My old high school was best known in our district for two things: its sport teams and its International Baccalaureate program. As my klutzy nature kept me from excelling at any sport other than badminton (Asian heritage for the win!), it was the IB Diploma Program that convinced me to enroll at Montgomery High School. I wanted to take the most advanced courses possible and build up my college application marketability, so it sounded like IB was the way to go.

Founded nearly 50 years ago, the IB organization is a nonprofit institution that offers an international education to students at over 3,500 IB World schools in 145 countries; it also offers a Middle Years Program for students from 11 to 16 years old, and even a Primary Years Program for students from 3 to 12 years old, building up to the Diploma Program for students from 16 to 19 years old.

The Diploma Program includes an advanced academic curriculum and several core requirements, including the Extended Essay (a kind of senior thesis), Theory of Knowledge (an epistemology course that emphasizes the IB philosophy), and CAS (extracurricular activities highlighting “creativity, action, and service” that counterbalance academic studies). Your IB final examination scores and fulfillment of above requirements determine whether or not you earn the IB diploma. I’ve found that American students rarely take on the IB diploma to attend university outside of the States, but rather to earn as many college-transferable credits as possible (to “get ahead” in completing General Education requirements in college,) or increase their college application marketability by boasting the IB diploma as an achievement on their resume.

Image from RyannaBella.

Image from RyannaBella.

When I hit junior year, I took as many IB classes as I could, but when I looked more closely at the diploma requirements, final examinations, and the likelihood of transferring credits to my future college (undetermined at the time), I started second guessing my goal to earn the diploma. The IB program is great, and the classes definitely prepare you for the rigor of college courses, but there really is no guarantee for transferring credits from IB classes if you don’t know which college you want to attend (which is largely the case for high school sophomores about to commit to the IB Diploma Program).

In a best case scenario, my friend *Dan did the IB diploma and entered Brigham Young University as a junior because all his IB classes were transferable. In a worst case scenario, I had a friend named *Blake who completed the IB diploma and didn’t get into ANY of the schools to which he applied, but this was mainly because he didn’t take academics seriously for the first two years of high school; he went on to study at the local junior college for two years and transferred to the University of Southern California no sweat. (Don’t let this last story freak you out; it just goes to show that the IB diploma doesn’t guarantee anything, even though some people make it out to be an automatic admission ticket to a good college).

The IB diploma and the stories of the students working to earn it raises the frustrating question, “What does it take to get into a good college today?” and the underlying question, “Is the IB diploma really worth it?” I realized this may be a relevant topic for our readers at The Prospect, so I interviewed a handful of friends and friends of friends about their experiences with the IB diploma. What I found out surprised me.

Christina’s Story: Dealing with IB Stereotypes

One of our own interns at The Prospect *Christina is currently an IB diploma candidate, somewhat anxious for this article to state her name, as she herself has been wondering whether or not she truly wants to commit to the IB diploma. Her high school offers a range of course levels – International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, Honors, Regents, College Level (SUPA, Adelphi, etc.) courses, and Applied – but is gradually getting rid of AP courses and switching to IB. The IB program was introduced to her high school three years ago by a new principal (who is now, unfortunately, leaving), and the first class of IB students just graduated in 2012. Approximately 65 students in Christina’s grade tried out the IB program as juniors, but the number dropped down to 30 by the end of the year.

What IB students spend most of their time doing.

What IB students spend most of their time doing.

Christina initially committed to the IB diploma for a handful of reasons. “It was supposedly the most rigorous course load; my guidance counselor encouraged me to do it; I was intrigued by the CAS hours (I thought they would be a way of finding more opportunities to participate in the community); and the majority of my classes were IB… so I thought, ‘Why not?’ when going for the diploma,” she says.

