As students move through their academic journeys, there will be many pathways available for them to take in order to get a better start for their careers. The main ones include options like A-Levels and T-Levels, but did you know that there are other qualifications that are internationally acclaimed and are widely accepted by universities? That’s right – A-Levels and T-Levels aren’t the only pathways available for university. What exactly, then, is this mysterious third option? An International Baccalaureate Diploma, of course! Read on to find out what exactly this qualification is, and what it entails.
To put it briefly, an International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma is widely regarded as an alternative to A-Levels. The IB diploma is an academic programme specially curated for students to prepare for both university and the working world. The qualification is universally acclaimed and taught around the world to 16-to-19 year old students. It is an academically challenging qualification offered in two levels and allows students to gain valuable knowledge and experience for work and further education.
While this may have given you a very brief understanding of what an International Baccalaureate diploma is, it might be helpful to read on for a more nuanced understanding of this topic.
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What is the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma?
The International Baccalaureate (also known as an IB) diploma is an academic programme offered to 16-19 year old students to prepare them for work and further education.
It’s taught in 159 countries around the globe, and has two levels of study for 16-19 year old students. There are over 5,600 schools offering the IB diploma programme, and over 1,900,000 students have studied the IB. To read more about these figures, check out the official International Baccalaureate website here.
John Nicolls, from a bilingual European school in Italy, writes that, “The beauty of the IB is that it’s a global education community. All schools around the world face the same challenges, enjoy the same benefits and can connect with each other.”
While this may just be his opinion, the International Baccalaureate Organization promises that it works closely with researchers to make sure every assessment and curriculum is quality-controlled and suitable for students to learn from. To read upon the research of their key findings, outcomes, curriculums and policies, check out their guide published here.
In short, the IB diploma programme is an academically challenging programme preparing for students for university and working life. Students choose one subject from each of five groups: including two languages, social sciences, experimental sciences, and mathematics. Students also choose an art subject from the sixth arts section, or another subject from one of the five former groups.
To read more about this post-16 qualification, check out the UCAS website’s short guide on IB diplomas and the IB career-related certificates, by clicking this link here.
What is the IB career-related certificate?
There is also the IB career-related certificate. This particular certificate is also offered by the IB Organization but isn’t part of their diploma programme. Rather, students must do a diploma to be eligible for this programme so, what is the IB career-related certificate?
The IB career-related certificate allows students to study between two and four academic courses, while simultaneously gaining skills through a vocational qualification. It is career and further education-oriented, so it’s beneficial for those wanting to do apprenticeships, internships, or go to further education.
It also transfers lifelong skills that are valuable in all sectors, as this is a vocational certificate. In conclusion, while this isn’t the same as the diploma, the career-related certificate is also valuable.
To read more about the career-related programme run by the International Baccalaureate Organization, check out their guide here.
What are the types of IB programme?
The International Baccalaureate (IB) is a non-profit education foundation established in Geneva, Switzerland in 1968. You can find the International Baccalaureate Organization’s website here.
It offers an alternative education pathway for students aged 3-19; it’s in use in more than 5,000 schools, and 150 countries. This statistic is taken from the TES magazine – to read more about the IB funding, check out their article here. It claims that almost 2 million students study one of the IB’s programmes at any given time.
The organization started off with its Diploma Programme (DP) initially – for students aged 16-19 and equivalent to A-Levels. This is its most widely used programme, being in use from 1968. DP IB results are released each early July, far earlier than A-Level results, and are recognised by universities worldwide as a good entrance requirement.
The IB also provides a Primary Year Programme (PYP) for students aged 3-12, a Middle Years Programme (MYP) for students aged 11-16, and its Careers-related Programme (CP) for students aged 16-19. The IB director has promised to make more changes to the programme, such as embracing more digital assessments to drive student wellbeing.
To read more about the IB and how it’s offered in schools (particularly in the US), check out this article from the College Vine Blog.
What does the IB diploma programme include?
To put it briefly, students partaking in the IB diploma programme will have the opportunity to choose six subjects – one from five groups, and then either a sixth choice in the art sector or a sixth from the previous five groups.
These five groups include two languages, experimental sciences, social sciences and mathematics. Due to the wide variety of knowledge and skills a student receives, it’s often considered a well-rounded education and is valued by universities and employers.
However, what does the programme include?
Below is a list of what exactly the IB programme entails for students:
- Theory of knowledge – this focuses on the academic knowledge students have accumulated over their chosen subjects, including critical thinking and understanding of the subjects
- An extended essay – this relies on a student’s own research and in-depth study and is focused on one of your chosen subjects (considered to be helpful as it’s like a mini-dissertation)
- Creation, service, action – this programme enhances students’ personal and interpersonal development, and combines a range of activities to foster personal growth alongside purely academic study (these activities include engaging with the arts and creative thinking, physical activity, as well as service in the community)
To read more about what is included in the IB programme, check out this page on the International Baccalaureate Organization’s website.
What is the IB diploma programme like?
Overall, the International Baccalaureate diploma programme is something that may surprise some UK students who do A-Levels, as there’s a lot more areas of wider coverage for students doing an IB diploma. In fact, it may seem like a lot to those accustomed to doing 3 A-Levels, but this is the standard in many schools.
IB diploma students will actually be well prepared for the types of homework assignments given to them at university, mainly due to the extended essay being similar in terms of researching and arguing your own ideas and points.
Additionally, it’s a heavy workload. The heavy workload means students are forced into making good study habits, which are valuable for employers who see you can work hard. Also, carrying those habits into university will also be very beneficial as the workload there is also very heavy.
