By Maya JumanOne of the most important qualifications colleges look for is a challenging curriculum in high school. AP courses (Advanced Placement) and honors classes are popular options. But IB classes and the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program is another type of college-level program worth considering. As an IB student myself, I found IB classes extremely rewarding — and they helped me get into my dream school!What is the IB program?The International Baccalaureate Diploma Program is a two-year program consisting of six courses and a philosophy class known as Theory of Knowledge. To complete the program and earn the IB diploma (which is separate from a normal high school diploma), a candidate must score a minimum number of points in each class, complete an independent research paper, fulfill the requirements for Theory of Knowledge, and complete 100 hours of creativity, activity, and service (CAS).If this sounds like a lot — it is! The International Baccalaureate Organization designed the IB program to resemble a liberal arts curriculum. It is intended to encourage a wide range of academic studies and extracurricular activities. Each of the six IB courses is in a different subject group: language and literature, language acquisition, individuals and societies, sciences, mathematics, and the arts. If a student does not receive the IB diploma, they can still complete these courses and receive certificates for credit.The IB program is popular in high schools around the world and all IB classes involve a globally-aware perspective. Thus, colleges and universities abroad are sometimes more aware of the IB diploma in their admissions than they are of AP scores.When can you start taking IB classes?You may begin the IB program as early as elementary school, but most students take it between the ages of 16-19.Where can you take IB classes?In the United States, the IB program is often offered at private high schools, but some public schools offer IB. Research public and private schools in your district to see where it is available.IB program vs. AP coursesWhile both AP courses and the IB program are well-regarded by college admissions officers and both are rigorous academic tracks, there are some basic differences between the two. International advantageDepending on a college’s specific policy for granting credit to freshmen, both AP scores and IB scores can allow you to skip certain courses, place out of intro classes, and — if they are high enough — even graduate early. This varies by institution, but often both AP courses and IB Higher Level courses are given special consideration. For students interested in applying to college abroad, the IB program is widely recognized in most countries (and in the United States!) and will certainly help you in the admissions process, if not grant you real credit when you get there. Classes vs. curriculumWhile AP courses can be chosen individually, the IB program is an entire curriculum that ensures a well-rounded approach to learning in the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. Advanced Placement allows students to choose individual courses and curate their own high school workload. For example, if I wanted to take difficult calculus, physics, and chemistry and not much else, the AP would allow me to pick whatever I want. However, as an IB program student, I need to take at least some of my classes in fields outside of STEM. AvailabilityAP courses are more widely available in the United States, and is usually offered in large schools that have enough faculty and resources to provide a broader choice of classes. Because IB teachers need to be specially trained, the IB program is typically offered in smaller schools where there is a limited choice of classes. GradesThe IB program involves intensive writing and fosters strong research skills. There are essentially no multiple-choice tests, unlike AP courses. While AP scores consist only of an exam grade from one to five, IB scores (from one to seven) consist of both exam grades and scores on written and oral assessments.How the IB program helped me get into and prepare for collegeThe IB program is challenging, but I have no regrets about choosing it. IB helped me stand out in the eyes of college admissions and get into my dream school. In some ways, the IB program is a good estimate of the workload you will encounter in college. It helped me hone my research, writing, critical thinking, and time management skills, which has given me a crucial advantage over many incoming college students.Entrance into the IB programIf you’ve decided that IB may be right for you, look up high schools in your area that offer the program. To enter the IB program you may have to complete a special application. Once you are in the program, you become an IB “candidate.” That is, you are eligible to eventually receive the IB Diploma if you succeed on your IB exams. Since application policies vary for each school, talk to your guidance counselor about the best options in your area.Get matched to colleges that are perfect for you with our College Match.About the authorMaya is our 2015 Top Ten List Scholarship winner. She attends Yale University, majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, and is a fan of whales, baseball, and classic rock.