Aug 15

AP® Capstone vs. IB: A Comprehensive Guide

by Trent Baumbach

AP Capstone vs. IB: A Comprehensive Guide

AP® Capstone vs. IB: A Comprehensive Guide


High school students hoping to build a bright future will find a variety of more advanced academic pathways to choose from. Among these, two options stand out: the Advanced Placement (AP®) Capstone Diploma Program and the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program. While each of these college preparatory programs feature rigorous coursework and unique research opportunities aimed at honing students’ skills for higher education, they differ in structure, focus, and global recognition.

In this blog, we’ll give a brief overview of both programs before exploring their key differences.

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Decoding the Advanced Placement Capstone Diploma Program

Developed by the College Board, primarily known for its university-level AP® courses and the SAT® test, the AP® Capstone Diploma Program spans two years. The College Board describes the program as unique in that instead of  “teaching subject-specific content, these courses develop students’ skills in research, analysis, evidence-based arguments, collaboration, writing, and presenting.”

AP® Capstone is built around two main courses: AP® Seminar and AP® Research. AP® Seminar sees students exploring real-world issues from various perspectives, while AP® Research encourages students to delve deeper into an academic topic of their choice, culminating in a scholarly research paper.

To earn the coveted AP® Capstone Diploma, students must achieve a score of 3 or higher on the AP® Seminar and AP® Research exams, as well as on four additional AP® exams of their choosing. This structure not only helps students to develop their research and presentation skills, but also provides broad exposure to a range of AP® subjects, enhancing their high school course load overall.

While most international schools in Tokyo offer the IB program over AP®, students can fulfill the AP® Capstone’s AP® exam requirements through self study, which we outlined in our previous blog “How AP® Self-Study Boosts Your College Application.” 

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Program: A Global Education Initiative

In contrast, the IB Program is a globally recognized education initiative offered in many countries. The IB programme officially aims to “empower school-aged students to take ownership in their own learning and help them develop future-ready skills to make a difference and thrive in a world that changes fast” (International Baccalaureate Organization).

IB students study six subjects: three at the Higher Level (HL) and three at the Standard Level (SL). The subjects encompass areas including language and literature, individuals and societies, experimental sciences, and mathematics. This program also includes three core components, namely the Extended Essay (EE), Theory of Knowledge (TOK), and Creativity, Action, and Service (CAS). Through its three levels (PYP, MYP, and DP), the IB Program caters to elementary school students all the way through high school.

To secure an IB Diploma, students must pass exams in all six subjects and successfully complete the core components. For a more detailed overview, including information on IB schools in Japan, check out our blog “The Ultimate Guide to the IB Program.”

AP® Capstone vs. IB: Four Key Differences

While both the AP® Capstone and the IB Programs are university preparation courses designed to prepare students for college and beyond, they differ in four main aspects:

  1. Global Recognition: The IB Program enjoys broader global recognition compared to the AP® Capstone program, and is recognized by universities worldwide. While the AP® Capstone program is more familiar to US universities, the IB program is ideal for students aspiring to study outside the US.
  2. Course Structure: The AP® Capstone program emphasizes the development of research and presentation skills, allowing students to select additional AP® courses quite freely from a variety of subjects. Conversely, the IB Program offers a comprehensive, well-rounded education that covers six core subjects, focusing on writing, critical thinking, and global awareness.
  3. Assessment: Both programs assess students via end-of-course exams. However, the IB Program also takes into account internal assessments and extended essays, providing an arguably more holistic evaluation of students’ abilities.
  4. Flexibility: The AP® Capstone program offers more flexibility, allowing students to select AP® courses that align with their unique academic and career goals. On the other hand, the IB Program’s broad range of required courses provides less customization but ensures a more comprehensive liberal arts education.
School Offers AP® Classes?
Aoba Japan International School
American School in Japan (ASIJ)
Canadian International School Tokyo
Global Indian International School
Horizon Japan International School
International School of the Sacred Heart
Seisen International School
St. Mary’s International School
Tamagawa Academy
Tokyo International School
Yokohama International School

What should international school students do next?

Both the AP® Capstone Diploma Program and the IB Program will benefit students in their college admission journey. The choice between AP® vs. IB will depend on a their academic goals, learning preferences, and future educational and career plans. Whether your focus is on refining in-depth research skills via the AP® Capstone program or pursuing a globally conscious education through the IB program, either pathway can guide you towards academic excellence.

Tokyo Academics has tutors from top universities worldwide who themselves have benefited from participation in the IB program and AP® courses, making them uniquely qualified to help students achieve their academic goals. Learn how to choose the right AP® classes, or contact us to see how we can help!

SAT® and AP® are trademarks owned by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse Tokyo Academics.

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