It’s May of senior year. Some may be busy planning their graduation party. Others could be hiding in some stranger’s garage, armed with a water gun and the hopes of winning Senior Tag. This time could be spent shopping for items for the new dorm room, or even just lounging around and reveling in the fact that there is less than a month of high school left. Or, these seniors are like the nearly 2,000,000 across the nation who have an AP or IB test to study for—and in that case—they’re freaking out. The question haunting most of these students as they stay cooped up in their rooms, studying into the early hours: is this all worth it?
A Global Experience
Upper Arlington has a variety of programs and courses to consider, and one of the most questioned and misunderstood of these options is the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program. The IB Diploma Program is an internationally-recognized organization involving its own requirements and outside work in addition to what UAHS requires for graduation.
IB students have several extra components they must complete in order to guarantee they receive their IB Diploma, which is awarded upon graduation along with their UAHS diploma. IB Diploma candidates are juniors or seniors who must take six courses from five higher-level IB subjects, with the student choosing to engage in the sixth higher level IB class in the arts, or to take another class from one of the required groups. IB class subjects include experimental sciences, language, a second language, individuals and societies and mathematics classes.
Additionally, participants are required to write a 4,000 word extended essay and engage in community service through CAS (Creativity, Action and Service). One class all IB students have to take is Theory of Knowledge. TOK may demand time during a student’s lunch, and after or before school hours and exists to help students learn how to examine different ways of knowing (such as perception, emotion, language and reason) and also learn about various types of knowledge (scientific, artistic, mathematical or historical), according to the International Baccalaureate Organization website.
Over the years that program has been available at UAHS—making its debut in the 2004-05 school year—the amount of students has been steadily increasing, with a total of 49 enrolled in the program this school year. Since 1970 there have been over half a million graduates of the program world wide. Today, there are 762 schools offering the Diploma Program in the United States and the program continues increasing annually.
For the 2011-12 school year there will be 14 graduating seniors receiving IB Diplomas after graduating from the IB Diploma Program, while the current junior class of 2013 has 35 students eligible for their IB Diplomas, according to IB coordinator Cynthia Ballheim. This senior class of IB Diploma candidates began with 19 students while the junior class of IB Diploma candidates was originally 37 students. The small number of students who engage in and complete the IB Diploma Program is particularly tiny compared to the hundreds of students in each grade level. Though UAHS offers 21 different IB courses, both HL and SL, and 19 AP courses, according to the UAHS Program of Studies, yet only a small portion of the junior and senior classes participate in the IB Diploma Program. While many chose to enroll in IB courses, they do not all pursue the program. One such student who is an IB Diploma candidate is junior Ellen Herd. Herd realized while scheduling during her sophomore year that the classes she was interested in pursuing all fit into the IB course of requirements.
“The way the scheduling worked out is that I would end up having all the requirements for the diploma, so I only needed [Theory of Knowledge and CAS],” Herd said. “So I decided I may as well go through with the diploma if I was going to have the core classes for it.”
Herd said she made the right decision and cites numerous benefits she has or will receive upon completion of the IB Diploma Program. Additionally, when applying to colleges, Herd feels she and other IB Diploma candidates will have a real advantage in the college acceptance process.
“When you apply to colleges your counselor gives an academic profile [to the college] of the school you go to and she will write on that profile that the IB Diploma is one of the highest academic tracts available at the high school,” Herd said. “So when colleges are looking at whether you’re taking the most rigorous course of study that’s available to you, they’ll know that you are if you’re in IB Diploma.”
Teachers and administratos have put greater emphasis on engaging in the most challenging course load available and the number of students taking a higher-level course. A 2011 IB survey with responses from 4,068 U.S. students found that 99 percent of IB Diploma students will attend college following high school and additionally, almost 84 percent will be attending their top choice universities, according to the International Baccalaureate Organization website.
Veteran IB Biology teacher Warren Orloff also states the benefits in acceptance to college that IB Diploma candidates receive.
“College acceptance is significantly higher for IB Diploma candidates— it’s often five or 10 percentage points higher—if you look at that group of students versus the general applicant pool,” Orloff said.
