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What Is an International Baccalaureate (IB) School?

For the past 50 years, International Baccalaureate (IB) programs have spread throughout the world. Its student-driven approach to education encourages inquisitive, globally minded learners enthusiastic about education. As of September 2019, the organization hosted over 6,800 programs internationally, serving children from their primary years to the end of high school. There are nearly 2,000 IB programs in the United States today.

Though people often confuse IB and AP programs due to their similar testing structure, their approaches and background are quite different. The IB curriculum aims to create a shared community of international learners with a focus on the whole student. Educators from Geneva developed the program in 1968 for families that frequently traveled around the globe and required an internationally relevant curriculum. The school has since developed into four distinct programs for each age group. Though exams mark the end of the Diploma Program, the curriculum focuses on creating an organized and driven student, not just on a successful test taker.

Similar to the AP program, participation in the program and exams come at a fee for the school. Schools must pay membership and consultation costs to become an authorized IB school. Parents may also incur fees for sending their child to the IB school, and/or for taking IB exams. Check with the school to determine what fees may be involved for families. We’ll explore this a bit more below.

How do you know if an IB program is right for your child? We’ve included a guide for each IB program as well as their values, cost and effect on secondary education.

The Four IB Programs

International Baccalaureate programs are offered to students in four categories:

  1. Primary Years Program (PYP): ages 3-12
  2. Middle Years Program (MYP): ages 11-16*
  3. Diploma Program: ages 16-19
  4. Career-Related Program: also ages 16-19

(*There is an overlap in ages between PYP and MYP.)

The Primary Years Program takes a holistic approach to early education. A typical classroom may include clusters of desks arranged in the style of a community meeting to encourage balanced participation. The curriculum aims to develop the whole child, encouraging them to foster an enthusiasm for education. Children are also taught to see themselves as collaborative members of the local and global community.

From ages 11-16, The Middle Years curriculum encourages students to make connections between their studies and real-world applications. It also prepares them for their secondary education on the horizon. Empathy and citizenship play a large role in the direction of the curriculum, and students learn to view each topic through an interdisciplinary lens. Teachers use an approach called formative assessment, a tactic that gauges student progress throughout the class. The instructor can then adjust the speed of the curriculum based on students’ understanding and needs.

Secondary school IB programs divide into two options: the diploma and career-related programs. The diploma program is a more interdisciplinary course of study made up of six main subjects. These include the arts, math, science, Individuals and Societies, Language Acquisition and Studies in Language and Literature. Independent research and community involvement play a larger role in the program. Students take a final assessment to receive their IB diploma.

The career-related curriculum is geared toward young students with a passion for a specific vocation. The curriculum combines the diploma courses with customized hands-on experience in their intended field of work. They must also complete a series of projects related to both their community and their intended professional career. Students still take exams at the end of their core IB classes at the end of the program.

IB School Values

Above all else, the values of the IB program drive its curriculum. The pedagogy aims to do more than simply help students reach academic goals. Their “learner profile,” for example, outlines a student who is passionate and inquisitive about learning. Each level of the IB program develops traits such as risk-taking, open-mindedness, and balance to become lifelong learners and active members of their community.

According to the international organization, “An IB education aims to transform students and schools as they learn, through dynamic cycles of inquiry, action and reflection.” Teachers present lessons within a global context that relate to cultures and languages outside their own. They challenge students to embrace failure, celebrate diversity and pursue their educational passions.

This approach also allows for a range of student learning styles. Teachers see opportunities for interdisciplinary lessons in every class, tapping into the unique way each child processes and retains information.

Though the curriculum sticks to concrete goals, the students have more say in the speed and method of exploring the information.

Membership and Fees

Schools undergo a demanding authorization program to become a member of the IB world community. A consulting team works alongside the prospective IB school to complete milestones for building a curriculum based around the core values and structure of IB. The school pays a fee both during the authorization process and to maintain their membership.

Both private and public schools offer IB programs in the United States. Students in the Middle Years, Diploma and Career-Related program pay directly for the costs of the IB exams and program fees.

As mentioned, depending on the school, parents may incur some fees as well. Check with the particular school to find out details on those.

College Credit from IB Exams

The IB curriculum continuously adapts to modern education and assessment research. The program utilizes college-level educators to modify the curriculum on a seven-year cycle to remain relevant to universities around the globe. Because of this, colleges frequently recognize IB programs as part of their admissions process.

Many universities in the U.S. also offer college credit similar to AP credits. While some schools only recognize individual IB test scores in Standard Level (SL) or Higher Level (HL) courses, others take a full diploma school into account. Students typically need to receive at least a 5 or 6 on exams to reach the minimum diploma score for college credit. Earning IB credits can significantly cut time and costs required for an undergraduate degree.

Find an IB School

If you feel that an IB school best aligns with your child’s learning style, reach out to a local school to speak about their program openings. International Baccalaureate programs expand each year and are located in both cities and rural areas. While some districts only offer secondary IB classes, others will base their full curriculum from pre-K to high school on the program. If you’re moving to a new area, check out the best schools that offer an IB program in 2020 throughout the country.

Find IB schools in your area

Author: Ginny Bartolone

Ginny is a freelance writer and actress based in Montclair, NJ. She regularly contributes to a range of wedding, lifestyle and spirituality websites, as well as in her own blog, She is also currently completing a book about her two hikes across Spain.