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If you’re a highly motivated student with plans to attend college, you’ve probably considered Advanced Placement (AP) courses. But have you heard of the IB Programme and the IB Diploma?
Like the AP program, the IB program gives you an opportunity to challenge yourself and impress college admissions officers in the process. Both programs also provide excellent preparation for the rigors of college coursework.
Unlike the AP program, however, the IB Programme isn’t very common in the United States. If you haven’t heard much about IB or the IB Diploma, this guide will tell you everything you need to know.
What is the IB Programme?
The International Baccalaureate (IB) Programme was founded in 1968 and has a presence in over 150 countries worldwide. Its headquarters are in Geneva, Switzerland. To offer the IB curriculum, schools must complete an authorization process and become official IB World Schools.
IB’s mission is to create a better world through education. Its challenging, internationally-minded curriculum focuses on critical thinking, independent learning, and logical inquiry.
Technically, there are four IB programmes for varying ages:
- Primary Years Programme (ages 3-12)
- Middle Years Programme (ages 11-16)
- Diploma Programme (ages 16-19)
- Career-related Programme (ages 16-19)
In this article, we will focus specifically on the IB Diploma Programme.
What are the requirements of the IB Diploma Programme?
The IB Diploma Programme (DP) curriculum consists of six subject groups:
- Studies in language and literature
- Language acquisition
- Individuals and societies
- The arts
Within these subject groups, you take a mix of “Higher Level” (HL) and “Standard Level” (SL) courses. HL courses are more challenging and require more hours than SL courses.
The curriculum also includes the “Diploma Programme core.” The DP core is made up of a class called Theory of Knowledge (TOK); creativity, activity, and service (CAS) requirements; and the extended essay (self-directed research culminating in a 4,000 word essay).
Different schools have different processes for joining the Diploma Programme. Typically, you will need to meet certain GPA requirements. You may have to fill out an application or take an entrance exam if the programme’s limited seats are in high demand.
What’s the difference between IB and AP?
Both the AP Program and the IB Programme offer rigorous courses that are valued by college admissions officers. However, there are several key differences.
AP Is More Common
The AP program is far more common than the IB Programme in the United States. While over 20,000 high schools in the U.S. offer AP courses, fewer than 1,000 U.S. high schools offer the IB diploma. Colleges seem to equally value the two programs, but attending an IB school and earning an IB diploma is a more unique experience for a U.S. high school student.
Curriculum vs. Courses
Some schools allow students to pick and choose individual IB courses, the same way you can select individual AP courses. If you’re pursuing the IB diploma, however, you must follow a designated curriculum, particularly during your junior and senior year.
You’ll select courses from each of the six subject groups and complete the Diploma Programme core. Some students find the IB curriculum limiting, because they are unable to explore other classes or activities that interest them. Still, the curriculum provides a broad breadth and depth of education, with the goal of producing well-rounded scholars.
Not surprisingly, the IB curriculum and IB courses have a more international focus than AP classes. IB courses emphasize the development of various issues and perspectives over time, including impacts on other parts of the world. The curriculum gives you an understanding of the complexities and interconnectedness of societies across time and around the globe.
Both IB and AP courses end with challenging final exams. While AP exams often include an essay, they are largely multiple choice. They focus on meeting content goals and testing student’s knowledge of specific content. On the other hand, IB exams focus mostly on essays and short answer responses. They are writing-intensive and emphasize critical thinking.
Another difference between the two assessments is that you don’t have to take an AP course to sign up for the AP exam. To sit for an IB exam, you must be enrolled in the IB course. So, if you’re interested in earning credit for a language you already speak fluently, or if you’d like to self-study for a subject, then AP exams provide you with flexible options.
Additionally, the IB Programme requires some in-school assignments that are treated like exams. These include the extended essay, TOK essay, science lab reports, and oral exams administered by teachers in language and literacy. These exams are either assessed by IB graders or graded by teachers and then moderated by the International Baccalaureate Organization.
At some schools, you may be able to take classes as IB/AP. If a class is designated IB/AP, it meets requirements for both programs. You will complete IB assessments and the AP exam at the end of the year. Because some colleges do not give credit for Standard Level (SL) IB courses, it’s a good idea to take both exams if possible.
Which looks better to colleges: AP or IB?
Generally, the IB Diploma Programme is considered more rigorous than taking AP courses. If you’re in the DP, you must take in-depth, highly challenging courses on a wide variety of subjects. That’s impressive! With AP courses, you have the option to only challenge yourself in the subjects you already enjoy and excel in. Of course, you can avoid this drawback by signing up for a wide range of AP courses.
Because IB is not as widely available as AP, colleges can’t penalize applicants for not taking it. Colleges want you to take the most rigorous courses available at your school. If your school has an IB Diploma Programme, it’s wise to go for it, especially if you have your sights set on selective colleges.
But as long as you’re challenging yourself and performing well, colleges will look favorably on your transcripts. See what your school offers, then take AP, IB, or a mix of both. Remember to also commit yourself to a couple of extracurricular areas that you’re passionate about, and you’ll have a well-rounded application that demonstrates your ability and willingness to challenge yourself.
When it comes to college credit, most schools accept both IB and AP. Some colleges seem to favor AP, while others seem to favor IB and award more credit for IB exams. It’s helpful to look into the credit policies at the schools you’re interested in attending. As mentioned earlier, some colleges do not award credit for Standard Level IB courses, another important consideration.
