Choosing an International
Baccalaureate or IB Program
An Overview of IB, Benefits and Tips for Success

Meet the Expert

Dr. Robert Bouressa Read bio

Written by…

Shelley Zansler Read bio

High-achieving students preparing for high school and beyond have many options and opportunities to push their educations further. One of these opportunities is the International Baccalaureate Program. International Baccalaureate, or IB, is a rigorous, two-year program that results in personal and academic development and, upon successful completion, a globally recognized diploma. Students and their families can learn more about IB here, including program benefits and requirements with tips for deciding on and thriving in an IB program and advice from an International Baccalaureate expert.

“What is International Baccalaureate?” and other FAQs

International Baccalaureate (IB) is a worldwide, nonprofit education program founded to give all students the opportunity to receive an education fit for a globalizing world. There are four IB education programs, all of which are intended to develop students’ intellectual, emotional, personal and social skills. High school students will mostly be concerned with the IB Diploma Program (DP) and the Career-related Program (CP), which consist of six main subjects.

  • Who is eligible for an International Baccalaureate program?

    International Baccalaureate’s mission is to offer education to all students, so any high school student between 16 and 19 years old can apply for the program. IB doesn’t have any other restrictions, but individual schools may have GPA requirements, and many have limited spots in their programs, so the application process can be competitive. Students should check with their counselors for their IB program’s specific requirements.

  • How do I become an International Baccalaureate student?

    Students interested in joining the IB program usually need to complete an application by a specified deadline, which can be found on their IB school’s website or through school counselors. Applications may require teacher recommendation letters, grade reports, essays, writing samples or a personal statement, vaccination reports and a list of extracurricular activities. Students may also have to live within a certain distance from the school offering the IB program.

  • How does the Career-related Program differ from the Diploma Program?

    The CP is similar to a vocational college program; it allows students to gain professional skills while in high school. CP students are exposed to the academic rigor and theoretical knowledge of the Diploma Program by taking two DP courses, but they also take a set of core classes specific to the CP as well as career-specific classes. Learn more about the CP and its different set of graduation requirements and assessments here.

  • When should I enroll in an International Baccalaureate program?

    While the DP and CP programs technically don’t begin until a student’s junior year, IB students start taking prep courses as soon as they enter high school. Because of this, the application process typically begins in 8th grade, about a year before a student starts their freshman year. Specific dates and deadlines vary between programs, so students and their families should check with counselors and their intended IB program for details.

  • Are there International Baccalaureate programs near me?

    Maybe! Every state has at least one IB program. Check this directory to find the IB program nearest you.

  • Is there any cost involved in International Baccalaureate?

    It does not cost anything to become an IB student. However, the IB assessment tests, which can lead to college credit with a passing score, do have fees ranging from $10 to $170. Learn more about registration fees and subject fees at the International Baccalaureate website.

How International Baccalaureate Helps for College

The IB emphasizes personal student development as one of its main achievements, and it’s true that IB provides an enriching high school experience. But prospective IB students who are looking ahead toward post-secondary education should be pleased to know that IB graduates also benefit from being extremely well-prepared for college in a number of different ways. Below are just a handful of the academic perks of enrolling in an IB program.

AP vs. IB: Choosing Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate

Students and families who are looking into more challenging alternatives to the traditional high school curriculum may come across Advanced Placement (AP) options along with IB. Both programs offer college-level courses to high school students, but there are many key differences that should be examined before determining whether one is a better fit over the other. Noting the similarities and differences between these programs can help students make the right decision for them and their academic and personal goals.

