AdCom Take on Accelerated IB Program?

Question: My Daughter attends a high school that recently started offering an IB program for highly capable (or academically gifted) students. As a result, she and her classmates will earn their IB diploma at the end of their Junior, rather than their senior, year. Since the accelerated program is fairly new, there has been a raging debate about what to offer students during their senior year. Specifically, do these kids need an honors or college-level English class starting in the Fall? Some families say that colleges require four years of English and that it must be rigorous English. The administration insists that, since these students will have an IB diploma in hand, the “four years of English” requirement by colleges will not be a problem. This year they’re offering students a college course in sociology in the Fall, and an English course in the Spring. They also offer internships, travel, or many other school offerings. When it comes to applying to college, who is right? And given the opportunity to have a senior year free of IB diploma requirements, how would you advise hopeful college applicants spend that bonus year?

Wearing my parent-of-a-current-high-school-senior hat, I must confess that I would have been delighted if my son had had an opportunity like this … to kick butt in 10th and 11th grades in a rigorous IB program and then to get  the chance, in grade 12, to pursue an internship along with some travel and atypical classes of interest.

However, admission officials can be snooty … especially at the hyper-competitive colleges … and your concerns about how a fluffier senior year may be viewed are certainly warranted. And an applicant who has not completed four years of English could indeed be in hot water at many institutions, particularly the public ones where the admission staff may not have as much wiggle room as the private-college officials do when it comes to granting leniency to candidates who have not met the four-year requirement. BUT … from what you’re saying, it sounds as if the Accelerated IB students at your daughter’s school do take English in their senior year, just not a class that is designated IB, AP, Honors, etc.  I think that’s fine.

The important thing for your daughter and her gifted classmates is that the senior year doesn’t appear too lightweight. It can’t be mostly internship and travel with academics as an after-thought. It also can’t be only silk-screening (albeit a skill I’d like to learn myself) and culinary arts (ditto). But if the post-IB kids are taking some college-level classes and are pursuing passions in subjects that are widely viewed as challenging but are commonly closed to high school seniors (e.g., philosophy, anthropology, astronomy), so much the better.

Above all, the proof will be at least partly in the pudding. If these early birds earn strong scores on the IB exams and on SAT’s or ACT’s, then admission officials—even at the pickiest places—are likely to be more accepting (and perhaps actually appreciative) of the unusual grade 12 selections than if the IB and standardized tests results are merely middling.

In addition, admission committees evaluate students in the context of what is available to them. Thus, if your daughter were to be the only senior in her IB group who is flying down to Rio or spending most of her day at a Designer Shoe Warehouse internship while her classmates are back at the high school sweating over AP Chem, then the college folks might look askance. But if all of the newly-minted IB crowd will be taking roughly the same route, and if the high school guidance department explains the accelerated program clearly (and the philosophy behind it), then the college officials are most likely to accept this explanation and probably even applaud it.