Diploma Program Insights From an IB Student

Posted 3 months ago

This blog was written by Charles Law, an IB Diploma graduate who now studies at Yale-NUS College, a liberal arts university in Singapore affiliated with Yale University.

If you were wondering what an IB student is typically “made of”, you’ve come to right place! I graduated from the IB Diploma programme in 2016, and the following is a reflection of all the principle values that the IB instills, followed by a profile of an IB student. If you are considering the IB programme, whether that be the IB Diploma or the IB Certificate, I hope this gives you a better feel of what IB is about.

What is an IB Student?

I would define a typical IB student by the end of their two years by four values: open-minded, intellectually curious, well-rounded, and future-ready.

Open-mindedness is definitely at the core of the IB philosophy. The IB student is expected to take a second language, thus opening the student to a new world of culture.

On top of that, we are always encouraged to think from different perspectives. Personally, I have found that the consideration of perspectives of different stakeholders in the Business & Management course critical in examining the world in the context of university subjects.

Moreover, the IB student is known to be intellectually curious. We are encouraged to ask questions in all our subjects - from pondering about where the "knowledge" that we believe in comes from in Theory of Knowledge (TOK), to launching oneself on an intellectual journey on a subject of your own choice in the Extended Essay (EE), the IB encourages you to think for yourself.

Additionally, IB diploma students are well-rounded. Not only do we have to think independently, but we are required to think broadly - it is compulsory to take subjects from 5 of the 6 groups of subjects (only The Arts are optional) - Studies in Language and Literature, Language Acquisition (a second language), Individuals and Societies (humanities), Experimental Sciences, Mathematics, and The Arts.

Nevertheless, the most important takeaway for me was how the IB made me ready for the next stage in my life. I say this not only because of the engagement with the world and critical thinking skills that I learned, but also due to the time management and leadership training. When I graduated, I was ready for whatever the world could throw at me!

Now after having finished my first year of university at Yale-NUS, I would definitely attest to this - I am successfully juggling academics with leadership positions in the investment club, whilst representing my university in touch rugby.

IB Student Profile

So then you may ask me, what are the typical traits of an IB student? I would say that they are academically strong and curious, they have an strong interest in things outside the classroom, and are (or will become) good time managers.

I would have to say that, above all, you must be academically strong and curious for the IB Diploma to benefit you the most. Why?

We have not yet talked about the world-renowned breadth and depth of the IB programme. Not only do you have to be academically strong to fully take advantage of the academic rigour, but you also have to be curious about the world in general to excel in all subjects and in the additional requirements (ToK, EE, and CAS).

Having said that, with enough work the academic rigour and breadth of the IB programme will definitely pay off in terms of intellectual enrichment. You will be grateful for your profound understanding in your area of interest, but what may seem less obvious is your ability to hold conversations about or to understand topics completely unrelated to your focus, thanks to what you’ve come across in class.

Next up is a strong interest in things outside of class. By nature, the IB is not designed to be a study-just-from-the-textbook-and-succeed type of programme, but instead supports interests outside the classroom. The CAS requirements (creativity, action, service) require students to perform one major project that spans roughly a year, accompanied by two considerable commitments to each of the three CAS letters.

As such, interests in events outside of class would pair very well with the International Baccalaureate Organisation’s mission of moulding students into engaged individuals in all areas of life.

Last, but certainly not least, is the important skill of time management. Note here that even if you are not a very good “time manager” before the IB (like me), by the end of the two years you will have at least some reasonable idea of how to manage your schedule and meet deadlines.

The IB is notorious for its time commitment, which does, however, serve a purpose - with the IB offering so many benefits, surely you can’t have your cake and eat it too? On top of the multitude of subjects (which is generally more than local curriculums) and the extra requirements (TOK, EE, CAS), work does generally come in waves. That means that for many of your subjects, deadlines will loom at around the same time.

