shutterstock 284719835In short, AP Capstone prepares students for the rigorous experience of college academics. Students who choose to enroll in the AP Capstone program will begin with the AP Seminar as tenth or eleventh graders. In this course, they will work collaboratively, think critically, and develop arguments to solve two real-world issues. After completing the AP Seminar, Capstone students will enroll in AP Research, a class that requires a more in-depth investigation of an area of individual interest. At the end of the year, students will present and defend a 5,000-word research paper, which also will serve as the core of their AP score. The AP Capstone Diploma is awarded to students who earn scores of 3 or higher in AP Seminar, AP Research, and at least four other traditional AP exams for which they have also completed the coursework.

 For those who are familiar with the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme, AP Capstone will look somewhat familiar. IB and AP have long been the standard-bearers for rigorous high school coursework, each marked by a collection of challenging core classes and difficult end-of-year examinations. The AP curriculum is much more common in American high schools, while IB is the preferred choice among most international schools.

Of course, IB and AP are not without their differences. Whereas the AP is composed of individual courses linked only through the AP name, the IB Diploma Programme is an integrated, interdisciplinary experience completed over the final two years of high school. For example, an AP student might spend one year taking AP chemistry and the next year taking AP physics. An IB student, on the other hand, would take two full years of “higher level” physics or chemistry, stretching the learning experience from eleventh grade through twelfth grade.

The IB is generally perceived as a more integrated experience by educators and includes a philosophically-driven course called Theory of Knowledge and a lengthy, independent research paper called the Extended Essay. In combination with other IB classes, students are challenged to think about the problems afflicting a variety of areas and asked to propose a solution to an area of personal interest. If this sounds a lot like the new AP Capstone program, that’s because it is. With the launch of AP Capstone, the College Board has created a similar academic experience for students who don’t have access to IB but still want to engage with rigorous, interdisciplinary, college-level work. However, the AP Capstone is a brand new program and is yet unproven in its effectivenss. In contrast, the IB program has existed since 1968. 

The bottom line is that colleges want to see that the student has taken the most challenging courses available at their high school. If a school offers both AP and IB courses, then the choice would depend upon the level of difficulty of the particular programs.  For example, some AP courses are more challenging than others. Also, the student should choose the method better suited his/her learning methods. The IB program provides an interdisciplinary education whereas AP focuses on independent, and at times unrelated, courses and examinations.

As of right now in Beaufort County, Beaufort High School, May River High School, Bluffton High School,  and Hilton HeadPrep are offering AP Capstone. 


Leighanne Kubec is a founder of Clear College Counseling; she is a regular contributor to Parenthood IQ and other educational media. To learn more about Clear College Counseling, visit, or connect with them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.