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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.

paul feature

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.

  • Heaven

    i graduated 2 years ago and it’s absolutely true, it’s not the grades so much but that you have become a more engaged, more aware, more resourceful member of society

  • some guy who teaches IB

    Good article, Paul.

  • Hi Paul, I was thinking of enrolling my son next year into a school committed to the IB programme. We are still in the early phase of admissions. I went thru a lot of material on the web regarding the IB programme and found everyone having very positive reviews albeit the issues around lack of sleep and the immense amount of work load.
    I see that MIT gives extra credit for IB students scores in Math and Physics. Are IB alumni necessarily better equipped when entering MIT?

  • Sky

    Hi Neville, Thanks for your question! I’ll see if Paul’s available to comment. I can also give you a quick personal response. I manage our alumni network and have spoken with many students in their university years after completing the IB – however, keep in mind that I am not a college counselor – and I recommend asking faculty at the IB World School your son hopes to attend the very same question.

    That said, IB graduates are admitted to MIT every single year – as well as many other competitive US universities. MIT and other STEM focused universities, will expect students to be enrolled in HL science and mathematics courses, so be sure the school you are exploring offers the courses that match your student’s interests.

    Why IB? The most selective universities will be looking for students that excel in both academics and beyond academics. IB programmes are designed to guide students in both pursuits – knowing that there are many factors that go into a student’s success at university. I love Paul’s article, because it offers a reminder to students, in all disciplines, to think about why they learn:

    “inquire about that which interests you, become knowledgeable about that which matters to you…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.”

    Beyond my own experience, these two articles may also be of interest. The second is from a student at MIT:

    I wish your son the best in his future academic journey!


  • Thanks Sky. The second interview link definitely cleared my doubts. Off to IB he goes (if he can get in that is)

  • Gc

    Hello Paul, do ib diplomas increase your chances of getting a scholarship?

  • Hi GC –

    I hope I can chime in and offer a response to start. There are two great ways for IB students to approach scholarships. Many schools offer scholarships for university freshmen that are specific to completion of the IB diploma and are provided by the university. We’ve collected quite a few here on this blog and update it when we hear of new opportunities (see first link below). However, what is often overlooked – by the second year of the DP, students have lots of personal achievements to talk about for any scholarship application. The two big ones will be the extended essay and CAS. Both encourage students to take initiative in projects of their own design. These two pieces can be difficult but also create an opportunity to develop, and talk about the types of skills that universities and others will hope to see. We had a similar question asked in the comments to an article by Juliana Bouso – and I’ve included that link as well (second below).

    I hope this helps!


    Scholarship list:

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