An Insider’s View of the International Baccalaureate

Brandon Lee graduated from Swans School as Head Boy in 2018 and has since qualified as a commercial pilot. Here he discusses his experience of the IB Diploma Programme, and life in general at Swans School.

I always enjoyed school. It was a place where I had amazing friends and extraordinary mentors. When the teachers recommended that I continue at Swans after my IGCSEs and GCSEs to do the International Baccalaureate, they described it as a course that would not only prepare me for any further forms of education, but would also provide a vast number of life skills.

I also had the opportunity to experience it with friendships that I had built up over the previous four years at Swans School. For me, there really was no other choice!

The IB Diploma has a reputation for being incredibly challenging – and indeed it is true that the workload is very much larger than that of GCSE. But the truth is that, although there is a lot of academic content, at times it really does not feel that way. For example, it pushes you to develop humanitarian skills through the CAS programme, meaning that you must actively participate in your local community. I’d say that approximately 30% of the time is spent on non-academic activities, which helps to break up the studies into more manageable chunks.

It is also a course that encourages independence. Students should not expect “hand holding”. But it does give you the freedom to acquire new study techniques that suit the individual learner. The course is so diverse in nature that every student’s experience of the two years will be very different. If you asked 100 people what the IB Diploma was like for them, I think you would get a different answer every time.

I would advise anybody considering the IB Diploma to take time to choose the right subjects. Either they should be specifically relevant to what the student wants to study at university or they should be the subjects that they enjoy the most. Because the workload of the IB is so heavy, it is better to be studying a subject that you're passionate and enthusiastic about, than a subject that you are just taking because you think it will provide you with more benefits. If you do not like the subject at IGCSE or IB level, then the chances are you would not like to spend the next forty years working in a field related to that subject.

Another key piece of advice is that it is important to have an awareness of the coming deadlines and to prepare in advance. I know that there is now an Academic Summer School at the end of Year 12 to help avoid this stress, which seems like a great idea!

One of the common misconceptions of the International Baccalaureate Diploma is that it is only relevant to those wishing to go to university. Whilst the majority of my peers did take the university route, the IB Diploma was equally beneficial to me as I developed academically, socially, and psychologically.

Having said that, the IB Diploma did allow all of my friends and classmates access to their worldwide first-choice universities. The majority of these people now live in the UK and Europe, but even though we are physically distributed throughout many countries we still stay closely in touch –four years later! I think our bond was forged in large part due to the IB course, with life in the common room and year group CAS activities. It really did help to break down barriers between people.

If I had to summarise the major benefit of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program in one sentence, I would say that it helped my confidence to grow immeasurably. If I can do the IB Diploma then I can do anything.

For more information on the International Baccalaureate or the Swans School Sixth Form, please contact Head of Sixth Form, Miss Michelle Roberts, or our Admissions Team.

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