SIMILARITIES

  • Looks good to colleges
  • Advanced coursework prepares for post-secondary education
  • Keeps advanced students engaged in school
  • Can receive college credit upon examination
  • Open to all students

DIFFERENCES

TYPE ADVANCED PLACEMENT (AP) INTERNATIONAL BACCALAUREATE (IB)
Philosophy College preparation Education for a globalizing world
Goals, Outcomes Earn college credit in high school Earn a globally-recognized diploma
Curriculum
  • Less focus on writing
  • Coursework is the only requirement
  • Focused on writing and critical thinking
  • Second language requirement
  • Extracurricular requirement
  • Extended essay requirement
Program Design
  • No set program
  • Can take any number of individual courses
  • Diploma program with set series of courses
  • Courses can be taken a la carte, but this will
not result in a diploma
Exam Format Mostly multiple choice with a few writing portions Predominantly writing
Exam Cost
  • Less expensive
  • No registration fee
  • More expensive
  • Required registration fee
Exam Eligibility Open to anyone, including IB students, whether they’ve taken the corresponding AP course or not Must be enrolled in IB to take exams
Online Availability All courses available online
  • Select courses available online
  • Cannot earn diploma completely online

Tips for Choosing and Thriving in International Baccalaureate

Preparing for IB can be an intimidating and, at times, confusing process. Both deciding on an IB program and doing well once enrolled takes a lot of early preparation. These tips can help students determine whether or not IB is a good fit for them, and can help ensure they stay on track and get the most from their IB program without getting overwhelmed.

  • Ask those who have already done IB

    Not all IB programs are the same, so it’s wise to talk to students who have gone through the program and see how they felt about their experience and the program’s quality.

  • Shadow your intended program

    Students often have the ability to visit their intended IB program and see for themselves how the program works.

  • Assess your learning style

    Know that IB isn’t for everyone, and it’s okay for students to decide that the program doesn’t fit their learning style. IB is very writing-intensive, can involve a lot of group projects and challenges students to think critically about potentially controversial subjects in order to gain a strong understanding of cultural differences.

  • Understand your goals

    Doing well in an IB program can help students get into top colleges, but if that is the only reason for enrolling in IB, students may want to consider options like AP. IB is an in-depth and rigorous program intended for students seeking personal and academic growth, and those simply looking to boost their college applications may find it isn’t worth the stress and time commitment.

  • Consider distance

    Often, students need to travel to get to the nearest IB program. The feasibility of this should be taken into account when deciding if IB is a good fit.

  • Talk to counselors about alternatives

    Students and their families should talk to school counselors to make sure they are aware of and understand IB and its alternatives. Students set on IB may find that another program they hadn’t heard about actually suits them better.

Advice from an Expert: Is International Baccalaureate Right for Me?

Dr. Robert Bouressa is the Director of College Guidance for Saint Andrew’s School in Boca Raton, FL. He is the former Diploma Coordinator for IB Students at Saint Andrew’s, and now counsels IB students on college choice. Prior to joining the school, he spent 10 years as the Director of Admission and College Counseling and worked within the IB program at the Escola Americana do Rio de Janeiro.

How can students (and their families) determine whether or not an IB program is right for them?

Comparing IB with other programs, like AP, is a good start. Both are rigorous programs devoted to educational excellence, and both programs involve dedicated and creative teachers committed to their students, their disciplines and their profession. AP and IB attract highly motivated students who wish to excel academically and attend the most selective colleges and universities as well as the attention of international educators, educational policymakers and the general public as ways to improve the quality of education around the world. It is important to have a good understanding of your learning style when deciding if IB is a good fit.

Why might someone choose an IB program over AP courses, Running Start-style programs, early college magnet schools or similar alternatives to traditional high school curricula?

Given the classes in a typical IB program run over two years, the AP offers greater opportunity to take a broad variety of classes. However, IB has a stronger emphasis on global perspective than AP, which has a predominantly Western perspective. The IB program is also more divergent than convergent, asking “why” more than “what”.

AP allows students to take classes that play to their strengths and are graded independent of one another. IB, on the other hand, is a course of study, encompassing six areas: English, history, science, foreign language, math and an IB-approved elective. There is also a great amount of writing in the IB program. Even math and science students must write in-depth research papers.

Are there any common mistakes, assumptions or pitfalls regarding IB that hinder student success? How can they be avoided?

Not having a good idea of the commitment that it takes to complete all the requirements of the IB program. It is a very rigorous program, but any student that is committed to learning can achieve the diploma through a dedicated approach to their studies.