If you’re determined to take your education to the next level as a high school student, pre-college and honors programs provide a well-rounded experience. But you should also familiarize yourself with the International Baccalaureate (IB), a unique college prep option that allows students in hundreds of countries to take agency in their educational journey outside of a traditional classroom. IB programs promote self-motivated, skill-focused learning to excel and outpace future workplaces and community efforts. If you’ve never considered this academic path before, here’s what you need to know.
1. What is the International Baccalaureate?
The International Baccalaureate is a Swiss nonprofit organization that distributes exam-based educational products to schools and students who want to level up their learning and understanding of the world. All schools that offer IB programs have been approved by the nonprofit and are recognized as IB World Schools. Like other additional learning resources, it comes at a sizable cost, though some schools may offer the programs for free, and various scholarships and grants are also available. Most universities hold the IB in high regard alongside other boosted learning options like Advanced Placement (AP) courses. The IB has several advanced education programs devoted to specific age groups, including:
- Diploma: In this two-year program, students ages 16–19 can choose courses within six subject groups and then take examinations to earn an IB Diploma, which may help improve their chances of college admission.
- Career-related: This option combines courses from the Diploma program with a unique core of career-related study, preparing students for higher education, internships, apprenticeships, and other positions in their fields of interest.
- Middle Years: Students ages 11–16 can participate in this five-year program that concludes with an independent learning project and allows for a smooth transition to the Diploma or Career-related program.
- Primary Years: Designed for children ages 3–12, this program helps develop international-mindedness in young learners for future IB success.
Every IB program encourages students to approach higher education with open-mindedness and optimism instead of competition. They allow you to focus on learning skills like intercultural empathy and global respect within the context of a state-assigned curriculum, which is why IB programs make a notable supplement to a traditional high school education. Though IB courses are rigorous, they intend to forge learners with a comprehensive understanding of how to expand their horizons.
2. How does IB differ from Advanced Placement?
The structures of AP and IB courses cross over, but there are a few major differences in their priorities and instruction methods. Both offer more challenging work than standard high school classrooms and examinations, yes. However, AP focuses more on earning college credit early by allowing students to take college-level courses in high school. It’s more textbook learning in comparison to IB, which focuses more on soft skills like critical thinking.
In addition, evaluators score IB tests differently than AP exams. AP uses a score of 1–5, and it’s up to each university to determine if they will accept your test scores for transferable credit. IB tests range from a score of 1–7 for six subjects. There are 42 possible points from these tests and an additional three for the IB core components, for a total of 45. Students strive for a minimum score of 24 to receive their IB Diploma. You should remain confident, however, as the average pass rate hovers around 80% with an average score of 30, meaning most students who attempt receive the diploma.
3. How can students earn credit?
In order to earn an IB Diploma, you must complete an entire IB program consisting of one course each in six subject groups. This differs greatly from AP courses, which are standalone entities (though your school may offer exceptions to this, allowing you to take one IB course instead of the whole program if that suits your needs). However, much like AP, IB students need to take an exam at the end of each course to receive points toward degree completion. IB tests consist of oral, essay, and multiple-choice sections, where all results are secure in compliance with your electronic name and signature for score administration. To receive the IB Diploma, you must take courses in:
- Language and literature
- Foreign language
- Individuals and societies, which includes history, geography, and more
Students may earn university credit by presenting a diploma or demonstrating their completion of these courses, though each school will differ regarding credit transfers. IB offers Higher and Standard Level options for classes, and colleges may accept one, both, or neither—so it’s important to check a school’s policy on IB credit if you’re looking to save time and money. It’s also crucial to consider how the focus areas don’t include other core competencies students must complete before receiving their IB Diploma if you choose to go the whole mile:
- Theory of knowledge class
- An extended essay assignment
- Creativity, activity, and service
4. What are the pros and cons of IB programs?
Receiving college credit is the most apparent boon of IB programs, potentially saving students a lot of money in tuition fees (if their country charges for higher education). Transitioning from high school to college should also be more seamless, as IB programs focus on real-world situations in their exercises. These forward-thinking learning models prepare students for the job market since most schools generally focus on conditions related to students’ immediate environment and lifestyles. IB programs can also help students develop other skills like:
- Research and independent thought
- Public speaking
- Time management
- Focus and motivation
- Interdisciplinary concepts
However, the IB is not without its share of negative aspects. One includes the decision during the pandemic to evaluate exams by looking at previous student grades and data to formulate scores instead of traditional testing due to social distancing. This caused an uproar because the algorithm wasn’t clear to educators and potentially discriminated against marginalized students. After this incident, many people questioned the program’s efficacy and its board leaders to make thoughtful decisions about educational accessibility. Following the pandemic, their new testing standards perpetuated these questionable administration practices. As with other major commitments, it’s important to do your own research before pursuing any opportunities.
Your high school may already offer IB educational services; all you have to do is talk to your counselors or teachers to discuss your options. It’s an excellent way to prepare for college and challenge yourself with more intensive learning. Although the International Baccalaureate may sound like a lot more to add to an already-full academic plate, it may be worth it if you’re passionate about learning outside the walls of the traditional educational system.
Find other ways to level up your learning with the articles and advice in our Majors and Academics section.