The IB Diploma and the IB Certificate: A Recent Grad Weighs the Pros and Cons

Updated: Nov 3, 2020

Having recently completed the IB diploma program and having graduated under unconventional circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been gifted with the opportunity of being able to thoroughly examine and reflect on myself and my school career so far.

Doing the IB is stressful enough, and completing it in the midst of the pandemic definitely added extra challenges and hurdles to jump over. With no preparation whatsoever, the class of 2020 was catapulted into a world of uncertainty where possible internship and job prospects seemed dim and attaining the IB diploma became far less possible. We did it; but, for me, my interest in the program and analyzing its pressures and benefits was piqued.

It is a well-known fact that the IB program gives students exposure to college-level courses, a variety of different discussions, and promotes the independent study and critical thinking skills. Alongside this, however, the program is known to generate extremely high-stress levels and heavy workloads for young students. For a multitude of different reasons, students have opted for an IB certificate, which allows them to receive a certificate for whichever IB subjects they choose to do, rather than an IB diploma, where students have to undergo 6 subjects: three of a standard and higher level, whilst also completing a 4,000 word extended essay and the Theory of Knowledge course. Alongside this, students have to undergo a series of extracurricular activities that are grouped under C.A.S (Creativity, Activity and Service).

The IB program has always been familiar to me: both my parents have been IB teachers for over 15 years and I myself am interested in becoming a teacher in the future. I have conducted a research on the topic and can contribute my own personal discussions with IB diploma and certificate students.

What's the Difference?

In the IB certificate, students choose which subjects they would like to receive an IB certification without having to do the Extended Essay and Theory of Knowledge course. Receiving a certificate in the desired subject is achieved through a two-year-long course of the chosen subjects. Depending on the institution, students may be required to undertake semester examinations and/or other kinds of written work.


One of the main aims of the IB programme is to promote international-mindedness and support students by giving them a sense of intercultural understanding. The term international mindedness is defined by the IB as the ability to be better prepared for the 21st-century global challenges, the awareness that the world is much larger than the community in which we live and the ability to see oneself as a responsible member of the community and global citizen. This can be seen through the availability of bilingual diplomas and C.A.S activities that allow students to engage with communal, national and global issues.

The curriculum sounds rigorous and decidedly so. This rigour, however, is one of the reasons the programme has been able to maintain such a strong reputation. The 6 subjects that students are required to do ensures a wide breadth of knowledge as students will be studying various academic disciplines. Partaking in this range of subjects allows students to effectively link their interdisciplinary learning, thus experiencing an extensive education.

These subjects hone critical thinking and research skills that will definitely carry on to university. This can be seen in TOK (Theory of Knowledge), which challenges students to reflect on the very nature of knowledge and paradigms of knowledge. This can also be seen in the Extended Essay, which introduces students to the difficulty of independent research.

I conducted a poll on my Instagram page where many of my followers gave their opinion on the IB programme and certificate. Most of the responses I received were from fellow students of my cohort and previous alumni from my high school.

Many students responded that the IB course was pivotal in not only honing their academic skills but also in developing their interests. One of the students polled discussed how the IB programme allowed him to develop an interest in stage lighting and theatre, which he otherwise would not have been interested in. Another student also mentioned how the IB programme allowed him to develop his critical thinking and essay writing skills, which he otherwise would not have been able to enhance.

The IB programme has also been recognised by various educational institutions. A study done by the Educational Policy Improvement Center (EPIC), found that the AP course was viewed as a “means to obtain college credit,” whereas the IBDP was considered a holistic programme that effectively develops high-achieving learners. A similar study by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) done in the UK, found that IB graduates were more likely to enrol in the top 20 universities in the country as compared to students who had completed the A-Levels or similar courses.

One of the main reasons students choose to do the IB certificate is that they can focus more of their energy into certain subjects that they want to pursue in higher education. I remember many students in my year who chose to receive IB certificates in various art subjects because they wanted to spend time creating and developing portfolios for their university applications.

I do consider it a benefit to be able to spend more time doing the courses that you love and enjoy because it would save you the time and stress you would generate studying subjects you didn’t like. Despite this, students who solely complete the IB certificate miss out on the chance to develop certain academic skills such as critical thinking, which they otherwise would have been able to receive through subjects like TOK as well as the Extended Essay.


The IB has always marketed itself as a non-profit organisation, yet there is a serious social issue lurking underneath. There is a disparity in the access to IB courses for students with lower socioeconomic status. Some believe that the IBDP is elitist and unaffordable for many students.

The program is known to cost USD $15,000 per year and can even be more expensive depending on the institution. Knowing this, the IB perceived to benefit only a specific group of students. According to certain studies, on average, candidates coming from a low-income background tend to score 24 points, which is considered the bare minimum for a pass in the programme.

Affordability is not an issue for those doing the IB certificate, which costs closer to USD $3,000. Money is being directed towards subjects that a student is passionate about and interested in. In the IB diploma programme, students pay a hefty sum of money toward subjects that students may either have no interest in or simply cannot complete due to stress. For students uninterested in studying the six IB subjects, the IB certificate program is a better investment. Financially investing in an expensive IB program so a student can take a course he or she is not interested in is likely to produce a lower score and waste money and time.


The high level of stress that students have to deal with in the IB programme is one of its biggest problems.

There are various Instagram pages and Twitter hashtags that are centred around the mental health stresses of students enrolled in the IB programme. In the #ibproblems hashtag on Twitter, Sussanna Mitchell wrote, “I can’t handle the constant stress, the constant anxiety and losing sleep over school assignments that don’t really mean anything.

In an Instagram poll I conducted online, over half of the respondents discussed the immense exhaustion and stress IB students had to experience. One student said she felt “the IB creates deep-seeded exhaustion in students which we frankly are too young to be experiencing.” (The poll is now inactive, however, screenshots of the responses are available throughout the blog).

A response to the Instagram poll

The rigour and work ethic ascribed to the IB programme is incredible for future pursuits in higher education. But at what cost? High academic achievement surely cannot be valued higher than a student’s mental and emotional well-being. There are many cases of students dropping out of the IB program, purely because they cannot cope with the mental pressures that the IB creates.

It is a common misconception that IB certificate students do not experience stress at all when any high school course can be considered stressful depending on the curriculum and the student’s abilities. There are some IB certificate students who mention that there is a lot of pressure put on them to succeed in the subjects they have chosen to receive a certificate in. Instead of spreading their workload across six subjects, their pressure to succeed is concentrated on one course.


All reasons and points considered, no programme is perfect. There will always be flaws. For me personally, I feel terribly lucky to have been able to do the IB programme, and I feel I gained so much from it. Without the IB programme, I would have never been able to develop my interests in theatre and social issues and my academic skills (critical thinking, mental stamina, etc.) would not be anywhere near where they are today.

I also acknowledge, however, that I have been lucky, and that not all students feel the same way as I do. That’s the thing though. Which programme is better ultimately depends on the student! Some students have a higher stress tolerance, while others may need more one on one guidance. As much as academic achievement and ability are important, mental and emotional well-being should be valued above all, and cannot be dismissed in a student’s life.

Yubil Das is an intern at Ascend Now and a student at the University of Western Australia, majoring in Sociology and Anthropology and Gender Studies. She recently graduated from the IB diploma programme. She is passionate about social issues and theatre and hopes to pursue a career in teaching in the future.

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