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What Is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program?


You've probably heard of this thing called IB, or International Baccalaureate. You might have heard that it's kind of like the Advanced Placement, or AP, program.

I myself am a recipient of an IB Diploma from Suncoast Community High School in Riviera Beach, Florida. I know the program from the inside out. In this article, I'll give you a factual overview of IB as well as my opinions.



2022 IB Exam Changes Due to COVID-19

Because of the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, the IB has decided to extend the adaptations which were put in place for 2021 to 2022. May 2022 IB assessments will have two routes, exam and non-exam, depending on which your school chooses. Stay up to date with the latest information on what this means for IB diplomas, course credit for IB classes, and more with our our IB COVID-19 FAQ article.


What Is the International Baccalaureate Program?

First off, what is IB? The International Baccalaureate (IB) program was designed in Switzerland in the 1960s. The program was meant to be a rigorous, internationally recognized diploma for entry into universities that students all around the world could earn. You can read more about the history and philosophy of the IB program on the official IB website.

An IB Diploma is a credential issued to students by the IB, and is recognized by most colleges and universities (I'll go into more detail on this below). Not all students who pursue an IB Diploma will actually receive one, though.

To earn an IB Diploma, you have to go to an IB-approved school (called an IB World School) and meet all the requirements, including taking classes in the six subject groups, passing their respective exams, and completing three additional core requirements.

Don't want to pursue the Diploma? Some schools allow you to take a few IB classes without doing the full-blown IB Diploma Programme, though each high school sets its own policy. My school, for instance, did not allow anyone who was not a Diploma candidate to take IB classes.

This is why it's so important to find out a school's policy before you decide to attend. Search for a school in your area using this complete list of IB schools in the United States, and then email that school's IB coordinator to ask about their policy.


Where Can You Take IB Classes and Get an IB Diploma?

You can take IB classes and get an IB Diploma at many local schools.

Currently, there are 942 IB Diploma Programme schools in the United States alone. In total, 5,263 schools around the world offer IB programs. This includes the Diploma Programme as well as the career program and programs specifically for elementary and middle school students.

You can also take certain IB classes online through Pamoja Education.However, you cannot get your IB Diploma online because Pamoja does not offer any Group 4 (Sciences) classes.



Will IB be useful in college?


Can You Get College Credit for IB Classes or an IB Diploma?

Yes! Though each school has slightly different qualifications for earning credit for IB classes, most colleges will give you credit for IB HL classes with an exam score of 5 or higher.

Some colleges will even waive your General Education requirements for those students with an IB Diploma. Others, such as the University of Southern California (my alma mater), will give you a full year's worth of credit if you have an IB Diploma.

You can look up colleges' individual IB college credit policies by searching "[School Name] IB credit policy." Most universities have a dedicated web page for explaining their IB credit policies.


What Is the Difference Between IB and AP?

Whereas AP exams are typically all or mostly multiple choice, IB exams are mostly written, essay-based. IB classes tend to have a wider worldview as well, making you read loads of foreign books, learn foreign history, and study a foreign language.

AP classes focus more heavily on the test material. IB is a more well-rounded education, in my opinion, because you're required to submit a written component (typically a report or essay) that will count toward your ultimate IB score in addition to taking the exam at the end of the course.

For example, for science classes, you must complete extensive lab reports. Meanwhile, for history, you are required to do an extensive report on a specific subject that aligns with the history you're learning about, and you get to choose the topic you write about. I learned about European history, and my report focused specifically on Allied prisoners of war in Europe in WWII.

In terms of popularity, IB is far less popular than AP in the United States. In 2019, 2.8 million students took AP exams, with around 2.7 million of these being in the US. By contrast, only about 166,465 students took IB exams in May 2019, and 88,000 of those were in the US.

IB is also more expensive than AP classes. For IB, there's a $119 fee per exam (if you're in the US). Though this is a lot of money, it's much less than the tuition you would pay for the same intro-level college course.

Many schools also have their own financial aid programs for IB. Some schools cover the cost of IB registration and exam fees. My public school (Suncoast Community High School) covered all the costs for IB exam fees, as well as AP exam fees, for all students as long as they were enrolled in the corresponding class, so I never paid for any testing.

Ask your local IB school what their policy is by calling or emailing the IB coordinator (you can find their contact information through our complete list of IB schools).

AP exams cost $94 each, so they are cheaper than IB tests. Nevertheless, both are still much less expensive than the cost of a college course. Also, AP does not currently offer a diploma program.




Why Should You Take IB Classes or Pursue an IB Diploma?

On top of the opportunity for college credit, I truly think the IB program is the best preparation for college—even better than the community college classes I took in a dual enrollment program. IB prepares students to think globally and write about a variety of topics. I really believe in the IB program.

It provides students with more creative opportunities than do AP classes. Students are allowed to choose topics for their reports and are not typically assigned a specific area to research.

For example, I am very passionate about film and theatre. I got to explore that passion through my Extended Essay, and I also got to explore it in my oral presentation for my Spanish B class, in which I talked about Pedro Almodovar and Spanish cinema.

Also, I am very interested in my family history. As I mentioned. I wrote a report on Allied prisoners of war in Europe in WWII for my IB history class. My own grandfather was a prisoner of war. I got to track down details of his experiences and include it in my report.

Overall, IB is a fantastic program for students who love to read and learn about the world. It truly allows students to pursue their biggest interests and identify their passions.


What's Next?

Want more information about the IB program? Read about the different types of IB classes you can take, which IB classes you can take online, and when IB exam scores are released.

Trying to figure out what extracurricular you should do? Learn more about participating in the Science Olympiad, starting a club, doing volunteer work, and joining Student Government.

Not sure where to apply to college? Check out our guide to finding your target school.


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Dora Seigel
About the Author

As an SAT/ACT tutor, Dora has guided many students to test prep success. She loves watching students succeed and is committed to helping you get there. Dora received a full-tuition merit based scholarship to University of Southern California. She graduated magna cum laude and scored in the 99th percentile on the ACT. She is also passionate about acting, writing, and photography.

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