Although Christina expressed how much she enjoyed her IB teachers and the classes themselves, she did mention a commonly held perception of the program’s atmosphere created by IB students. “In my school, the personality of the IB students comes out in ToK class because that’s the only class with solely IB students in it. This is only my opinion (I’m biased in that I don’t like the IB program and I don’t like the kids in it), but I get the feel that IB is viewed and treated as a sort of program for ‘gifted’ students when in actuality, anybody can enter the program,” she admits. “The students are sort of pompous, condescending, and over confident. I’m over exaggerating a bit, but a lot of the students believe that they’re better [or] more intelligent than other kids.”

Christina’s main criticism of her school’s IB program concerned the scheduling of IB classes in conflict with AP classes: committing to the IB program would mean missing out on AP classes she really wanted to take. Many high schools that include both IB and AP courses place a heavy emphasis on one of the programs, more often on the IB program, as many IB courses include material that sufficiently prepares students to take the AP exam in that subject but AP courses fail to fulfill requirements specific to the IB diploma. Christina believes she’ll continue with the IB diploma, since she’s already completed a year of the program, but her story does bring up some important points.

Courtland’s Story: The IB Conveyor Belt

Courtland Thomas, an IB diploma graduate from Florida, is gearing up for his second year at Columbia University, as part of Columbia College (which has the infamous Core Curriculum, similar to that of IB). Courtland was able to share how the IB program prepared him for academics at Columbia and the college experience itself. His high school offers alternative options to IB, such as AP, honors, and dual enrollment (a popular option); approximately 70 students in his class of 500 earned the IB diploma.

Image from IB2@TSRS.

Image from IB2@TSRS.

“The IB program at my school was very much like a factory. It didn’t offer a large variety of courses in any of the 6 subjects, so you walked in, got put on a conveyer belt, and went through the whole thing. Of course, some people chose to jump off, or were put on the belt by their parents, but that’s generally what it felt like.” Since his high school had limited resources to support an IB program, Courtland confessed that, “my school wasn’t what I was fully expecting of the IB program – at least not the full flexibility to explore what subjects I wanted to…I would have loved to study have studied anthropology at the Higher Level, or French SL (both of which I’m now studying in college), but my school didn’t have the scheduling capabilities to allow such flexibility in my course selection.” Courtland was impressed by the passion that his teachers expressed for their IB course subjects, which Courtland had difficulty finding outside the IB program, even in the summer classes he took at the community college.

Courtland quite accurately described the program as “engulfing,” in substitution for the typical adjective “stressful” that most IB students use. “You walk into the IB program as one of the few in your school, and everyone knew whether you were an ‘IB kid’ or not. You were around all other students taking the IB a majority of the time, and, eventually, you gain this sort of community. You all undergo the same stress, the same judgement from your non-IB cohorts, and the same expectations of your professors to do your best, so you feel a group of students who legitimately have the same ideas or desires as you – knowledge.” An exclusive sort of society, but a strengthening one.

Looking back, Courtland admits that earning the IB diploma was the right choice for him. “I completed 3 years of Spanish and I was able to have a casual conversation about the protests in Egypt for my oral; I learned more about biology than I would have if I hadn’t done the IB simply because it didn’t fascinate me enough to take an additional courses in it; I probably would never had learned my passion for photography because I wouldn’t have taken a single visual arts course. But I do think the amount of time and effort I put into it would have been better utilized or appreciated if I had attended a different IB school.” Courtland’s story makes the point that not every IB World school necessarily has a strong IB program; this is something any IB diploma candidate should consider before fully committing to the program.

Image from IBO.

Image from IBO.

In terms of transfer credits, none of Courtland’s IB courses transferred for college credit at Columbia. In the case of my transfer credits, Wesleyan University only accepts a maximum transfer of two pre-matriculation credits. Wesleyan, like many other liberal arts colleges, really wants you to explore the classes it offers, which is what you’re paying for anyways; I figure that the whole transferring credits thing is really only appropriate if you have a good idea of what you want to study and want to get ahead in that field, or if you’re financially strained and want to save money by graduating early. I realized that, in my case at least, completing the diploma would be a big waste of time. Instead, I took a few IB classes (in English and Spanish), a few AP classes (in math and science), and several junior college classes (in subjects, like American history, that I absolutely did not want to slave over at an IB level). Junior college classes are almost always guaranteed to transfer to whatever college/university you end up attending as a full-time student, and they’re generally easier than IB classes.

