College Coach

Coming in 2014: College Board launches AP Capstone

Lost in all the craziness of the announced changes to the new SAT is important curricular news from the same organization. In fall 2014, College Board will add AP Capstone, a new diploma program designed to engage students in scholarly rigor through two year-long courses: AP Seminar and AP Research.

What is AP Capstone?

In short, AP Capstone is meant to prepare students for the rigorous experience of college academics. Students who choose to enroll in the AP Capstone program will begin with AP Seminar as tenth or eleventh graders. In this course, they will be asked to work collaboratively, think critically, and develop arguments to solve two real-world issues, examined over the course of the academic year. After completing AP Seminar, Capstone students will enroll in AP Research, a class that requires deeper 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.

How does AP Capstone compare to International Baccalaureate?

For those who are familiar with the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme, AP Capstone will look rather 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 intended to be 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.

The International Baccalaureate program is an extremely high-quality academic program not only because of the rigor it provides, but also because of the ways in which the curriculum is integrated across all subjects. I have found that IB students receive a much more interdisciplinary education than their AP counterparts, whose academic coursework is rigidly siloed through courses and examinations. It will be interesting to see whether AP Capstone makes the AP experience more interdisciplinary, or if AP Seminar and AP research simply feel like a further extension of the current AP offerings.

Check back with us later this week as we discuss the implications for the AP Capstone program with respect to the high school plan and college admissions.


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Written by Ian Fisher
Ian Fisher is an experienced educational consultant, part of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Ian received his master’s in policy, organization, and leadership studies from the Stanford Graduate School of Education. Prior to joining College Coach, Ian worked as a senior admissions officer at Reed College.