As parent of a student who received his International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma in 2015, I have to wonder if all his sacrifice to complete the coursework was worth it. Given that the college he finally decided to attend will not award him any college credits for the IB exams he passed; was all of his work just futile? Perhaps he would have been better off just taking Advanced Placement courses and avoided the stress and late night study sessions that made him such a cranky teenage?
IB Diploma Program (DP)
International Baccalaureate Program
The DP curriculum is made up of six subject groups and the DP core, comprising theory of knowledge (TOK), creativity, activity, service (CAS) and the extended essay.
Through the DP core, students reflect on the nature of knowledge, complete independent research and undertake a project that often involves community service.
High School IB courses are demanding
My son learned a tremendous amount through participating in the IB program at Granite Bay High School. He absolutely loved the intense Chemistry and Math coursework. He undoubtedly became a better writer because of assignments that required a high level of analysis of literature in the English courses. In addition, he received a good introduction into professional intelligence and acumen necessary to compete and excel in the world of academics.
Late Night Study Sessions Were Routine
Our son became quite the night owl as he would often work into the early morning hours studying, reading, or completing assignments. One of his favorite home appliances was the espresso machine we bought him in his junior year of high school. After his cross country training and sometime practicing his saxophone, he would fire up the espresso maker so he could keep working past midnight. It was his choice to fill his schedule with the extra-curricular activities, but I don’t he was too different from most IB students.
Students need to have the grit before starting
The IB program did not provide him with the drive to succeed. He already had the grit and determination to master the coursework and be the best in the class. Actually, the grit and determination to succeed, regardless of the challenges presented by the assignments, instructor, or fellow class mates, is an absolute requirement for any student to complete the International Baccalaureate program. The IB program did prepare him well for virtually any college course he might choose to attempt.
College conflicts on accepting IB examination scores
However, he was a bit miffed that the small liberal arts colleges that he was considering attending didn’t award any credits for the successful completion of his IB coursework. Instead, depending on the college department, if his IB test scores were high enough he might be able to skip a lower division introductory course. In the most restrictive instance, a good IB test score only allowed him to take a placement exam to test his subject knowledge. After he took some of the placement exams he informed me that it was virtually impossible to test out of some introductory course work, at least at his college.
At the discretion of the appropriate departments or programs, students presenting satisfactory scores in Advanced Placement tests or International Baccalaureate higher level examinations may be placed in advanced courses not regularly open to them and/or may receive course credit toward the major or concentration. Therefore, if granted, this credit may be used as a prerequisite or in partial fulfillment of the major or concentration requirements. AP and IB credit, however, may not be used to reduce the normal course load of any semester, to make up a deficiency incurred at Williams, to satisfy the Distribution Requirement, or to reduce the 32 semester and 4 Winter Study Project course requirement. – http://dean.williams.edu/policies/advanced-placement-and-international-baccalaureate/
No early graduation
The net effect of a college not awarding college credit for completed High school IB coursework is that the student can’t graduate early. The students with passing IB course grades must still complete the necessary college requirements to graduate, virtually ensuring four years attendance. The cynical side of me says the colleges that don’t award college credit for IB coursework are just making sure they extract four years of private college tuition. My optimistic inclination accepts the institutions rational that they just want to make sure a student receives a full liberal arts education without any shortcuts.
UC, CSU and private college requirements
Under the University of California system my son would have received 40 quarter units for his IB courses. The California State University system would have awarded him 24 semester credits. At a minimum, his foreign language IB course work would have shaved a couple of quarters or a semester to meeting that particular graduation requirement under either the UC or CSU system. But his private college requires that he pass three courses from the Language and Art division regardless of his IB test scores.
- University of California Exam Credit for IB courses
- California State University Requirements International Baccalaureate
- Williams College International Baccalaureate Guide
IB courses help in other areas of study and preparation
Of course, just passing IB courses and tests is not the full story. It is entirely possible that the IB program helped my son score 800’s on the SAT tests of math, verbal, chemistry and calculus. But he might have achieved the same results while taking AP classes. There is also the admissions wrinkle that some colleges and universities take into consideration if the student took the most rigorous course work offered at their high school. The IB program certainly offers the most difficult and demanding classes, even if they don’t always include the subject matter covered in AP classes.
