The Ivy Coach Daily

April 20, 2024

What is the International Baccalaureate Program?

Baker Library is featured beyond a road at Dartmouth College.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme is a high school diploma-granting curriculum administered by the International Baccalaureate Organization, which is an educational nonprofit. It is offered by many schools across the world and rivals the Advanced Placement (AP) Program in its academic rigor and reputation. Developed in the 1960s by a group of international educators in Geneva, Switzerland, the IB Diploma Programme has spread to 2,997 schools across 140 countries and territories. As the program emerges into the international educational spotlight, some may wonder if an IB diploma is competitive in the elite college admissions landscape.

The IB Program and College Admissions

Why the IB Curriculum Stands Out

The IB Diploma coursework usually starts in a student’s junior year at an IB-accredited high school. The curriculum requires coursework in the following areas: “studies in language and literature;” “language acquisition;” “individuals and societies;” “sciences;” “mathematics;” and “the arts.” IB courses for the most part mimic their AP counterparts in terms of workload, breadth of study, and the content of examinations, but completion of an IB diploma requires three additional components that tie the curriculum together into a holistic educational experience: a “Theory of knowledge” class, which is essentially a beginner’s guide to epistemology; a 4,000 word “extended essay” independent research project; and a “Creativity, Activity, and Service (CAS) project, which can be thought of as a comprehensive community service project.

These three additional requirements, termed the “DP Core,” set the IB curriculum apart from AP. Theory of knowledge encourages students to draw connections between the subjects of their various courses and to think with an interdisciplinary perspective. The extended essay mimics the sort of research that will be expected from students at the college level. The CAS project develops a student’s character and ethical orientation, structuring their time outside of the classroom in a productive manner. Taken as a whole, the IB curriculum is the closest thing many high schoolers can get to a college-level curriculum with distribution requirements, specialized classes, and cumulative research projects.

Is the IB Program Competitive in Elite College Admissions?

An IB Diploma comes with pros and cons. It does reflect to admissions committees that a student has gone above and beyond to reach the fullest extent of their academic potential. Also, because the IB program structures almost every single class a student takes as an upperclassman in high school, there is less of a chance for a student to mistakenly enroll in a lower difficulty course. Some students can even enroll in AP course slots during times when they are not scheduled to take IB courses (as AP courses can be taken individually), while AP-exclusive students typically cannot do the same with IB courses.

On the other hand, admissions officers may be less familiar with the merits of an IB diploma or the grading metrics used by the program. Some students risk scoring lower in an IB course than they would have in a corresponding AP course because of the level of academic rigor and specialized requirements found in IB examinations. 

Ivy Coach’s Solution: Take Advantage of Your School’s IB Program, But Sit for AP Exams!

Those students who are fortunate enough to attend schools with IB programs should absolutely enroll! IB diplomas consistently perform well at the elite college admissions level, but students who sit for AP exams in addition to their IB exams maximize their competitiveness. While it would be unwise to take exams on subjects that you have not studied, or to neglect to check with teachers about any discrepancies between the two tests, you can expect to do well on an AP exam if you have taken the subject’s corresponding IB class. For example, the IB HL US History class covers all of the content of the AP US History exam. Completing an IB diploma while sitting for both sets of exams not only demonstrates to elite colleges that you have initiative, it also indicates your mastery of different kinds of curriculum, which suggests that you have the flexibility to thrive on a dynamic campus!

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