The International Baccalaureate program has its advocates and its critics. Some see it as a “more global” version of the Advanced Placement (AP) program. Some see it as “too global,” thereby undermining a unique American flavor to education in this country. Beyond these considerations, of course, is the actual IB program itself and whether it may be right for your child. Since families often ask about this program, we wanted to give a deeper explanation of the answers we give parents when they call or write us.
IB was founded in 1968 in Switzerland to serve as a base of educational curricula for those attending international schools. If your parents were expats you might not be attending a “local” school but rather an “international” one, and as such, would not necessarily study Swiss history or literature, even though you lived in Switzerland, for example. IB emphasizes critical and creative thinking and encourages students to choose their own topics and projects while requiring a lot of writing behind those topics and projects. It also has a community service requirement. At its core is an ideological agnosticism driven by its alignment with UN’s UNESCO requirements for education: that equal weight and value must be given to each form of government, cultural practice, or social construct.
There are middle school and elementary IB programs, but what we are most concerned with are the high school programs. Depending on how your school has the program set up, students may be allowed to take a single IB class or may take a full course load of IB classes with an eye to earning the IB diploma. While IB has no barrier set up to prevent any student from enrolling, sometimes these classes are scheduled in opposition to AP or Honors equivalents so that students have to choose. Some schools see AP as the past and IB as the future. Other schools see IB as an upstart whereas AP is the “old reliable.” What is certain is that passing an AP exam with a score of 4 and above (and 3 in many other cases) will still earn you some level of college credit at many universities, whereas there is often no college credit for an IB.
At this point you may (reasonably) be asking, “So, let me see, colleges don’t give IB any more weight than AP as far as admissions goes, and IB actually carries less weight as far as college credit goes. So, conversation over, right?” Yes and no. As we always try to do at Get Smarter Prep – we want to make sure you have the proper context for the answer.
I’ve taught over 2000 students in the more than 10 years I’ve been in the test prep industry. More than a few have been in IB classes. Those students have told me that they enjoyed the different course structure and the challenge. They were all willing to admit that IB deprived them of a regular social life and even cut back their participation in outside activities, like work, sports, and clubs. Yet, that overarching unified curriculum and drive for a diploma also creates a sub-group of students within each school who not only can work on things together, but can also commiserate about the tremendous work load.
But my students also lived with the fear that after two hard years invested across multiple subjects that they may not earn the coveted IB diploma. Any good student loves a challenge – and IB – with its comprehensive curriculum – offers that to them.
Ultimately, the answer to “should my child do IB?” is quite similar to “should my child take the SAT or the ACT?” That answer is: “It depends, and it’s different from child to child.” For the SAT and ACT, we recommend that your student come in and take practice tests for both, and then we will sit down with you, at no charge, to talk about which one makes more sense for you. Unfortunately, there’s no “test” for whether you should take IB, but you can use the tried-and-true parent grapevine. Take parents (and students!) who have been involved in IB out to coffee or dinner. Ask them difficult questions. Try to find people on both sides of the argument. Using that information, you and your student can make an informed decision.
Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.