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What is an IB diploma actually worth?

We invited IB diploma graduates to reflect on post-IB life and offer perspectives on topics of their choosing. Paul Jeffries is a Global Scholar at American University’s School of International Service.

By Paul Jeffries

This year’s IB exam cycle has come to a close, and by now, most diploma students have or will soon have graduated, and are exchanging their cap and gown for sunglasses and bathing suits as they prepare for their last summer hurrah before most will trek off to the great unknown—university. It is to you—recent IB graduate and soon-to-be-freshman—that I am writing today.

While I hope that this summer brings you some quality R&R time as you catch up on sleep debt accumulated over the course of your exams, this newfound free time can sometimes lead the mind to wander, and many of my IB classmates—myself included—wandered into one daunting question in particular: Was it worth it?

Absolutely, but perhaps not for the reasons you might anticipate. No, getting a 45 does not predestine you for collegiate success, nor does doing much worse on your exams than you anticipated mean you are doomed. I have long forgotten the thesis of my extended essay, and haven’t used my knowledge of physics a single time since my final exam paper (finding creative ways to reheat ramen aside).

As frightening as this may sound, that which appeared most central in importance as an IB student falls by the wayside quickly, while that which appeared most peripheral—if not even frivolous, from time to time—is what sticks with you.

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Alumnus Paul Jeffries enjoys a cup of tea while studying abroad at Cambridge University.


What you won’t forget is the learner profile—not because you cling to it in your memory, but because it is a part of who you have become in your time as an IB student.


To preempt possible misinterpretation, I am absolutely not saying that your grades, courses, and assignments don’t matter—they undeniable do, a great deal—but they are not what will stick with you throughout university, and beyond. The outlier among those reading this may end up turning their EE into a doctoral dissertation one day, but for most of us, what stays with you are the attributes cultivated by the IB program: the IB learner profile. Allow me to attempt to prove it to you.

After receiving my diploma, I matriculated at American University’s School of International Service in Washington DC into an accelerated 3-year program in International Studies. In my first two years, I have worked for a francophone microfinance firm, the Senate Joint Economic Committee, multiple academic publications, and studied abroad at Cambridge University and Sciences Po Paris. I was fully prepared for none of these situations. Here is the key though: you are never fully prepared for the best opportunities. In each instance, you are selected for your skills, but also for your ability to survive—and thrive—in unfamiliar circumstances. In my experience, the fact that only one of the ten learner profile attributes is knowledge-related is proportionally analogous to the role that knowledge alone plays in success at university and beyond; each of the other nine attributes is equally as important.

While summer may seem like it is just now getting started, sooner than you think (and much sooner than you’d like) you will be pulling out of the driveway in your packed car looking at your home in the rear-view mirror as you head off to college. You will forget most of the plays you read in English, the formulas you memorized in Physics, and so on. What you won’t forget is the learner profile—not because you cling to it in your memory, but because it is a part of who you have become in your time as an IB student. As much as the intricacies of CAS requirements may have irked you, or TOK may have occasionally bored you, these elements are part of a larger plan that together nurtures those 10 invaluable attributes.

From the moment you step onto your new campus, and wherever you go thereafter, inquire about that which interests you, become knowledgeable about that which matters to you, think critically at all times, communicate well, never sacrifice on your principles, be critically open-minded while remaining caring, take risks in a balanced manner, and always take time to reflect on the path you’ve travelled. Live that learner profile, and there’s no limit on what you can accomplish.


Paul Jeffries is a student at American University’s School of International Service in Washington, DC, where he is a Global Scholar. He received his IB diploma from The International School of Indiana.