To IB or Not to IB, That Is the Question

From what I’ve found, the IB diploma is right for you if you want to study overseas or if you know you want to attend a school that accepts enough IB credits to make your time and effort worthwhile. You don’t have to earn the IB diploma to go to a great school. But hey, if you do go for the diploma, don’t be embarrassed or feel like you’re a “sell out”. The diploma is ridiculously difficult to earn while both applying to college and keeping your social life afloat, and if you think you can do it (and, more importantly, that you should do it), then by all means, go for it!

I’m not sure if this isn’t a biased opinion, as I haven’t earned the IB diploma myself, but taking Junior College and AP courses alongside IB courses has worked for me and many other students I know. The most important thing is to challenge yourself academically, whether by completing the diploma or taking a smattering of higher level classes, without working yourself to death. You’re still in high school, and this is your time to have fun, too.

* = names changed to protect identities

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23 Readers Commented

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  1. Lina Goelzer on July 19, 2014

    There are a lot more students enrolled in AP courses than IB courses at my school. This is because very few non-diploma students are allowed to take IB courses, and many kids only take 1 or 2 APs. However, the programs are equally emphasized, and I was able to take multiple AP classes while still pursuing my IB diploma. I’m glad that I got experience in both styles of coursework and of testing; I think that it gave me adaptability that will be useful in college.

  2. Brenda on September 5, 2014

    My school offers both AP and IB with a stronger emphasis on AP. So while I’m in the IB program it integrates AP classes. The only time I’m with purely IB students is my Science class. And it’s my favorite class. IB isn’t for smart people but for people who are constantly asking the question : why? Other kids see us as crazy for taking our course load (six college class basically) but with IB kids we just call it English, Math, and History. We don’t care about the title we just need kids around us who understand that we HAVE to ask questions for our sanity. IB has it’s adv an disadv but (with the right faculty ) it’s for the purely curious.

  3. Anonymous on October 30, 2014

    I am a junior at an IB school, for our class motto we decided on “I got 99 problems but IB ain’t one…it’s 98 of them.” The head of school (the IB program is his ‘pet project’) wouldn’t let us put it up in the hallway because he didn’t want us to “bad mouth” the program. Unfortunately, everyone, including the kids with the best time management skills is struggling with at least one class. We no longer have AP classes (from my grade and onward) so anyone that doesn’t want to take IB is screwed if they want higher level classes. Every class has something we should be doing on our own in order to keep up with the class, on top of all the homework. On top of that, there is CAS and writing CAS reflections and then having a life outside of school. Then eating enough food, then maybe sleeping at some point. Everyone in my class is cutting back on something (mostly sleep or social life) and there are at least two people who aren’t going to get the diploma. My grade has 50 people in it. Almost half of us are seriously considering dropping it and demanding AP back.

    • Emily on April 19, 2015

      I’m currently a junior in a school that only offers IB courses. I’m in the same boat. I don’t have a social life.. I currently have a 95 unweighted average. I literally eat and sleep IB, and I am thinking of dropping out and switching schools. My life has become dull and without purpose. I need socialization and freedom. IB has taken that from me.

      • Hamza. on March 5, 2016

        Hello! Emily
        Can i plz have your email address??? cuz i want ur help regarding IB (cuz u r currently doing that and i think u will be able to assist me correctly) I am thinking to join this program but b4 that i wanna know that is it challenging? or is it a burden on students?
        Your comment is awaiting moderation.

