As the name implies, International Baccalaureate (IB) offers a standardized curriculum that transcends national borders. It has a reputation for dumping hours of readings, essays, and exams onto the shoulders of baggy-eyed high school juniors.
In fact, when I first heard the term “International Baccalaureate” I thought: “jeez that sounds pretentious.” I was sitting in my high school’s auditorium, one among 300 other 9th grade students. Unlike some other schools, which offer IB programs to underclassmen, my high school only offered the Diploma Program: a two-year academic experience for juniors and seniors in high school.
So why did I decide to subject myself to this incredibly intense program? And why do I absolutely not regret it? Because transitioning from high school to college was immeasurably easier for me than it was for my peers in Honors and even AP classes. Here are a few reasons why:
Experience writing long papers
This is probably the single most helpful skill that IB instills. When we were handed our first 4000-word paper in my freshman writing seminar in college, my classmates flipped out. Some of them had never written anything longer than five pages. They didn’t know how to structure a paper of that length, how to go about writing it, or even how to talk about a single topic in a focused way for such an extended period.
I was a bit baffled by their reactions. After two years of incessant reading and writing, this assignment seemed like a walk in the park. Over the course of my time at college I’ve come to appreciate how much those grueling years of never-ending essays improved my academic writing, and my communication skills overall. I’d even go so far as to compare the IB program to word-count bootcamp.
Learn how to think, not just apply
One of the most challenging academic differences between high school and college is the shift from “memorization and application” to “analysis and synthesis.” As you move beyond intro classes and head deeper into complex subjects, professors expect that their students will not just reproduce what they have seen, but will use their growing knowledge to create new solutions and present unique perspectives.
Unlike many other high school classes, IB forces its students to begin this transition from reproduction to production before they enter college. Though this is true of every subject, as a Math major I found it particularly noticeable in my college Math courses. Up until IB, I always thought math was easy–and relatively boring. Learn rules. Do them. Done. But in IB Math, I learned to think beyond the rules. I learned to use mathematical formulas as a starting point from which to craft my own, creative solutions to complex problems. This kind of thinking has become invaluable not only in my studies of higher-level math in college, but in almost every area of my life. It exposed me to a new way of conceptualizing complex problems that, prior to IB, I never even knew existed.
One of the reasons I joined IB in high school was for the microcosm it created. Having always gone to a medium-sized public school, with 300+ kids in my grade, IB enabled me to simulate the experience of a small, 60-person class within the larger institution.
What I didn’t expect was the ongoing community that IB creates well after high school. Even now, as a college senior, I am meeting other IB students and bonding with them over our shared experience. Despite that fact that each of our IB experiences were different, we’ve all undergone similarly demanding, rigorous workloads. We can empathize with the process of writing and re-writing Extended Essays, with the dread of waking up day-after-day for a month just to sit for 6 hours of exams. And we’ve all come out stronger, smarter, better people.
There are some downsides to IB. For instance, I did not come into college with 12 credits already on my transcript. But I think I came in at least as prepared as those students with 10 APs and two community college courses. If you put me back in that auditorium and asked me to do it all over again, I would make the same decision every time.