IB tips from the pros


Image via “Stellar Commendations”

Veronika Owen, Co-editor in chief

Most students at South Lakes High School have heard about the dreaded International Baccalaureate Programme: a rigorous academic program with intense classes, bazillion word research papers and terrifying exams.  For the most part, students all only hear one thing about IB:  It’s impossible.

Well I’m here to tell you that is FALSE.

I spoke with three SLHS graduates, who all succeeded in IB and beyond high school.  I hope after reading about their journeys, you’ll understand a bit more about the difficult (but not impossible) opportunity offered here.  You may find that the rigorous classes are exactly what you need.

Option 1:  Taking IB classes

Good news!  You can take IB classes WITHOUT being in the diploma program if you’re interested in some IB subjects.

“My IB experience, because it wasn’t the full one, was actually quite relaxing,” said Grace LaRow, a South Lakes 2022 graduate, now a freshman at UVA. 

 In Grace’s case, because she wasn’t a full diploma candidate, she actually had the freedom to take more IB classes than full diploma candidates.  Without the diploma required elective TOK class, Grace took seven IB classes instead of six in junior year.  Additionally, she had flexibility in which Standard Level or Higher Level courses she took, whereas the full diploma standardizes an HL to SL ratio of 3-3 or 4-2.  

“At the end of senior year, all you want to do is graduate,” Grace said.  “By not doing full IB, I was able to just graduate and leave without worrying about my IB scores or whether or not I’d get the diploma.”  Even without participating in the program, she was still able to get IB credits and get into her dream school.

Option 2:  Career-Related Program

If you want to be more involved in IB and already know your career interests, the IB Career-Related Program might be the place for you!

“If you know you want to focus on a specific area, like design and technology or ROTC… then I would suggest looking into the CP program,” said Josh Umbrell, who graduated South Lakes in 2018. He then graduated from George Mason University after getting his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.  Now he is a design engineer working on designing bridges across NOVA.

 “Also if you’re worried about the difficulties of full IB, and you’re not sure you’d be able to handle it, I’d also recommend looking into CP.  It is a little lighter, and you can make it more difficult if you want to.”

Interestingly enough, because he had a lighter IB load, Josh was able to participate in dual enrollment at NOVA to get several of his required college credits out of the way.  

Option 3:  Full Diploma Program

Sounds ominous, doesn’t it?  Well, it turns out it’s not the death sentence everyone makes it out to be.  I spoke with Andrew Cramer, a IB diploma candidate and recipient, who graduated in 2022.  I am happy to report he is alive and well, double majoring in computer science and finance at James Madison University. 

When asked why he decided to do Full IB, Andrew admitted “I won’t lie, part of it is definitely a parental sway.”  It’s very possible many of you out there are in a similar boat.

“I was in the higher math program… so sophomore year, I was starting IB,” Andrew explained,  “and that was my benchmark for how IB classes really work and that this is something I wanted to pursue.”

“The  jump from one IB class to five classes [in junior year] is rough,” Andrew admitted.  “It is difficult, but manageable.  IB does a really good job of preparing you with time management skills.  It’s still shock therapy, and a transition, but something I was comfortable and ready for.  And school might have been too chill and relaxed for me otherwise… I was on the track already, and there was no reason to stray from the path.”

If you’re a person who loves to learn and try new things, full IB could be for you!  And while it will be difficult, it will absolutely pay off in the end no matter what you end up doing after high school.