Equivalence Credits at Ivy Leagues: A Guide for International Students in the International Baccalaureate Program

Yazen Abdul-Latif
9 min read

The International Baccalaureate program is designed to challenge students to excel in various subjects, including languages, humanities, sciences, and mathematics. The curriculum is known for its rigorous assessments and high expectations, which prepare students for success at top universities worldwide. The IB diploma is recognized by over 3,000 universities globally, including many Ivy League institutions. Students from around the world participate in the IB Program with the goal of earning a coveted spot at top-tier universities in the US, such as Harvard University and Yale University, which are part of the Ivy League. 

However, it’s become apparent that international students who complete the IB program often face a disadvantage when it comes to receiving equivalent credits at Ivy League institutions. The issue lies in the way that Ivy League schools evaluate IB credits.

While some Ivy League schools, like Yale, offer up to 24 credits, equaling two years of coursework, other Ivies like Harvard, only offer 8 credits, with exceptions added on. This creates an uneven playing field for international students already facing significant challenges adapting to a new country, culture, and academic system. One school can offer IB credit for most diploma classes, while others mostly disregard IB scores or set the bar to receive credits so high that it poses a risk to IB students’ mental health and work ethic.

AP vs. IB Transfer Credit

Amongst the Ivy League examination table, it seems that AP credit gains more favor for transfer. At Brown University, international IB students can earn credits from 9 sectors, including Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics, and Language, totaling 6 credits maximum. On the other hand, AP students have a selection of 15 domains, including Environmental Sciences, Arts, and more extensive selections in Histories. This poses unfair advantages to domestic students, who receive more credit than international students. An IB student studying Environmental Systems and Societies or Visual Arts does NOT receive credit for their dedication, while an AP student in Art History or Environmental Science will.

However, Columbia University has policies for international IB students, in which they can receive a maximum of 24 credits if taking 4 higher-level classes from among 17 selections of IB courses, including the three Sciences, most History courses, both AA and AI Math levels, and elective choices like Economics and Business Management. Conversely, AP credits total only 16 maximum, yet students have an outstanding 26 courses to choose from.

While international IB students have the upper hand in credit accumulation, they still lag in the number of classes that can be transferred. It ultimately discourages IB students from pursuing humanities like Visual Arts, Music, and even STEM and social science fields like Environmental Systems and Business Management. International students exploring such humanities are at risk for additional financial burdens and no opportunity for Advanced Standing (graduating a semester early) as they can’t apply IB credits to their major or minor. This contradicts the Ivy League’s standard of honoring each major and not favoring one over the other. They seem to focus more on the science triad, economic business, and mathematics.

AP 5 vs. IB 7…Equal?

While both scores indicate high achievement, there are some differences in what the IBDP and AP measure. AP scores focus more on content knowledge and skills in a specific subject area, whereas IB scores additionally assess critical thinking, analysis, and application of knowledge.

By Ivy League standards, examination credit tables say that an IB score of 7 on a Higher Level exam equates to an AP score of 5, and an IB score of 6 equals an AP score of 4. Both students in their respective programs can receive a top score of a 5 or a 7 by getting roughly 70% of the exam correct (with the mercy of the curve). But generally, an IB score of 7 is considered more challenging to achieve than an AP score of 5. This is because IB exams require students to demonstrate a broader range of skills, including critical thinking, research, and writing. The IB score isn’t only compromised of the exam score, but the internal assessment done in school, which AP students do not have to complete. Additionally, IB exams often require students to apply knowledge to real-world scenarios or case studies, which demands a higher level of complexity and nuance. AP exams explore a hybrid between multiple choice and open-ended response, while IB exams focus on open-ended response and furthering content over a simple multiple choice format. Therefore, an IB score of 7 shouldn’t necessarily equate to an AP score of 5.

Unfortunately, Ivy League institutions have not lowered the IB exam expectation to compare similarly to the AP expectation. Across most Ivy Leagues, they’ve made this association. At Princeton University, for instance, a 5 on an AP Calculus BC exam correlates to a 7 on an IB Math: Analysis & Approaches HL exam. This poses stricter limitations for international students who do not have access to the AP curriculum or exam. It also forces every IB student to disregard the credit and pay full tuition or forgo their ability to apply due to financial constraints. These policies indirectly hurt less financially able students and enforce a domestic priority in education, pushing out more and more international hopefuls.

What Does This Mean & What Can We Do?

These discrepancies pose a massive financial strain on international students, who aim to gain Advanced Standing or pay less tuition for classes. It suggests that domestic students have the upper hand in advancing through the college system compared to the international world. The IB Program is recognized worldwide as challenging, competitive, and up to par with the AP standards. If universities preach equal opportunity for students, IB & AP equivalent credits should be congruent so as not to cause disparities between international and domestic undergraduates.

If you are an international student planning to study at a US institution and hope to gain Advanced Standing to graduate early or earn credit to lessen the financial hardship, I recommend searching for institutions’ credit equivalences and seeing if the school takes the IB course under the credit exchange. If not, do not feel pressured into giving up the credit and hard dedication you put into the course! Find a university that’s willing to transfer the credits and honor your international experience in education.

This applies to IB students in the US system as well. You, unfortunately, got the shorter end of the stick. However, as a domestic student, you can take the AP exams if your school provides them. With adjustment to the AP curriculum and strategy, the IB content mostly prepares you for the exam.


“International Exam Policies and Procedures.” The College | Brown University, Brown University , college.brown.edu/design-your-education/academic-policies/advanced-placement-exams/international-exams. Accessed 8 July 2024.

“Advanced Placement Exams.” The College | Brown University, Brown University, college.brown.edu/design-your-education/academic-policies/advanced-placement-exams. Accessed 8 July 2024.

“AP Credit Policy Search.” – AP Students | College Board, College Board, apstudents.collegeboard.org/getting-credit-placement/search-policies/college/3853. Accessed 8 July 2024.

“AP Table for Class of 2028 (Provisional) | Undergraduate Academic Advising.” Princeton University, The Trustees of Princeton University, advising.princeton.edu/placement/advanced-placement/ap-table-class-2028. Accessed 8 July 2024.