In addition to having a higher acceptance rate, IB Diploma classes can give students enough college credit to start college a year ahead, as well as reduce college tuition.
“At Ohio State University, every diploma student that we have sent there has gotten sophomore status. Every single one,” Ballheim said.
The program is also getting more recognition nationwide by universities and is increasingly seen as a course load associated with high-quality work, according to Orloff. Additionally, Orloff said the program’s internationality makes it much more credible for colleges to assess.
“I think it’s easier for an admissions director to understand when they see [the IB Diploma] on the application,” Orloff said. “They don’t have to pick through what high school is it from, how have these kids done in the past in these schools, what’s the average test scores that students are getting from this school, they don’t have to do any of that legwork because [the IB Diploma Program is] an internationally-assessed program, so they know what it means.”
Although the IB Diploma Program is often shrouded with myths of overworked students and time-consuming projects, those enrolled in the program, as well as coordinator Ballheim, emphasize that the benefits of the program outweigh the stresses.
Herd said that she will have an advantage when applying to colleges, because of the fact that admissions officers will know that she has taken the most difficult course of study available to her.
Ballheim echoed Herd’s sentiment, saying that she feels students in the program are well prepared for college, and are more capable of having success there. Ballheim also said that this readiness for college allows many IB Diploma students to enter college with several credits.
“There’s significant research that is out there with regard to the program that shows that the students are successful–and remember, we’re talking about the number of students that actually complete college in four years or less. But also that students are very well prepared for college,” Ballheim said.
Another benefit Herd has gained from the program is global awareness, thanks to her TOK class, which stresses an education of topics that affect students worldwide.
“I’m more globally aware, just about different issues that you don’t really think about. A lot comes from the TOK forums we go to, and that sometimes you learn about things you would never consider otherwise,” Herd said. “I really feel I am getting a global education, and I feel connected to students that are doing the same diploma in Europe. I think it’s kind of cool that students from across the globe do the same course of study.”
Like Herd, Ballheim believes the program offers students numerous benefits, even if it is difficult for them to realize while they are amidst the extra work in the program.
“I think people should consider taking [the IB Diploma Program] because it’s like having a bank deposit that’s compounded over the years. Sometimes you don’t know how good it is while you’re taking it, but you know about it later. And so yes you’re putting in time in high school, but almost every one of the kids we’ve talked to has done some kind of international experience while they’ve been in university,” she said. “We have a lot of kids doing international relations [and] studying international law. So when they talk about what they’re doing, you can hear the background of the program.”
Beyond college credit and readiness, Ballheim believes the program is especially beneficial to students because unlike the AP schedule, students in the IB program are forced to take higher-level classes in a variety of subjects, rather than only the topics at which they already excel. This stretch in learning helps students to improve and challenge themselves in areas where they may otherwise not have had the chance.
The Other Side of the Debate
While Herd and Ballheim may praise the benefits of the IB Program, junior Alex Ehler is a participant of the other college-level track available at UAHS—the AP curriculum. Ehler said originally he was enrolled in the IB Diploma Program for his junior year, but that after careful consideration, including talking with parents of diploma students as well as to administrators at universities in which he was interested, he decided to opt out.
“I started to talk to parents of children who were involved in the IB Program either in the current year or the year before, and they said that a lot of their students felt very overwhelmed,” Ehler said. “There was too much busy work involved, and I heard a lot of the kids—this is from the parents—were having ‘nervous breakdowns’ of sorts from the extra work from the IB Diploma Program.”
Ehler also spoke with admissions officers at Notre Dame and Georgetown University, inquiring how critically the schools looked upon IB classes in order to help make his decision.
“I called some of the admissions offices of the universities I was interested in, and they said they did not look at the IB Diploma student any more favorably than they did a student who took several AP classes,” he said. “And also, this is at least the case for Georgetown, which is the school I’m most interested in, they don’t offer credit for SL classes.”
Recent 2011 IB Diploma graduate Matt Gusching agreed with Ehler, and said that he he did not think an IB Diploma carried as much weight in the college admissions process as some may think, but that instead, standardized test scores are of great value.
