What Is the IB Program, and What Are IB Classes?
The International Baccalaureate––what is it? What are IB classes? For many parents, whose high school years are a fairly distant memory, guiding your child to the program of secondary study that is right for them can feel daunting. From course codes in a traditional high school class, to acronyms like AP and IB, a high school education can feel like an alphabet soup of choices.
What is the IB Program (Summary)
Designed in Switzerland in the 1960s, the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme (DP) is an academically challenging program of study, designed to prepare students aged 16 to 19 for success at university and life beyond. Its purpose is to give students around the world a chance to earn a rigorous, internationally recognized diploma, which can be used for entry into top universities around the world.
To earn an IB Diploma, students must meet the requirements, including classes in the six subject groups, passing IB exams, and completing three additional core requirements.
IB classes can be taken either on their own as part of a separate diploma, like the American high school diploma, or as part of the two-year International Baccalaureate Diploma. This program, typically taken over Grades 11 and 12, helps students develop, “physically, intellectually, emotionally and ethically.”
This kind of balanced approach makes a major impact on students during these critical, final years of secondary education, when questions about their future studies, career ambitions, and personal goals are top of mind.
What are the benefits of the IB Program?
Established to provide students with a balanced education, facilitate geographic and cultural mobility, and to promote international understanding, the DP offers countless benefits to students. According to IB, these include:
- gaining an excellent breadth and depth of knowledge
- flourishing physically, intellectually, emotionally, and ethically
- the opportunity to study at least two languages
- excelling in traditional academic subjects
- the chance to explore the nature of knowledge through the program’s unique theory of knowledge course
The benefits mentioned above aim to develop a well-rounded, worldly student that is, importantly, ready for university.
IB courses are known for being interdisciplinary, requiring a good deal of independent thinking, and assigning oral presentations and original research––all characteristics of college courses. According to one study, students are better able than their peers to cope with demanding workloads, manage their time, and meet the expectations placed on them. Key skills vital to thriving in a university environment and beyond.
Perhaps more concretely, taking IB classes (especially earning the full IB Diploma) is also a great way to show universities that students have taken difficult courses in a range of subjects and are able to manage college-level coursework. According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling's (NACAC) 2019 State of College Admission Report, 60% of schools surveyed ranked strength of curriculum as considerably important in admissions. This means that universities want to see that students have taken the most difficult courses available to them. IB is a great way of doing just that.
University Credit for IB
As any student with international ambitions knows, the requirements for university admissions and transferring credits from high school can be different from one country to the next.
When preparing to take IB classes or to sign up for the IB diploma program, students and their parents will want to speak with their guidance counselor about how IB fits into their desired program of study. Similarly, college counselors will be able to advise students on the potential college credits that students can earn for each successfully completed IB course and examination.
In many cases, students will find a clear IB credit transfer chart on the Admissions portion of each university’s website.
Depending on the IB class in question, students can earn between one and two-quarters of credit for classes like Chemistry, Mathematics, Computing, French, and Spanish.
By placing several quarters ahead in a university class can help students economize their time, allowing them to take other courses while maintaining their progress toward their desired degree, or by allowing them to opt-out of certain core classes, depending on the university.
Outcomes of IB classes
In addition to university readiness, DP students are also more likely to persist at university (continue on to their second year). A study conducted by IB and SRI Education (PDF) found that DP graduates in the United States experienced more positive postsecondary enrollment, persistence, and graduation rates than the average American high school student.
An earlier study found that students that received the full IB Diploma were 35% more likely to enroll in higher education, and 40% more likely to graduate from a four-year institution than the average American high school student.
While many students focus on more immediate outcomes of the IB program, the benefits extend far past university. A global study of IB alumni found that the IB has the potential to powerfully shape the lives of the students who participate in its programs.
A majority of former IB students in the study reported experiencing profound and long-lasting effects. These are consistent with the goals of the IB Learner Profile, a roadmap for student development. Examples of these longer-term impacts include:
- the development of international-mindedness
- a broader perspective on the world
- critical thinking
- analytical and writing skills
- positive dispositions towards lifelong learning
Why are IB classes worth taking?
The IB classes are unique from other advanced classes, like an honors-level class or Advanced Placement courses, because they fit into the educational ecosystem created by IB. The classes are part of the IB diploma and intentionally developed to promote interdisciplinary learning and critical thinking across different fields of study.
Furthermore, all classes within the IB diploma program advance the goals of developing students within the learner profiles, and this consistent approach further enhances the relationship between all classes within the IB program.
What are the IB Subjects?
The IB diploma begins in Grade 11, and focuses on three core elements;
- the theory of knowledge, where students reflect on how we know what we know;
- the extended essay, which requires students to write an independent research paper, and;
- the CAS project, which stands for creativity, activity, and service, which requires students to create a project based on those three themes.
The classes within the IB diploma fall under six subject groups:
- language and literature
- language acquisition
- individuals and societies
- and the arts
As part of the diploma, students select classes from each of these subject groups to create their own academic path. Some of these classes are one year courses (Standard Level, SL), which require 150 hours of study. Other classes take place over two years, (Higher Level, HL), and require 240 hours of study to complete.
Students must carefully plan ahead when selecting HL courses, but these allow them to dive deeply into the theory, practice, and knowledge available in each class. The different subject groups and the option to choose Standard or Higher Level courses allow students to pursue their particular academic interests, while still enjoying courses from across the spectrum of the arts, sciences, and humanities.
IB at ASP
At ASP, where we teach an American curriculum for a diverse group of international students, and as such, we offer both individual IB classes, as well as the full, International Baccalaureate Diploma in our Upper School.
While taking on a two-year program of study is no small task, the IB classes, and IB program are excellent ways for our students to take advantage of a rich and rigorous academic tradition while following their passions and developing themselves as students and as young adults.
The IB experience lasts far beyond the Upper School as students are well-prepared to gain admission to prestigious institutions and to succeed in the demanding university environment.
No matter where life takes a former IB student, the IB classes and/or IB diploma program create a strong foundation for lifelong learning and exploration.
At ASP, students in the IB program matriculate from universities around the world. Many students credit IB to helping them discover their future paths, and to giving them the tools to ask questions, take healthy risks, and to follow their passions with the skills, reflection, and knowledge instilled in them by the IB program and IB classes.
With diverse IB classes like film, economics, history, psychology, music, computer science, and more, there is an IB class for every student at ASP!