Student sacrifices for IB program
It is no insignificant task to complete two years of IB coursework and then achieve good test score to receive an IB diploma. The students must make sacrifices in order to make it through the curriculum. For our son it was a social life. He rarely attended school functions outside of his cross country and track meets. While I wouldn’t say he had no teenage fun at all, being an IB student will not translate into the stereotypical high school experience.
Parent sacrifices for IB program
I believe the parents must also sacrifice and accommodate their student’s IB study load. We skipped many family trips because our son felt he either needed to catch up on sleep, study or both. He also requested more quiet time at home which meant turning off the TV or even hosting small gatherings if he felt the noise would be too disruptive to him. Fortunately he was an only child and he didn’t have to deal with any siblings. In light of the IB coursework, his grit and commitment to his classes, and the fact that this was only for two years, it was easy to accommodate his requests.
Are the sacrifices worth the IB Diploma?
Were the overall sacrifices worth it? I would say yes, but only for certain students that are already pretty focused on learning. However, the lack of uniformity between how public and private upper education institutions treat the IB Diploma and test score is disconcerting. Is the private college approach to allowing a successful IB student to take higher level courses, but not necessarily receive credit for IB, more appropriate than public institutions who allow IB credit to be translated into college credit? Unfortunately, when your student is making the decision to enroll in the IB program it is a little early to be ranking different colleges your child wants to apply to. (And don’t get me started about all the SAT, ACT, and IB test preparation at the same time students are filling college applications and writing their essays.) All I can say is that if your child wants to attempt the IB program in high school, be fully prepared and committed to support his or her decision with family sacrifices that recognize the deep time commitment to the rigorous IB coursework.
College experience 2015
After my son’s first semester at Williams College in Massachusetts he maintains that the two years spent in the IB program at his high school was not the best use of his time. He contends that Advance Placement coursework would have prepared him well enough for his college experience. This is coming from a student who achieved all A’s in his first semester at Williams which included the coursework of Introduction to American Studies 101, Principles of Modern Chemistry 155, Principles of Microeconomics 110, and Multivariable Calculus 151. In addition to participating on the cross country team, running fifteen miles a day, and attending meets on the weekends.
He may be correct in his assessment. But I also know that the discipline that was necessary to graduate from the IB program has also translated into his college study habits. That is not to say that high school diet of only AP classes wouldn’t have fostered the same discipline and determination as IB. I can’t second guess my son. It was his experience and he is now putting it into a different perspective during is first year at college. Deep down, I believe that the IB program, with its emphasis on critical thinking, is playing a larger role in his college achievements than he may recognize.
2019 College Graduation
In 2019 my son graduated from Williams College with B.A. in chemistry and honors: Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, plus others. (Williams College Experience From a Parent’s Perspective) He took the GRE subject test for chemistry and was subsequently offered admission to several top universities in their chemistry PhD. programs. He selected MIT. My son is adamant that his education at a small liberal arts college was the best choice for post graduate work. In addition to his regular course work, he had the opportunity for summer internships in the Chemistry Department at Williams and also spent a summer at UC Davis working in their chemistry department.
My son is a pretty fun loving guy. He likes to hike, camp, run, and drink beer. It is my opinion that the International Baccalaureate program helped acclimate him to the long hours and intensive study necessary to achieve success in college and then move into a PhD. program. It would be foolish to attribute all of his college success to the IB program. Obviously, a student still needs the focus, interest, and determination to push forward. As parents, in high school and college, our job was to support him as he worked towards his goals.
If I had any guidance to future IB students and parents it would be try the International Baccalaureate program if there is any interest in it at all. Then let the student move through the process without pressure to succeed. This is a student choice, an adult choice. There is no harm in dropping out of the program. But if the student stays in the IB program, parents need to support their child. It is a serious commitment to pursue the IB diploma and parents must respect this adult decision of their child.