        • Citlali on February 28, 2017

          Don’t join IB I been since 3rd grade and I have been sick I have stress barely a social life I have to sleep in the bus to school cuz of the lack of sleep. Take AP its lest stressful don’t take IB Or even worse French I’m a current junior in IB for about 9-10 years about to be a senior so take something u want not wat everyone is telling u to take. I was forced to take IB with no choice or say if u have a choice go for what you want

  4. Anonymous on November 6, 2014

    I am a freshman at a top 20 university who graduated high school and received her IB diploma. My high school offered both AP and IB classes, and I did all IB. Many of my friends chose AP, thinking that this would earn a comparable level of respect from colleges and be a smaller workload (since there was no CAS, EE, etc.). I honestly do not think I would have gotten in the school I am attending (which I applied to ED), without doing IB. I really think that it put me a step ahead of other students and, even though I did not come in with as much course credit as people who did AP came in with, I had a very easy transition from high school to college. My writing level was high enough and I was used to the work load and balancing class with extracurriculars. I would definitely recommend doing the IB program to anyone who is extremely committed to attending a great college and willing to put in the time and effort. It wasn’t easy, but getting my diploma and attending my dream college have made all the literal blood, sweat and tears worth it.

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  6. *Marcos on July 18, 2015

    I am still going to join the IB program this year, but I do think of something, I imagine this saying that says “When you fish you look for the big fish that’s far in the sea, but as I was fishing I found one right under my feet”. You all do consider a dream and by accomplishing the dream you strive to continue the IB program. I am terrified of the IB program by just reading comments but WE all have to STUDY, it’s not how smart you are it’s the time and effort you put in studying. That’s what makes you successful in life and thinking of the past stress you put in to accomplishing who you are right now.

  7. Dona on August 24, 2015

    I’m not in the actual IB Program yet, but my school has this concept of Pre-IB, which is basically for underclassmen who want to take the IB pathway (in fact, my middle school had “preparatory pre-IB classes). This is my sophomore year in the program right now, and honestly, I have mixed feelings about it. In some ways, we have a lot more restrictions than standard kids, yet we also have a lot more freedom with our schedules in a weird way. For example, everyone says that IB kids struggle when it comes to taking AP classes. While we do have one or two fewer electives than regular kids, our core program itself incorporates AP classes. The core English for sophomores is AP Lang, while the core for juniors is AP Lit. Also, you have a choice between Calc and AP Stat as your core math when you reach that level. Our school also has a plethora of AP classes to take as electives.
    As for the difficulty of IB, I honestly don’t know what to say. I’m not going to lie, I almost dropped out last year. Countless nights were spent staying up until one AM finishing assignments and waking up at 5 the next morning to go to school. By the last quarter, my GPA dropped to a 3.4 ( I don’t know whether this is weighted or not), and I didn’t have a single A in any of my core classes. I barely passed Spanish and chemistry with C’s. Many of the other kids weren’t in a much better state.
    That said, I don’t think IB as a whole was the problem. I was taking the highest levels of classes I could possibly take in any category, along with an extra Virtual School course in AP Human Geography. Most of my classes actually had a reasonable course load that I was used to, however. Even Spanish; the reason my grade was so bad was because I always fell asleep in that class instead of doing my work, so I take full responsibility for that. The killer class was chemistry. Coming into freshman year, I had heard countless horror stories about the class. Basically, the course was hard, AND all of our teachers sucked. I would literally (literally!) spend five hours perfecting a lab, only to get back a measly 35% as a grade. The tests were crazy hard mainly because even if you got the right answer, if your work wasn’t done strictly the way they wanted it to be, points were hacked off like trees in a soon to be construction site on a tight deadline. This class was so hard, I skimped on my other classes so I could spend more time on this one, dragging my other grades down as well. To prove my point even further, all of the kids who weren’t taking chemistry had 4.0 GPA’s. Out of the kids that were taking the class, about half dropped out. However, I feel as if this was a unique problem. All of the chemistry teachers actually left this year, and the replacements don’t seem to bad.
    If you don’t take Chemistry your freshman year, then I’d say the hardest class would be English. People say that IB English 1 is one of the hardest English courses you’ll ever take; it even trumps AP Lang and AP Lit essay writing wise. However, the essays are so hard mainly because of the rigid style and adherence to the MLA format. If you can follow the MLA format on the dot and have a strong argument, you should do ok. Even if you do bad on your essays, there is so much fluff work that cushioning your grade shouldn’t be a problem as long as you turn everything in properly.
    Another disclaimer would be that IB kids in general have a horrible work ethic. Last year, everyone would be doing their chemistry homework at lunch. We don’t think twice about copying off of someone unless we’re worried about getting caught. We procrastinate. A lot. We’re proud of it too for some strange reason- we literally argue about who’s more screwed because he/she waited the longest to work on their assignment. We BS all of our work as much as we can. If we do find that one responsible kid amongst us- who am I kidding we have no responsible kids. Most of our all nighters can be avoided if we manage our time well, but the problem is…that we don’t. When I say this I’m not just talking about the group of people I hang out with. This is EVERYONE. Literally on the second day of school a random junior gave me advice that the ones who survive IB are the one’s who have “connections” (people to copy off of). I try to avoid the copying thing as much as I can, but I will say that I am totally guilty of having horrible time management skills. In fact, I’m procrastinating as I write this.
    Also, it’s true that we get no sleep. What people don’t know is we trade our sleep for a social life. Our Sunday’s are spent holed up in our rooms because we spent all of Saturday partying and we never do homework on Friday. I’m also not sure about the validity of this, as none of my friends are into this kind of stuff, but I’ve heard that many kids do drugs to deal with the pressure. For example, there’s this one kid who randomly walked into my Spanish class high on weed last year (he didn’t even get caught even though it was so obvious he was on something). The funny thing is, this kid is super smart and determined. These are not adjectives I’d ever expected to associate with a pot smoker.
    I’m not sure why I stayed in the IB program this year, but I’ve been trying to change many of the bad habits I practiced Freshman year (*cough*procrastination*cough*), and depending on how it goes I might stay for legit IB, or I might not. What I’m trying to say that your success in IB is dependent on multiple factors, not just if you’re smart or not. So bear this in mind when you consider joining.

