Accelerated Pathways: International Baccalaureate

By Becky Smerdon and Aimee Eden (guest authors)

There are a number of paths that high school students can follow to earn college credits while in high school. This week, we are going to highlight three of these accelerated pathways: (1) Advanced Placement, (2) Dual Enrollment, and (3) International Baccalaureate. Today’s post is about the International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

The IB program is one of a number of traditional, accelerated pathways at the high school level. Founded in 1968, IB was originally designed for the children of diplomats who attended school in multiple countries to provide a route for high school graduates to fulfill the requirements set by the education systems of different nations. Governed by a nonprofit organization in Switzerland, the program continues to have an international emphasis, although it is now offered to a much broader population of students.

During the last two years of high school, IB students complete courses at “standard” and “higher” levels in six subject areas: two languages, individuals and societies, mathematics and computer science, the arts, and experimental sciences. Students study the Theory of Knowledge, write a 4,000 plus-word Extended Essay and perform 150 hours of Creativity, Action and Service. At the end of the two-year program, IB students take externally-graded written examinations, common to all IB schools.  An IB diploma is awarded to students who earn a minimum number of points.  College credit may be awarded to IB program graduates, depending on policies established by individual college and university admissions offices.

Student admission to IB is very competitive and most often based on GPA, test scores, and recommendations,[1] as well as high level prerequisite courses such as Algebra II/Trigonometry, Chemistry and/or Physics, and level III of a foreign language by the end of 10th grade. 

Offering an IB program is expensive and time consuming, in comparison with other programs.  Teachers must undergo professional development to be IB certified; and, schools may require additional staff and special facilities. Of the 138 countries that offer IB, the U.S. has the largest number of programs (714), the majority of which (91%) are located in public schools. Today, more than 56% of all U.S. schools with IB programs are located in only eight states.

Guest Authors:  Becky Smerdon is founder and Managing Director at Quill Research Associates, LLC and a member of the National High School Center’s Editorial Team. Aimee Eden is a doctoral candidate at the University of South Florida.

Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.


[1] Siskin, L. S., & Weinstein, M. (2008). Supplemental survey to creating support structures and services for Title I high schools implementing the International Baccalaureate programs. IESP Occasional Paper. https://steinhardt.nyu.edu/scmsAdmin/uploads/003/248/Supplemental%20Survey%20to%20Creating%C2%A0Support%C2%A0Structures%C2%A0and%C2%A0Services%C2%A0for%C2%A0Title%C2%A0I.pdf

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