What is the IB diploma?
Students in the IB Diploma Programme may qualify for an IB Diploma based on their assessment scores. To receive an IB Diploma, students must receive at least 24 points and complete Diploma
Programme core requirements.
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If you finish the programme but don’t earn the diploma, you will still receive a standard high school diploma. The IB Diploma is an additional honor for students who perform well on their internal assessments and final exams. It is not a requirement for graduating from high school, even if you attend an IB School.
What are the IB Diploma requirements?
To earn an IB diploma, students must:
- Receive at least 24 points on assessments/exams.
- Complete DP Core requirements (TOK, CAS, and extended essay).
- Meet minimum requirements.
For most IB courses, students complete both the written exam at the end of the programme and internal assessments supervised by their teachers. Students receive scores ranging from 1-7 for each DP course attempted, with 7 being the highest.
Diploma candidates must also successfully complete the DP Core. The Theory of Knowledge (TOK) essay and the extended essay each receive individual scores, and they can collectively earn the student an additional 3 points toward the diploma. To earn the diploma, students must fulfill their Creativity, Activity, and Service (CAS) requirements, although no diploma points are awarded for CAS. These involve a variety of projects totaling 150 hours.
Finally, students must meet certain minimum requirements. For example, you can’t earn the diploma if you:
- Receive a failing grade of “E” on the extended essay or TOK essay.
- Score a 1 in any subject.
- Score more than two 2’s in any subject.
- Score more than three 3’s or below in any subject.
Students may also earn a bilingual IB diploma if they earn a grade of 3 or higher in two languages.
How hard is the IB coursework?
If you’re considering pursuing an IB diploma, it’s important to know what you’re getting into. IB coursework is extremely challenging. Expect to study harder than you ever have before, spend many hours on homework, and do a lot of writing. It’s not uncommon for students to leave the IB Programme because they find it too difficult or time-consuming.
Are you passionate about athletics, music, or other activities that require a lot of time? Consider whether you’ll be able to balance pursuing an IB diploma with your other interests. You must also honestly evaluate whether you are a strong student with solid time management and study skills.
Of course, the point here isn’t to discourage you. You want to make an informed decision and ensure that you’re not overextending yourself. If possible, try to talk to IB students or IB graduates from your high school about the programme. Ask questions like:
- Did they enjoy it?
- Did it benefit them?
- How did they balance their schoolwork and extracurricular activities?
- What tips do they have to offer for succeeding in the programme?
I was an IB student and played soccer, ran track, volunteered in the community, and participated in several clubs and organizations. It wasn’t easy. Sometimes I questioned if it was worth it, and sometimes I felt I was missing out on the fun of high school. But in the end, I graduated with a high GPA, solid SAT scores, and the IB Diploma. It is possible, and IB gave me a huge sense of accomplishment and many other important lifelong benefits.
What do I need to know about the rigors of an IB diploma?
Earning the IB diploma is a challenge, but it’s something you work toward with your teachers and classmates throughout the programme. The global pass rate for the diploma is 80%, so it’s certainly not an impossible achievement. IB doesn’t want you to complete the entire programme and walk away without the diploma. The curriculum is designed to prepare you.
Of course, you do need to work on numerous projects, write essays (including a 4,000-word research paper), complete 150 CAS hours, and pass six exams. So, it requires a lot of hard work and a major time commitment. But most students who apply themselves and are serious about their studies will earn the diploma.
What are the benefits of an IB diploma?
Completing the IB Programme and earning the IB diploma is a huge challenge, but it’s also hugely rewarding. Not only will you feel proud and accomplished, but you’ll also receive some of the best college preparation possible. The skills you develop and polish during your time in the IB Programme will help you immediately acclimate to college classes and hit the ground running.
Some students find adjusting to college courses difficult and discouraging. Part of the reason is that college requires more creativity, critical and analytical thinking, and independence. There’s also a lot of writing! Yet many high school classes only prepare students to memorize information and master content. After completing the IB Programme, you’ll already have the thinking skills, writing skills, study skills, and confidence to succeed in college.
Plus, you’ll earn plenty of college credit! With the credit I earned from my IB/AP classes, I started college classified as a sophomore, and I was able to finish a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in just four years. That meant less money spent on college classes—and a faster route to earning a grown-up salary.
The IB Programme also gives you a broad, globally-focused education that many high school students don’t get to experience. You push yourself and expand your knowledge, creativity, and ability to rise to the challenge.
Of course, that’s impressive to college admissions officers. Taking IB classes and earning your IB diploma gives your college resume a big boost. I got into every college that I applied to, and most of them offered me scholarship money. I’m not sure that would have been possible without the IB Programme.
Final Thoughts: IB Diploma- Everything You Need to Know
The IB Diploma Programme is an alternative to AP for highly motivated students who are willing to work hard and fully apply themselves in high school.
Is it challenging? Yes. But is it worth it? Absolutely!
If your school offers the IB Diploma Programme, consider it. You’ll learn a lot, work alongside other talented and motivated students, and gain extensive college preparation and college credit. Plus, it’ll look great on your college applications!
If your school doesn’t have the IB Diploma Programme, that’s okay. Remember that colleges will evaluate you within the context of your school. Take the most rigorous courses available and earn good grades, and you’ll set yourself up for success during college application season.