International Baccalaureate

High school rigor is an important element of a college admission officer’s review of a high school transcript. There are multiple curricula that add rigor and challenge to the course of study, like honors programs, accelerated classes, dual enrollment programs, or Advanced Placement (AP) coursework. One curriculum that is commonly found outside the US, which is growing in popularity within the US, is the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

What is the International Baccalaureate?

The IB Diploma Programme is a two-year curriculum typically offered for 11th and 12th grades. The curriculum for the IB diploma consists of six core subjects taken each year of the program: literature, mathematics, science, social science, non-English language, and the arts. Each subject is taken at either a standard level (SL) or higher level (HL);  it is typical to take three at standard level and three at higher level. While IB classes can be taken piecemeal, similar to the AP program, most schools that offer the IB encourage students to engage the IB Diploma Programme. In addition to the six core classes, IB diploma candidates also complete three core elements: a class called Theory of Knowledge (TOK), a research paper called the Extended Essay (EE), and a Creativity, Activity, Service project (CAS). More detailed information about the IB can be found on the IB website.

Benefits of the IB

The IB curriculum is viewed as strong preparation for college. In addition to the rigors of the academic program, the three core elements further enhance a student’s preparation for college. TOK is discussion-based and asks students to develop sharp critical thinking skills while building confidence to engage intellectual debate, much like a college seminar does. The EE is a semester-long original research paper that prepares students for the rigors of collegiate research and writing. The CAS requirement puts learning in action and helps introduce students to the initiative, perseverance, and multiple practical skills needed to be successful in college.

Which is better: AP or IB?

A notable difference between AP and IB is that when students pursue the IB diploma, they are part of a motivated cohort and take all their classes under a strong learning philosophy that cultivates time management, research and writing skills, an interest in civic engagement, strong critical thinking skills, and an international outlook. Colleges do not have a preference for which advanced program a student chooses and will not have a specific preference for an AP-filled curriculum over the IB. Because of this, a student is not at a disadvantage if their high school does not offer an advanced program like the IB. Students are evaluated within the context of their school, i.e. in relation to the coursework that is available to them.

If you would like to read about the AP Capstone that was launched by the College Board in 2014 as an IB Diploma alternative, you can find our blog post about that here.


Written by Kristine Sawicki
Kristine Sawicki is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions consultants. Prior to joining College Coach, Kristine was an admissions officer at Stanford University and Reed College. Visit our website to learn more about Kristine Sawicki.