However, some disadvantages of the IB diploma programme are the heavy workload and the fact that exams are linear (all together at the end of the two years).
Those who procrastinate a lot or can’t adjust to the workload may find it hard to cope with the workload. Check out this guide from the Think Student on making a revision timetable that works! This also works for exams, as students often struggle to remember all the knowledge, they’ve accumulated over the two years.
To read more about what the IB diploma is like, check out this article from Think Student.
What are the options in the IB diploma curriculum?
There are six subject groups you can choose a subject from (or choose another from the previous five groups if you don’t wish to pick the arts). Of these six, three subjects are studied to a higher level whereas three are studied to a standard level.
What are the six categories?
- Studies in language and literature
- Language acquisition
- Individuals and societies
1. Studies in language and literature
Students take at least one subject from studies in languages and literature. These subjects include Language A: Literature, Language A: Language and Literature, and Literature and Performance. Students who take two studies in language and literature subjects in two different languages have that way of obtaining a bilingual diploma.
More information on language and literature can be found on the IB Organization website here.
- Language A: Literature, is available in 55 languages and is an introduction for students to analyse literary texts. It explores three areas and seven central concepts. These three areas of exploration make a comprehensive exploration of literature across cultures, time periods and literary forms. To find out more about Language A: Literature, check out the guide from IB here.
- Language A: Language and Literature, explores both literary and non-literary texts in over 17 languages, prompting students to analyse sources that may not just be fictitious or literature. More information can be found on the IB website here.
- Literature and performance is available automatically in English, Spanish and French and focuses on the relationship between theatre and literature. More information on the subject can be found on the IB website here.
2. Language acquisition
Language acquisition focuses on three topics: modern language ab initio (for beginners), language B courses (for those already familiar with the language), and Classics languages (Latin or Classical Greek). More information can be found on the IB website here.
- Classical languages studies the societies of ancient Rome and Greece, looking at both the language and culture and how they influence modern society today. More information can be found on the IB website here.
- Both Language ab initio and B look at communicating with other cultures and understanding their texts. Links to ab initio and B can be found here and here on the IB website, respectively.
3. Individuals and societies
This is one of the broader subject categories, spanning from global politics to business management. Below, you can read upon some of the subjects offered briefly, as well as links to each topic from the IB website:
- Business management – develops students’ knowledge and understanding of business management theories
- Digital society – explores the challenges and changes today’s technology presents
- Economics – explores challenges of scarcity and how economic theories help manage that
- Geography – understanding human and physical geography, as well as the scientific methodologies for understanding them
- Global politics – understanding political fundamentals around the world
- History – understanding this evidence-based discipline to understand global perspectives of the past
- Philosophy – understanding profound and challenging questions about the world
- World religions – understanding and studying world religions and belief systems
Once again, there’s a wide variety of subjects to choose from, so some of the key ones will be summarised below with their relevant guides from the official International Baccalaureate website:
- Biology – investigating the living world at all levels
- Chemistry – observing both the physical and living world, as well as the ‘central’ principles behind it
- Physics – most fundamental of all the experimental sciences, looks at explaining the universe itself
- Computer Science – looks at the science behind technology and is a highly problem-solving discipline amidst maths and physics
- Sports, health and exercise science – looking at the concepts, theories and models behind sports, exercise and health and how they intertwine
Students can only study one course in mathematics as part of their diploma. Both analysis and approaches, and applications and interpretation can be looked at with this link to the IB website.
Students can opt out of studying an arts course to pursue a course in one of the other five fields. The options included under arts include dance, film, music, theatre and visual arts. Below are a few short summaries along with their respective IB website links:
- Dance – students focus on the composition, performance and analysis of ‘expressive movement’, otherwise known as dance, as well as the history and culture behind it.
- Film – students learn to interpret and develop their film texts, by making and understanding them.
- Music – students will become well-rounded modern musicians with practical, theoretical and technical training.
- Theatre – students develop their experimentation with ideas and performing concepts to others.
- Visual arts – studying the visual forms of communication (also known as visual language), looking at cultural and spiritual uses for art.
How do you apply to the IB diploma programme?
Firstly, you must check whether your school offers the International Baccalaureate as one of its course options (if you want to study in person). If you’re at the position when you can choose your courses, you can speak to your school advisor to see what would be the best option for you, then you can select it if it’s available.
However, your school doesn’t need to have the IB Diploma Programme available for you to do one. You can either do your DP with an International Baccalaureate World School online, or do you course remotely.
To read more about an online IB DP, check out this article from the IB Organization.
Should you do an IB diploma?
Some benefits of doing an IB diploma is learning invaluable skills such as time management, revision skills and essential argument and essay skills.
Skills such as time management and essay skills can greatly help with university workloads if you choose to go to university. Additionally, they can prove to future employers that you can be a dedicated employee and work hard.
Another benefit is that there is a large variety of skills that you can gain from an IB diploma programme. Since students undertake at least five different subject categories, they gain a much broader understanding and pathway to go into various careers and industries, as opposed to the average three A-Levels that will typically be centred around one area of interest.
Overall, this level 3 qualification is rightly recognised as a critical qualification in making your way in industry and various careers.
Some drawbacks include both the heavy workload and linear exams. While the heavy workload might seem like a challenging opportunity for students to grow, there may often be a lot of pressure to live up to that standard and a student’s mental health might suffer as a result.
Additionally, the linear exams mean you either pass or fail due to exams that some students may struggle with. This could either be because of poor memory, or students not knowing how to revise properly.
Overall, an IB diploma programme should only be undertaken if you feel that you’re truly capable of it.
For more on the pros and cons of the IB diploma programme, check out this article by Tutor Chase.