Don’t be discouraged though - it still has its good sides. When there are no deadlines in the near future in any point in time, it usually means that you have a period to at least rest up and be able to destress. Moreover, you will learn a life-long skill of being able to prioritise and prioritise well during waves of deadlines.

IB World Student Conference

On top of all that I’ve mentioned, IB students also have the opportunity to attend the IB World Student Conference (IBWSC). These conferences are offered to all IB students, where they are hosted for about a week by world-renowned universities.

The primary goal of IBWSC is to engage students in a theme of global interest. Students explore the problems and details of each theme, and develop creative ways to address these problems.

For 2018, here are the destinations and themes offered to students:

The George Washington University, Washington DC, USA

  • Student Activism and Social Justice in a Global Context

Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands

  • Vital Cities, Vital Citizens

The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

  • Education for All: Moving Towards a Gender-Fair World

On top of actively engaging with topics of our future, there are additional notable opportunities that the IBWSC offers:

Students are able to engage with like-minded students. The experiences will encourage the building of meaningful relationships with peers, who are likely to be from different schools and even different countries.

Students are given the opportunity to interact and learn from excellent higher-education institutions. Not only will they have access to the mentorship of global leaders in the respective fields of each conference, but they will also be exposed to excellent institutions in preparation for the student’s next stage in life.

IB Certificate Student vs. IB Diploma Student

I’ve recently received some questions from prospective students asking about the IB Certificate and the IB Diploma. I will be addressing their concerns, and hopefully they cover your questions as well!

What is the difference between the IB Certificate and the IB Diploma?

The IB Diploma is what people usually refer to when they talk about the “IB”. The IB Diploma Programme requires you to fulfill an array of requirements in order to successfully obtain it. The main requirements include:

  • You must take 6 subjects; of which 3 are at HL, and take TOK and EE,
  • These subjects must cover all but one group of subjects in the IB, with the Arts group being the only optional one,
  • You must earn a minimum of 24 points total (out of 45),
  • You must fulfill CAS requirements.

On the other hand, taken at face value the IB Certificate is just a certification of successfully completing a single subject that IB offers.

However, more broadly, when schools talk about the “IB Certificate” they are usually referring to either:

A programme that the school has tailored, which may be structured similarly to the IB Diploma, but may be “toned down” and does not meet all IB Diploma requirements. This usually involves taking numerous subjects. Or;

A certification that represents the successful completion of a single or multiple IB subjects.

When should you complete the IB Diploma, and why?

For almost all IB candidates, you should complete the IB Diploma if it is in your ability.

The IB Diploma is universally recognised for the merits mentioned previously, and thus it is not seen as a “sum of parts” in terms of a “sum of several subjects”, but rather a complete programme forming a complete individual.

As such, taking the full IB Diploma will teach you many intangible skills, and in the future people (whether this be university admissions officers, or potential employers) will appreciate this.

When should you complete the IB Certificate, and why?

Nevertheless, the following are several situations where you could consider taking the IB Certificate. Note that I will referring to the IB Certificate as a tailored programme by school, and not as completing a single subject.

One scenario is if you know exactly what your next step in life is, and that you will not need the IB Diploma to achieve it.

This could arise if, let’s say, you are sure you want to study film at your local university and they don’t require it.

Another case could be if a student wants to take one group of subjects more than possible (e.g. 3 sciences), but would fulfill every other requirement of the IB Diploma.

Some students will also consider changing from the IB Diploma programme to the IB Certificate if the IB Diploma is simply too challenging.

Advice for Prospective IB Students

I will keep this one short and sweet.

As someone who has been through all this, I would have to say the one thing: make sure your passion and interests guide you.

There is simply too much to do in IB, both in and outside the classroom, to do things just because one thing is more prestigious or even easier than another.

Final Thoughts

I hope these insights have given you a better idea of what an IB student is about, both during and after graduation. Although complex and time consuming, successful IB students will find that the programme is well worth the effort, with results showing in university and all other aspects of life.

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