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Should you be an IB student? Here are the pros and cons to help you figure it out

Is the IB worth all the hype? Here's a list of pros and cons to help you find out!
BY Anandamayee Singh |   29-07-2019

BrainGain Magazine

In 1968, the International School of Geneva introduced the International Baccalaureate (IB) to its students. The curriculum drew majorly from a booklet titled Do Education Techniques for Peace Exist? Written by Marie Therese Maurette, a previous leader at the school, the booklet advocated for education centered on peace and international cooperation. This very emphasis on international cooperation and tolerance is what makes the program so popular with schools and universities around the world.

According to Education Week, low income students who participate in the IB program in the US are more likely to pursue higher education than those who don’t. This may be a testament to the program’s focus on individual student growth. But fifty-one years on, how inclusive does it truly remain? And is it really the best option for you? This IB alum and BrainGain staff writer has the perfect list of pros and cons to help you figure it out.

The pros

International recognition
This one’s pretty obvious. The IB is recognised by most leading universities around the world, which significantly widens the pool of prospective colleges in comparison to a country specific course. More IB students get into good colleges in the US and, often, in the U.K. than students from other programs. Being in an IB program also helps form an international network, with events and groups of IB alumni around the world. No matter where you are, you’ll probably find a few people to bond with the over the unique pain and pleasure of the IB.

A well rounded, well-organized curriculum
The IB curriculum offers unparalleled breadth. Students must take a science, math, a foreign language, literature a social science and a sixth subject of their choosing. Of course, the depth you dip into-- higher level or standard level-- is dependent on their level of interest. However, having what is essentially a liberal arts education in high school trains their mind for a liberal arts college. An emphasis on interdisciplinary learning means that nothing is off the table when it comes to the subjects. You can write an English paper on the science behind Asimov’s stories, or conduct a math project on the engineering behind catapult warfare. The curriculum forces you to think outside the box, beyond the uncreative disciplinary lines that exist in many schools.

However, at the same time, the grading scale for the IB is systematically based on specific criteria. All students are given the criteria rubrics that are used to assess their coursework beforehand. This encourages them to plan and execute their school projects, essays and presentations systematically, a skill that helps greatly in university and beyond.

An emphasis on critical thinking and independent projects
A large proportion of the IB curriculum is based on projects and papers. Each subject has internal assessments, which are essentially projects where students choose a topic of their own and conduct experiments or research it thoroughly. All IB students also must do a Project 4 group for science, where they investigate a specific scientific phenomenon as a group and write a proper research report.

In addition to coursework, students are expected to complete an Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge project. The Extended Essay is 4,000 words long. Students must craft a research question of their own and answer it with guidance from a teacher. Theory of Knowledge varies from school to school, but essentially covers the basic foundations of philosophy, and teaches students to approach knowledge from a critical standpoint. For the essay, students are asked to unravel and examine basic ‘truths’ and explore it in contemporary and relevant ways.  Essentially, IB students are taught to question preexisting knowledge and value the process as much as the outcome. This is especially important in today’s world, where innovation requires an appreciation of processes and creativity.

A focus on social responsibility
Another part of the IB program is Community Action Service (CAS) projects. All students must complete 150 hours of community and service. How they fill those hours is entirely up to them, but the 150 hours of focused work in community and service means that students must think beyond their school and their college applications. Students must also write reflections on what they have learned and achieved from their CAS projects. Cultivating a practice for community and service early on helps IB students become more socially responsible and gain some valuable experience in executing actionable projects.

The cons

Heavy workload
The IB is like a long-distance run. You cannot prepare last minute unless you want a muscle sprain or massive burnout. With internal assessments, a 4,000-word essay, oral presentations, philosophy papers, 150 hours of community and service, mock exams and final exams, it is nearly impossible to procrastinate and still get good marks.

While CAS makes room for you to continue your extracurricular activities, it is very difficult to carve out time just for fun as an IB student.  I did not have a social life during my IB years. At most, I spoke to my friends during study sessions and CAS project work. In the little free time I did have, I was usually too exhausted to socialize, and generally just binge-watched television. But I really enjoyed the structure of my studies, so it was relatively easy for me to stay motivated.

Before taking on the huge courseload, ask yourself if you will be able to handle the pressure and the relentless pace of learning. What will keep you motivated? Do you have a strong support system? There is no shame in realising that the pressure of the program is not for you, especially if you know you’ll do much better in a different structure.

The program’s value varies around the world
While the IB is internationally recognized, not all countries around the world give it equal weight. The US probably values the IB program the most, but even American colleges don’t accept standard level coursework for college credit. In comparison, all Advanced Placement courses are accepted for college credit by American universities. Most countries in Europe don’t give the IB as much weight as their local programs, and often ask for equivalencies in terms of degrees and grading. Therefore, it is important to ask yourself where you want to go to college. If it is the US, then the IB is a good bet, but if it is elsewhere, then perhaps you should consider looking into alternative programs.

Less flexibility and less opportunity for students who don’t want to pursue liberal arts
While there is great breadth in the IB curriculum, students who want a more practical or stream-based education will have a difficult time in the program. To be fair, most students who plan to pursue medicine or engineering can take three higher level science subjects and/or math, as per their requirements. However, the same flexibility isn’t afforded to the more artistically or practically inclined students. So, ask yourself what your studying style and priorities are.

While the IB is widely celebrated, it is not a one size fits all program. No such thing exists. Despite the success of IB students, the program won’t guarantee you admission into the college of your dreams, especially if you are struggling throughout the two years. Before jumping on the bandwagon, ask yourself if the program matches your long-term goals and learner profile. More than anything, it’s important to find a curriculum which will help you enjoy what you learn, because above all else, colleges want passionate students, whether they are IB kids or not.



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