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What Are the Benefits of Earning an IB Diploma?

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In past posts on the CollegeVine blog, you may have noticed that when we talk about AP courses and exams, we sometimes mention another acronym that may not sound as familiar to you: IB. This stands for International Baccalaureate, and represents another advanced educational option for high school students that exists alongside the AP program.


While the IB program isn’t as popular as the AP program in the United States, it can definitely be a worthwhile option for those who have access to it. In particular, earning an IB diploma, which requires that you take certain courses and fulfill additional academic and extracurricular obligations, can be an impressive qualification to add to your resume.


Read on for more information about the IB Diploma Programme and how an IB diploma can enhance both your high school experience and your college prospects.


An introduction to the International Baccalaureate program

International Baccalaureate is an overarching organization that administers a number of different educational programs for students ages 3 to 19. Its curricula are used by specially trained teachers at certified schools throughout the world, and it prides itself on providing “rigorous, high-quality education” to its students.


The most familiar IB program to high school students in the United States is the IB Diploma Programme, or IBDP, which is offered to students between the ages of 16 and 19. When you hear about “IB courses” being offered at a high school, it means that that school has been certified to offer the IBDP. (Students may be able to take some IB courses without enrolling in the full IBDP curriculum.)


In some ways, the IB program is similar to the AP program—it’s a way for high school students to take advanced, rigorous courses. However, there are two main differences. For one thing, the IB program is much less popular than the AP program among high schools in the United States, and you since you can’t self-study IB courses, its availability is limited.


In addition to this, the IB program is far more focused on presenting a cohesive overall curriculum with specific requirements that culminates in a diploma. While the AP program offers a similar option in the AP Capstone Diploma, most students don’t approach the AP program in that way.


For a more detailed explanation of the International Baccalaureate organization, and especially the IB Diploma Programme, check out the CollegeVine Beginner’s Guide to the International Baccalaureate Program.


The IB Diploma

The IBDP is a two-year academic program that, as we’ve mentioned, is open to students aged 16 to 19—in other words, high school students. Upon successfully completing the program and all its requirements, students can earn the IB diploma, which is a significant credential for college applications and other purposes.


Academically, the IBDP requires students to take courses and pass exams in six specific subject areas. Three or four of these subjects must be taken at the more challenging “Higher” level, while the rest can be taken at the “Standard” level.


In addition to this coursework, the IBDP has three more major requirements. First, students must write a lengthy essay based on independent research. Second, students must take a Theory of Knowledge course, which covers critical thinking and epistemology. Third, students must participate in a certain number and range of extracurricular activities.


Earning the IB diploma means that you’ve done much more than take a few IB courses. Instead, you’ve undertaken a particular kind of high school education that is meant to teach you not only history, math, and other subjects, but also how to better analyze and understand the information you’ll encounter in school and beyond.


Along with this stated purpose, an IB diploma can be an asset for you in a number of different ways, especially as you take on the college admissions process. Below, we’ll go over some of the main benefits of working toward and receiving an IB diploma.


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The IBDP is well-known throughout the world for the high quality of the coursework it offers. The strength of the IB curriculum, as well as the extensive training that IB teachers and school administrators are required to undergo, help the program to maintain this high standard.


The respect that the IBDP enjoys means that no matter where you go, colleges will understand and positively view the effort you’ve put into earning your IB diploma. College admissions officers in particular will be familiar with the program’s reputation, making an IB diploma an excellent way of demonstrating your academic prowess.


Strong performance in school is, of course, an important component of what competitive colleges look for in applicants. This is typically represented in your application by your GPA, transcript, and class rank. However, since every high school is different, colleges can’t always be sure what your grades actually mean compared to those of other applicants.


Programs like the IBDP help colleges to evaluate applicants by providing a single curriculum that’s used worldwide, allowing admissions officers to more precisely assess your performance. Since this program is known to be rigorous, doing well in your IB courses and earning your IB diploma indicates to colleges that you’re an objectively strong student.


Earning an IB diploma also shows you’re willing to take on special academic challenges. You’ve chosen to go beyond the typical high school curriculum and pursue a goal that asks more of you, including substantial independent work on topics of your own choosing. This is something that every competitive college values.


Standing out

As we’ve mentioned, the IB program is less popular and well-known in the United States than, for example, the AP program. You must take IB courses at a certified high school—self-studying is not allowed—which limits the number of students who can participate. The expense and training required to get certified as an IB school can also contribute to its relative rarity at high schools.


What this means for you is that if you have an IB diploma, you’ll be among a relatively small portion of the college applicant pool with this qualification.  This distinction shows that you’ve not only taken on academic challenges, but done so through a program that’s widely known to be reputable and rigorous and require a good deal of independent work from its graduates. Not every student can present such a prestigious qualification when they fill out their college applications, and this relative uniqueness is an advantage.


In addition to the novelty of IB participation itself, certain elements of the IB Diploma Programme may give you the opportunity to do especially interesting and original academic work that will give you additional chances to set yourself apart from other applicants.


As we mentioned, you’re required to complete a substantial independent research project in order to receive your IB diploma. Your choice of topic for this project can say a lot about you, and your ability to handle the challenges of independent work and create something truly original will render you a unique and recognizable candidate come application season.


Special IB opportunities

One particular perk of the IB program is that it can be useful not only in the college application process, but also once you get to college. Like AP test results, your IB courses can sometimes be used by colleges to determine placement and credit.


Depending on your school, you may be able to be placed in higher-level courses as a result of your IB experience, or you might receive credit outright for your IB courses, which can enable you to save time and money in getting your degree. Colorado and Texas have even passed laws requiring colleges in those states to award college credit to students with IB diplomas.


If you’re interested in attending college outside the United States full-time (as opposed to on a short-term basis as a study abroad student), an IB diploma may be particularly useful to you. Since other countries have different academic systems and pathways to a university education, it can be difficult for students from the US to gain entrance. The international recognition of the IB diploma can help to bridge this gap.


Some examples of countries that accept the IB diploma for entrance into universities are France, Spain, Italy, India, and Turkey. Additionally, some universities offer scholarships specifically for IB diploma holders. While each country and school has additional requirements you’ll need to meet, an IB diploma can be of great help in the process.


Finally, aside from college admissions concerns, getting your IB diploma can simply be a very satisfying intellectual experience in its own right. The IB program is designed not only to provide you with rigorous course content, but also to help you learn how to think, analyze, and critically consider materials in the way that your college will eventually expect.


The independent projects that are part of the IB curriculum can be enjoyable as well. Some high school students don’t get many opportunities to focus their energies on the topics they consider interesting. Studying a topic that really moves you can bring out your intellectual best in a way that your daily classwork may not.


For more information

Going through the full IB Diploma Programme isn’t for everyone, and as we mentioned, it isn’t available everywhere. If you have access to this option, however, it can be a strong addition to your college application profile as well as an aid to your intellectual development.


You can find more advice on whether IB is right for you and handling your IB coursework in these posts from the CollegeVine blog:



To learn more about IB, take a look at our Ultimate Guide to the International Baccalaureate Program. You can also visit the official International Baccalaureate website at www.ibo.org.


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Monikah Schuschu
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Monikah Schuschu is an alumna of Brown University and Harvard University. As a graduate student, she took a job at the Harvard College Office of Financial Aid and Admissions, and discovered the satisfaction of helping students and parents with the often-baffling college admissions process. She also enjoys fiber art, murder mysteries, and amateur entomology.