  8. Emma on December 21, 2015

    Bad experiences in IB come from not only a poor development of the program at the high school but a lack of commitment in some students who are lazy and whose parents forced them to join. I attend a magnet school that offers Ib and ap and im on the Ib diploma track. This article isnt accurate in saying the ib diploma is ridiculously difficult to earnwhile keeping a social life….thats wrong. Im a junior and most of my friends in IB have an insanely ridiculous social life with sports and parties and spending time with family. We learn to do it all and make A/B honor roll and ….we also take more Aps than the ap students at our magnet school and perform a hell of a lot better on the exams . So while studying ib english you also prepare for the ap language exam. Most IB kids dont think they are better unless they have always thought they are better. I believe and so do many other Ib students and teachers, that ib makes you a better PERSON. Not better than anyone else. You develope into a more open minded person who can understand and respect the perspectives of others throughout the world and throughout history. Ib teaches you to ask questions and to communicate and to care about whats happening in the world. My school has many teachers from around the world and maybe were spoiled that way but this article is a poor representation of the goals in Ib its not just about college credit. For students who dont get accepted into a college when all they want from ib is credits…its no wonder. I can see the author of this article did not have a real Ib experiece and for that im sorry but go explore a real ib school for yourself before you write an article about the program. Oh and i attend paxon SAS btw in jacksonville florida.

    • Steven on April 6, 2016

      You can do that all you want, but you’re going to have to sleep eventually.

  9. Eugenio on December 21, 2015

    I’m a senior currently in the full IB Diploma and I regret doing the program. I honestly gave IB a chance thinking that I would get more considerations from colleges because I take advance classes but NO. I have a 3.4 UW GPA and 1890 SAT score but I got deferred but one of my top college choices while they accepted one of my classmates who only takes 2 IB classes with a 3.6 UW GPA and 1900 SAT score. I honestly was appalled and didn’t understand why I didn’t get in but honestly if you are thinking about doing the IB program, DON’T DO IT. ITS NOT WORTH IT. You have no social life, you get hours of endless homework and you end not getting into your top choice college. I HATE THE IB PROGRAM. I HATE IT