“The IB Diploma certainly does not hypnotize the undergrad admission office into accepting you. A strong ACT/SAT goes a long way,” Gusching said.
From his research, Ehler decided to drop out of the IB Diploma Program, and instead is currently taking two AP classes and only one IB class. Next year Ehler says that he will be taking five AP classes, and is confident he made the right decision.
Ehler also said that he appreciates AP more because of the fact that if he passes his AP exam, he will be guaranteed college credit, unlike SL IB classes, which vary on the amount of credit given, if any, depending upon the university. Gusching agreed with this, saying that he found the conversion rate for credits to be irritating.
“IB credit does not transfer seamlessly. My college advisers did not fully understand the credit and often did not know what to recommend for me to take,” he said. “Waiting to hear if you received credit for a particular class was frustrating.”
Beyond grades, Ehler finds that AP classes are a better use of his time because they are all one-year classes, unlike several IB classes.
“It seems like a waste of time to me to do a course for two years, when you could potentially get credit …and take another course the next year. So it’s a time thing for me,” Ehler said.
And although Gusching believes the IB Program was beneficial to him, he is not confident it is the best choice when looking at which higher level track to take.
“I feel great fulfillment for completing such a rigorous program and I have much pride in my diploma. However, I feel students may be better served taking higher level courses and focusing on their ACT/SAT tests during high school,” Gusching said.
Similarly, when deciding which higher level track to take for the latter portion of high school, Ehler says that while students should consider both AP and IB, he believes AP classes are ultimately the better option.
“For students like me who want to get the most credit they can, and be as challenged as they can, [they] should consider AP courses,” he said.
Choosing the Right Track
Since both IB and AP offer advantageous opportunities yet still have drawbacks, it is up to the student to which program best suits them.
Social studies teacher Kim Brown who currently teaches AP U.S. History, agrees, stressing that when choosing which track of classes to take, individuals should consider what kind of student they are.
“It really depends on what their interest is and what they like. I always think you should take a higher level class in what you enjoy, and what you’re interested in and what you’re passionate about,” she said.
According to Brown, AP classes are more structured around learning a large volume of material, as well as the learning and application of facts. Unlike AP classes, she believes IB classes include more extended writing assessments, as well as conceptual learning. However, no matter which higher-level track students choose, Brown thinks both are well suited to challenge and enrich students.
Ballheim has a similar opinion. She said that while they are both advanced courses that are sometimes even taught together—AP/IB Literature and Composition for example— what each program wants a student to take away from the course is different.
“They’re different. The philosophy is different. AP says take this course because you like it and you’re really good at it. IB says take this course because it will be good for you later,” Ballheim said. “[Colleges] say take it in high school where the classes are smaller and you have teachers and parents to support you.”
At UAHS, there is a small percent of students involved in the IB program, but in Canada where Ballheim taught for years, the IB program was much less of a rarity. Because of this, she is a firm believer that anyone has the ability to take on the program.
“The reason I think that is because I had the privilege of spending 19 years in Calgary Alberta, Canada and teaching in schools in Canada,” she said. “And in my school, every student took the IB program because the Alberta curriculum matched it. Their requirements were such that they wanted kids to have a liberal arts education, so it wasn’t that big of a stretch to do the IB program, so it was kind of a natural thing.”
She supports this claim by stating that UA has had a multitude of very involved students as a part of the IB program, and acknowledges that while it can be difficult to incorporate the program into your schedule, it’s doable.
“Trying to fit the program into a very busy lifestyle can be difficult. But we’ve had the captain of the football team be an IB Diploma student, we’ve had swimmers who are IB Diploma students, we’ve had lots of crew members, we have lots of music people who take orchestra who are in the IB program,” she said.
The coordinator also noted that the students who are most successful are not necessarily the typical studious student. IB’s philosophy revolves around the idea that students should have a broad education and be well versed in many subject areas, which can turn some students away from the program.
However, Ballheim maintains that it is a worthwhile program for students.
“I would tell [students] that it’s worth checking out. So I think you need to give it a good hard look, and make your own decision,” Ballheim said. “It’s just a wonderful alternative that we have available to our Upper Arlington students.”