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What Is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program?

Posted by Dora Seigel | Nov 4, 2018 11:10:00 AM

International Baccalaureate (IB)


If you are checking out this article, you have probably heard of this thing called IB or International Baccalaureate. You may have heard that it is something like AP. You might have read our article on What's Better for You: IB or AP? College Expert Guide.

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


What Is IB? What Is the International Baccalaureate Program?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) program was designed in Switzerland in the 1960s. The program was designed 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 over at their website.

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

To earn an IB diploma, you have to go to an IB-approved school and meet the requirements, including taking classes in the six subject groups, passing their exams, and completing three additional core requirements. All of which I'll cover more in-depth in our other article on IB Diploma Requirements.

If you don’t want to pursue the diploma, some schools allow you to take a few IB classes without doing the full-blown diploma program, though each high school sets its own policy on this. My school did NOT allow anyone who was not a diploma candidate to take IB classes. Find out the school policy before you decide to attend. Find a school in your hometown in our complete list of IB Schools in the US; email the IB coordinator to ask their policy.


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

You can take IB classes and get your IB diploma at many local schools. There are 873 IB Diploma Program Schools in the US, and there are 4,162 schools in the world offering IB programs, though not all of these offer the Diploma Program (there are programs just for elementary and middle school students as well as a career program). 

To find out if there is a school near you check out our other article on IB Schools in the US. You can also take certain IB classes online at Pamoja Education. However, you cannot get your IB diploma online because Pamoja Education does not offer Group 1 nor Group 4 classes online. For a full list of online classes, check out our other article on Which IB Courses Can I Take Online? Can I Get an Online IB Diploma?



Will IB be useful in college?


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

Yes! Each school may have slightly different qualifications for getting credit for IB classes, but most college classes give you credit for IB HL classes with an exam score of 5 or higher. Some colleges even wave your general education requirements for those students with an IB Diploma. Others like University of Southern California (my alma mater) give you a full year’s worth of credit to those with an IB Diploma.

Look up colleges' individual IB college credit policy by googling “[Name of College/University] IB credit policy.” Most universities have a dedicated web page for explaining their IB credit policy.


What Is the Difference Between IB and AP?

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

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

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

IB is far less popular than AP in the United States. 2.3 million took AP exams in 2014, about 1 million of those students are in the US, while only about 135,000 students took IB exams in 2014, and about 73,000 of those students are in the US, the rest are international. 67,524 were diploma candidates – students completing the full IB program in hopes of earning an IB diploma.

IB is more expensive than AP classes. For IB, there is a $160 registration fee plus a $110 fee per exam. While this is a lot of money, it is 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 of the costs for IB registration and 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 emailing the IB coordinator (you can find their contact information through our other article IB Schools). Read more about fees from the IBO

AP exams only cost $91 each without a registration fee, so they are cheaper, but 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 using a dual-enrollment program). IB prepares students to think globally and to write about a variety of topics. I really believe in the IB program.

It provides students with more creative opportunities than AP classes. Students are allowed to choose topics for their reports and are not typically assigned one specific topic. For example, I am very passionate about film and theatre. I got to explore that passion through my extended essay as I mentioned before, 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 in my history class, I wrote a report on Allied Prisoners of War in Europe in WWII. My own grandfather was a prisoner of war. I got to track down details of his experiences and include it in my report.

IB is a fantastic program for gifted students who love to read and learn about the world. IB allows students to pursue their interests and find their passions.  


What’s Next?

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

Studying for the SAT? Check out our complete guide to the SAT. Taking the SAT in the next month? Check out our guide to cramming

Not sure where you want to go to college? Check out our guide to finding your target school. Also, figure out your target SAT score or target ACT score


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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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