Note to families on the BIHS program
By Sandi Hunt
With a daughter who completed her diploma in the BIHS program in June 2010, I thought I would offer some perspective on what we learned about the IB program and the Diploma. My daughter completed the requirements for the diploma, and in the process she and I learned a lot about the education she received, what was required to obtain the diploma, and how colleges view IB, IB diploma candidates, and IB diploma recipients.
Among the most valuable things we learned are:
- It’s the education that matters; the diploma is just a way of documenting completion of a broad-based education;
- Students should focus on what interests them in high school, and if that leads to the IB diploma, that's great, but if it doesn't, they will get the education they most value. Taking additional electives in areas of interest will likely serve them better than rearranging their schedule to take required classes that are of less interest.
- Colleges love IB students, because they know they've been taught to analyze information and consider its implications. One school we visited labeled IB "AP on steroids."
- In terms of college credit, schools that give credit for AP exams also give credit for IB exams, but most give credit for HL exams only. This is beginning to change, as schools are recognizing that the SL exams are often the most equivalent to AP (for example, my daughter took the French IB SL exam in her Junior year and was in the same class as the students who took the AP exam - but the group taking the IB exam covered more content. Had she taken the exam in her Senior year it would have been considered HL and she would have received credit for it. However, she was still able to use that experience to satisfy her University's foreign language requirement and will only take additional foreign language in college if she chooses.)
- Because AP classes and exams have been prevalent in US schools for a longer time period, colleges have a more established structure for evaluating them. In some cases students have to explain the curriculum they covered in an IB class for it to be recognized by a school.
- A few schools give specific credit for attaining the IB diploma, but most don't. They look at the specific exams taken, and either give credit for those (same as AP), or allow a student to pass out of certain required courses so they can progress more quickly to advanced courses. You can find out how each school handles IB credit on their web site.
- Taking the IB exams documents student's achievement, but is not critical for gaining the maximum value from the class and the program. Students may be best served by taking fewer exams in the areas that are their greatest strength. This is particularly true since a minimum score on each exam is needed to receive credit. Low scores on several exams will serve a student less well than higher scores on a couple exams.
- Completing the three additional IB components - the Extended Essay, Creativity/Action/Service hours, and Theory of Knowledge is valuable for every student regardless of whether they are working towards the diploma. Most colleges require extensive writing for all students, and the ability to complete the Extended Essay will serve them well. Theory of Knowledge is a fun and engaging class that really does help students think more broadly, and CAS experience will set them up for the real world outside of the classroom.
In summary, as families consider the best class choices for 11th and 12th grade, I would focus on those areas that are of most interest to each student, making sure to cover all of the curriculum requirements for college admission. Consider the classes that will allow each student to be most successful, and make the most of the opportunities in BIHS. For some students that will mean taking all of the requirements to be eligible for the IB diploma, and for others it will mean taking the core IB classes, and taking advantage of non-IB course offerings as well.
I would be happy to talk with other families about our experience with BIHS and the IB diploma. Feel free to email me at Sandra.S.Hunt@us.pwc.com, or call me at 510-207-5159.