TeenLife Blog

Supporting teen success, one post at a time

What's an IB High School and Why Consider It?

Posted by

Young blonde woman studying at computer.

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme is an international education system that in the United States spans the last two years of secondary education – junior and senior year.

There are many components to the IBDP curriculum, but in this post, I want to provide a balanced look into the life of an IBDP student in high school and hopefully help any readers decide if it’s the right path for them. But before I do this, I want to explain a little about the circumstances behind my IB education.

My high school is a new IB World School and I am only in the second cohort to graduate from it – a guinea pig group, if you will. The IB population of my school is also relatively small with around 38 students in what my school calls the senior “cohort” and 28 in the junior one.

In addition, I am taking five IB “higher level” courses (instead of three or four) in my senior year of high school. This and the fact that IB is new to my school means that my experience in IB could differ greatly from some other schools. That being said, I still understand how IB works and what I’ve learned from it.

Here are the things I know about IB from my experience so far:

The IB curriculum

Unlike how regular high school classes and AP courses focus on memorizing the material just for the exam, IB classes are very holistic. Since IB is an entire curriculum, all of the classes fit together in some way. I still find myself surprised when two completely unrelated subjects are connected in the course material. Theory of knowledge will connect to math, and language and literature will connect to history. This deliberate interconnection is to promote the development of “good learners” as described in the IB Learner Profile.

The final “exams” are also quite different. In IB, each course has two or three “papers” that are the final exams. For example, the math standard level exam has a calculator and non-calculator test, both being free response. In fact, most of the IB exams are entirely free response which can be a bit shocking for high school students used to multiple choice.

In addition, IB provides many opportunities to explore student interests through the individual investigations (IA’s) required in each course. This is really enjoyable (but also stressful at times) because of the academic free rein students are given. We are allowed to research or experiment on anything we’re interested in for each subject.

Further individual learning opportunities are afforded with the extended essay - a research paper that can be about almost anything under the sun. I’m still in the process of revising my EE before final draft is due. My essay compares the central philosophies of Norse mythology and Christianity. I find it extremely interesting to examine how these two religions – which occurred in completely different contexts in the history of the world – have some shocking similarities. It’s a two-year process and exhausting at times, to be sure, but rewarding nonetheless because I’ve learned so much about my essay topic.

Learning how to study

In my opinion, the hardest part of IB is knowing how to study since the material and exams are so different from what I’m used to. Good study methods and planning skills are a necessity for success in the IB. I’ve only taken two exams so far (at the end of year one) but my scores weren’t stellar.

Due to this, I dearly want to score well on every exam at the end of my second year. I’m (at the end of December) in the process of making a study plan for my May final exams. Since the IB courses are more like college classes, it’s necessary to learn how to self-teach. Sometimes the material is really difficult or a teacher doesn’t teach – this situation can be somewhat perilous due to the intensity of the exams. By preparing study materials, planning the year as far in advance as possible, and taking the time to study for months before May, I plan to take my exams with confidence.

A critical requirement

In my experience, the requirement for the Language B course is the most valuable aspect of the IBDP. Due to my consistent French classes all throughout high school and the IB’s foreign language standards for writing, reading and speaking a second language, I am able to hold a decent conversation in French with my father’s side of the family, who are all native speakers. Thanks to the IB Language B curriculum, I have learned so much in grammar and also how to hold conversations in many world topics such as culture, society, health, environment and technology.

Making friends

Whenever I feel down or stressed about IB, I always try to remember what one of my friends said early on in our second year. She said that IB was one of the best things to happen to her because she made many friends throughout and felt like she belonged in our little community. This is really true for me, as well.

I don’t think I would have done as well in high school – socially or academically – if not for IB. The fact that my classes have been with the same group of students and teachers has allowed me (a socially anxious person) to form professional relationships and, like my friend, make easy friendships. Since the IB experience is international, there’s an instant connection between all IB students across the world when they talk to one another. IB has opened a lot of social opportunities to me, and I am grateful.

To IB or not to IB

So it all boils down to whether you should pursue IB or not. When I chose to pursue the diploma, it was the best option at my school and I had a gut feeling that it was the best path. I didn’t quite know what I was getting into. The IB Programme is not an easy task. It takes a lot of time and commitment, and can cause a lot of stress. At times, I feel terribly overwhelmed and scared about how it will all turn out. I also often imagine my last IB exam – the last thing I have to do for the diploma – and I truthfully can’t wait for it to be over.

However, I also realize that I am getting a better education than is easily found in public high schools. The core values of IB are something I’ll bring with me to college and into the future. I have learned a lot, not just about the subjects, but also how to be academically honest and successful. For me, I think the overall benefits definitely outweigh the struggles that come with IB. I know that in the future, I will be so thankful I chose to pursue the IB.