    • Makayla on April 1, 2016

      I feel you! I hate it so much!!! And I’m only a pre-IB grade 9. I want to quit and have a good life. But my parents won’t let me. I don’t know what to do

  10. jan on April 12, 2016

    I am in 9th grade pre-IB and homework is not that bad. I have friends that are at Harvard and Wharton because they finished IB and scored well on IB exams-that is the important key. No sese of doing Ib without finishing at the top! I have had less homework then my 6th grade sister in Gifted school. I love that everyone is on the same track, I don’t have to pick anything, and my next 3 years are pre-planned. Excited to go to Wharton-take advantage of your teachers and school! College will be relatively easy depending on where you go after IB-EVERYONE SAYS THAT! LOVE IB!

  11. Abigail on May 1, 2016

    I am currently a sophomore in a public high school and am taking 3 AP classes. Last year, I was a freshman in a small private school, and we were only allowed to take 1 AP class freshman year. I have been in the hospital on and off for the past month and have to complete the rest of the school year at home. I am taking 3 AP classes- AP Environmental Science, AP French, and AP World History. AP French will be easy for me because I’m fluent, so I’ll just take that one regardless. I am transferring to the IB program for junior and senior year, so I’m wondering if it’s worth it to take all 3 of my AP exams due to my medical problems in the past month, and I’ll be transferring to the IB program. What will colleges think if I don’t take all of my AP exams this year, but I graduate high school with an IB diploma?

    • Sam on August 26, 2016

      I go to a magnet school and starting my junior year. I am going in with a 3.66 GPA now. I have signed up for full IB and doubled up on my science elective so taking all IB: physics,bio,lit,Chinese,history,and mathematics. I also do an internship at a science research institute on Fridays and don’t go to school. Should I change my mind!!??! Yikes.

  12. Jerry on January 18, 2017

    Im a senior in the IB program and even the number one ranked student in our class is suffering . he came from straight A’s to A’s B’s and C’s. So imagine a class filled with 20 emotional teens trying to learn B.S. The teachers truly do not do their jobs. I am not learning anymore because of all the stress the IB has provided. ITS NOT WORTH IT. Stick to honors and get straight A’s.

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  14. Lala on February 8, 2017

    I went to one of the very few IB schools in my country (about 10 years ago). I was very motivated because we were told that it would help us tremendously for college. The problem is that my school had few students, and they couldn’t offer all of the subjects, so there wasn’t much variety. I was 15 and I had NO IDEA of what I wanted to be at that time. I thought I wanted to be a doctor, so I chose all my subjects accordingly (chemistry, biology, psichology).

    After some months I was completely stressed, I had no social life, no time for arts -which would kept me relaxed during high school- and a huge feeling of quitting school. Yes, academic pressure can be challenging for some, but for me, it was completely insane to put so much pressure on 15-16-17 year old students. By the way, Im not a doctor now, Im a primary teacher. All of the chemistry and biology knowledge wasn’t that useful. Im not saying I regret it, but I think students and parents should consider if the stress is really worth it.

  15. Linda on March 9, 2017

    I have a meeting at school tomorrow, my son is struggling with IB, I think the work load has been overbearing for him, I don’t think he is putting in the required workload, homework. I think the school will recommend he comes out of the IB program, my sons confidence in very low as he is not getting the grades, he doesn’t want to come out of the program just yet, and wants to try harder, but he has no friends social life, he doesn’t look happy, any advice would be great, a very worried mum.

  16. Sarah on March 23, 2017

    Where I am we’re not allowed to have AP classes with IB classes. I’m in the IB program and my friend isn’t and she said that she’s able to do Dual Enrollment? I haven’t heard much about IB students able to do that. Are you, in IB, able to take Dual Enrollment as well?

  17. Carla on January 9, 2018

    I’m a grade eight student currently and I am writing my application to the IB program. These comments are scaring me but most of them seem to be about the teachers in the IB schools. If you’re an IB student would having better teachers make you more interested in the program? Should I even apply?

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