The International Baccalaureate: Fact and Fiction

Jemima Smith, Staff Writer


The IB program is a source of curiosity and intellectual discovery, but also stress and confusion here at WFS. Freshmen and sophomores are berated with vague warnings from teachers, while juniors and seniors struggle through quick-paced lessons and assessments, whose contents and evaluations are determined by mysterious strangers on scales of seemingly random numbers. Here, we investigate the IB ‘culture’ here at WFS and how it affects student life. 


So what is the program itself? The International Baccalaureate program is a high school/college prep program that originated in Geneva in 1968, and spread to the United States in 1971. It’s widely regarded as a challenging curriculum that is comparable to college-level studies, and often cited as effective preparation for the course load of liberal arts colleges. According to a survey done by the International Baccalaureate Organization (make of that what you will), acceptance of IB students to top-ranking universities was, on average, 22% higher than the total acceptance rate for the global population. Some colleges, depending on selectivity, count high scores on IB exams as course credits towards the student’s diploma. Highly selective colleges will count 6s or 7s on HL exams as some credit towards their diploma, but information around exactly how different classes are weighted is iffy at best. The IB focuses on building the ultimate well-rounded student, as is clear from abundant reflections and copious extracurricular requirements. The final score of a given student is out of 45 possible points, with each class worth 7 points out of the final grade. In addition to final exams (called ‘papers’) students must complete Internal Assessments for each class and complete a Theory of Knowledge Course, a Community, Activity, and Service requirement (CAS), and a 4,000-word personal research paper. Students who don’t want to complete the full diploma may take some IB classes, but not all courses have to be IB. 


How about here at WFS? The IB program is inextricably linked to WFS’s coursework, with most junior and senior classes being co-seated — WFS and IB diploma students learn together, and are given different assignments and assessments. The significance of the program is stressed throughout freshman and sophomore years, but only to the extent of it being a separate, academically difficult curriculum that students sometimes feel pressured to opt into. “As a partial IB student whose closest peers are mostly full IB, I’d say that most teachers wildly overhyped the IB,” said Esther Adebi ‘24. “Some were honest about the fact that it isn’t really necessary, but others seemed very fixated on the presumed benefits of taking it, so it’s really a mixed bag.” Teachers must strike a fine balance between encouraging students to pursue a challenge and warning them of the requirements of the course. More often than not, students are either terrified of the workload or overwhelmed when they’re enrolled. WFS’s new IB coordinator, Eddie Gallagher, said: “I think the most important aspect of the IB program is to be informed about the expectations prior to opting into the program.  If a student is up for the challenge, and they fully understand what this means for their study habits, time management, and other commitments, than I would strongly suggest meeting with your advisors, parents and subject teachers to discuss what this means for your courses as early as the 9th grade.” The leap between 10th and 11th grade is a massive one that students are almost never prepared for. Sleepless nights, extremely limited free time and high stress levels are all weekly worries for IB candidates. “Sometimes having so much can compromise one’s ability to truly absorb the information… the goal leans more toward staying afloat grade-wise than it does getting the most out of the course itself,” said Adebi.  It also depends what subjects you’re interested in: “I didn’t do the diploma because it wouldn’t let me take the courses I wanted to take in STEM because IB is so rigid,” said Devin Wallace ‘24. “I think it’s great for Humanities kids, but I’m unhappy that our school does not help STEM kids enough and IB is a huge part of that.” However, there are also some real benefits to the students who decide to take on the program. The IB prioritizes intense critical thinking, which is part of what differentiates it from programs like AP. “Great opportunities, like the IB program, require a commitment that does present challenges for students who are not fully prepared to commit fully to the program expectations and requirements,” said Gallagher. The well-rounded, engaged, and curious students that the IBO is looking for may or may not be achievable, but striving to reach those goals does stretch students to do their very best and think more carefully about their learning paths. “It’s going to be really tough, but it’s not unachievable for a highschooler,” said Mateo Niiler ‘24. In addition, for students who are looking to attend rigorous colleges, the IB program is a signifier of dedicated learners– basically, it gives you a better shot at getting into where you want to go. 


So, after everything, is the program worth it? There’s no easy yes or no answer. It’s clear that the curriculum standards are intense and not always reasonable for student health. On the other hand, taking difficult classes is a sink-or-swim experience that makes students better equipped for college, and, if they do well, better community members and learners.