way we would weight AP classes," said Kathy Orscheln, director of admissions for Eastern Michigan University. "I think they're different, but they're both really valuable. AP is valuable because of the rigor and the intensity and the college prep aspect to it. And IB is impressive because of the preparation for the global society our students are all going to be a part of."

"They're both treated as honors students," said Eleanor Reynolds, director of admissions for Oakland University.

"They're courses that contain more rigor and they're advanced courses, so we don't differentiate or try to rank order – an honors course versus an AP course versus an IB course," said Penny Bundy, director of admissions for Western Michigan University. "We know there are certain criteria that AP teachers must meet, IB teachers must meet . . . To try to differentiate that for our purposes would be really difficult given the number of transcripts that we're reviewing."

Unlike the other schools which treat them as equals, the University of Michigan weighs IB versus AP in its admissions process based on the level of rigor an individual student has undertaken and their academic performance.

For instance, a student who's obtained an IB diploma (a two-year process) is considered by U-M to have pursued a more rigorous workload than a student who took several AP classes or even a student who took individual IB courses, but did not pursue an IB diploma.

"While AP and IB are both considered to be rigorous for the purpose of college admissions consideration, IB courses are typically considered to be more in-depth college preparation because IB courses span a two-year period and cover additional content," wrote Erica Sanders, director of Recruitment and Operations for U-M, in an e-mail response.

Although Wayne State treats IB and AP students equally, Tatum acknowledged that students "consistently do better on standardized tests when they have been in IB curriculums for a lengthy period of time."

"IB curriculums are highly regarded," Tatum said. "I don't know of anyone in the field that would say that they are not."

Cotter indicated engaging in either the AP or IB program positively affects standardized test scores in general.

"The more they challenge themselves in the curriculum, one would suggest, the more likely that should show up in standardized test scores like the ACT because the ACT is so curricular-driven," he said. "The more coursework a student takes in high school, the more likely it is that ought to reflect in their test scores."

Cotter noted whether a student chooses the IB or AP route for their high school education depends largely on the future career they're studying for. "There are probably cases where AP's a better fit for some than IB and vice versa," he said.

For instance, someone interested in international business, international relations or public policy might find the IB curriculum valuable because it's "holistic in its international approach."

"The IB program has a very global component," Cotter explained. "It requires a foreign language. It requires some team-building, some team-initiative work. So, I think it serves its purpose very, very well in terms of preparing students for the next step academically."

The AP program is not necessarily "as connected at every point" as the IB curriculum, according to Cotter, so a student can decide to take only accelerated courses in their particular field of interest.

"You may have a student who's following an AP curriculum in math and science, but not English and history," Cotter said. "The AP opportunity allows students the chance to go out there and be very selective in terms of what they want their AP pursuit to be in. They're not forced to take AP in all disciplines."

Again, Cotter stressed MSU isn't going to look more favorably on one program or the other.

"I think there are differences in terms of the pursuit and the end goal for each, but the similar goal that they both share is the fact that they are both equally challenging," he said. "In terms of reviewing a student, I wouldn't say one would be disadvantaged or advantaged having pursued one or the other."

"When it comes down to reviewing credentials, AP and IB are both very, very highly respected," Cotter added.

Orscheln noted that during a December 2010 meeting of state university admissions directors there was plenty of talk about IB versus AP.

"The whole IB thing is relatively new," she said. "I think a lot of admissions offices are deciding how to weight that and how does it compare to AP."

At this point, Orscheln said everyone seemed to be on the same page, treating both programs as equals.

The admissions directors discussed the "universal appeal" of the IB program and "how strong we think it is for students to go that route."

"I think it's just going to grow in the respect that it carries," Orscheln said.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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