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Duke University
Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
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Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

The Beginner’s Guide to the International Baccalaureate Program

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As a high-achieving high school student, you probably have a lot of acronyms on your mind: AP, IB, SAT, ACT, and so on. While juggling standardized tests and other important parts of your academic profile, you should also be thinking about which courses you are going to take.

You probably know how important it is to have a challenging course load, and may be familiar with honors and AP courses. But what about the IB Program? What exactly is it? Does your school offer it? What does “IB” even stand for?

The IB (International Baccalaureate) program is a challenging but rewarding way to set yourself apart academically in high school.  Read on to learn about the IB Program and what you might be able to gain by participating in it.

Introduction to the IB Program

The IB Program is an international organization that offers educational courses in high schools around the world. There are many different levels and programs within it. In this post, we will mainly focus on the Diploma Programme or IBDP, which is a two-year program for high school students (typically between the ages of 16 and 19). IBDP  is a particularly challenging approach to high school, offering a standardized curriculum that colleges recognize, and it can be a valuable addition to your college applications.

While the IB program is similar in some ways to AP classes, this program offers an overarching framework as opposed to a menu of individual courses that high schools may or may not offer. Take a look at the IB website to learn more about this curriculum and the different types of programs that are offered throughout the world.

What is it like to participate in the IB Diploma Programme?

IBDP is a cohesive curriculum that spans two years. The program has numerous requirements and restrictions regarding who can teach the courses. Teachers must  undergo special training in order to be certified.

IBDP participants are required to fulfill certain core requirements in order to receive their diploma. There is an independent Extended Essay Project in which students conduct self-directed research and write a paper about their findings. Additionally,  students must take a Theory of Knowledge course in which they study and write a paper about the nature of knowledge and give an oral presentation based on their research. There are also certain extracurriculars and community service requirements. Specifically, the IB program encourages students to participate in a creative project or activity that will personally challenge them and help make a significant difference. You can read a full list of the IBDP requirements here.

In addition, students can choose from other academic courses within the program. There are six subject groups: Studies in language and literature, Language acquisition, Individuals and societies, Sciences, Mathematics, and the Arts. While this option gives students a choice of what courses they take, these courses are still regulated in terms of subjects and rigor.

It is important to note that if your school is certified for IB, you may be able to take a few individual IB courses without committing to the full diploma. This can be a good way to get some of the IB experience without risking becoming overloaded in terms of your coursework. Before considering this option, however, you should be aware that the full diploma program comes with certain benefits (one of the most significant being that earning an IB diploma demonstrates to college admissions officers that you are diligent and able to work hard towards a long-term goal).

How common are IB course options?

Although this program is more popular abroad than it is within the United States, the IBDP has 891 participating schools in the U.S.. However, it’s not as common as the AP program  in the U.S. Some  high schools are reluctant to offer the IB program because of the cost of having teachers trained and less of a demand from students, who may not be as familiar with IB as AP.

IBs also differ from APs in that that you can’t self-study for them as you may be able to with APs in some cases. You must take IB courses through an officially certified school; you can’t simply sit for an exam without taking the class.

What will colleges think of my IB coursework?

As with AP classes, some colleges award course credit or placement for IB coursework.

Colleges usually evaluate IB courses for college credit in the same way as AP exams—you don’t need a full IB diploma in order to receive credit, you just need to receive a high score (usually higher than a 5) on an IB exam. For an example of how some colleges will evaluate IB exam scores, take a look at Stanford’s IB Credit Chart. Some schools, such as the University of Utah, will even waive their general education requirements for students who have earned an IB diploma.

Regardless of whether or not credit is awarded, IB courses are generally considered rigorous and challenging options and are widely respected by educational professionals. This might mean that your application will be considered a bit more unique, and could even provide you with options for college outside the U.S. Many other countries use the IBDP as a standard for entry to a university. France, for example, accepts the IBDP as a qualification for entry, just as some American colleges require all their applicants to submit SAT and ACT scores.

So should you participate in the IB program?

In general, if the IB program is offered at your school and you can handle the workload, you should strongly consider it. The benefits in terms of college admissions and college credit can be substantial. In addition, if you’re someone who enjoys being challenged academically, you might find that you’re able to learn a lot and improve as both as student and an intellectual via the IB program.

Participating in the IB program has similar costs and benefits to taking other challenging courses. Check out this CollegeVine blog post for more tips on  deciding if you should take AP or honors courses.

Talk to your guidance counselor or IB coordinator about your plans about whether this path is right for you. He or she may be able to provide you with more information about the program and advice on whether or not it’s a good fit for you.

For more information about challenging yourself academically, check out these blog posts:

Should I Drop an AP, IB, or Honors Class?

Should I Take AP/IB/Honors Classes?

Is It Better to Get a B in an AP/IB/Honors Course or an A in a Regular Course?

What if My School Doesn’t Offer AP or IB Courses?


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Devin Barricklow
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Devin Barricklow is a Political Science and Creative Writing double major at Columbia University. She’s really excited to be able to share her expertise about the college process with students who need advice. When she isn’t writing for CollegeVine, she enjoys reading the poems of Mary Oliver, going to concerts in the city, or cooking (preferably something with lots of bok choy and ginger).