I get asked whether the International Baccalaureate program is “worth it” every year, and it’s one of those questions with no obvious general answer. Certainly the curriculum and expectations seem to be good preparation for university, from what we see on our side. But whether the extra challenge, time commitments, cost etc. are “worth it” has to be more of an individual family decision. For example, if you had to commute 2 hours a day to an IB school and give up your sports and part-time job, maybe that’s not “worth it”. I don’t know. I can point out that Waterloo Engineering (and most Canadian engineering schools as far as I’ve seen) does not grant credit for IB courses, so it won’t save you any time or money in university from that perspective.
However, the other common part of the question is this: “if I do the IB program, will my chances for admission to Waterloo Engineering be compromised?”. The assumption here is that the grades will be lower than they could have been in a regular high school program. This question I can answer (to a certain extent), using an analysis of our admissions data as follows.
I selected a recent year of admission data, using only Ontario applicants. This provides a nice homogeneous data set, with over 4000 applicants in a regular Ontario high school program (so all the courses are the same) and over 300 applicants in a full IB program in Ontario (I excluded IB certificate applicants, because it complicates the analysis). I used statistical methods to compare the two groups on two different criteria: 1) do IB applicants tend to have lower admission averages than regular applicants?, and 2) do IB applicants have a different chance of getting an offer?
For admission averages, I found that IB applicants had a mean admission average of 90.3%, while regular Ontario applicants had a mean of 88.2%. The difference is statistically significant at the 99% confidence level. This suggests that IB applicants are not at a disadvantage when it comes to grades. I say “suggests” because there is possibly a self-selection bias in the data (meaning that it is possible that only higher achieving IB students applied to Engineering, which would skew the analysis). Definitely there is no proof of disadvantage.
Looking at the chances of admission, 55% of the IB applicants got an offer, while only 39% of the regular high school applicants were successful. Again, this difference was statistically significant at the 99% confidence level. So based on this criterion, again we can say that there is no evidence that IB applicants are at a disadvantage for admission.
One might be tempted to conclude that IB gives an advantage, and you should go into it to boost your admission chances. I would strongly discourage that interpretation however. That would be mixing up cause and effect, and ignoring possible bias problems in our data. Going into an IB program when you’re not committed or ready for it is more likely to lead to disaster than successful admission.
So the bottom line is that if you’re in Ontario and in IB (or thinking of going into it), there is no systemic evidence to suggest that you are putting yourself at a disadvantage for grades or admission to Waterloo Engineering. I suspect that the same holds true for other provinces and countries, but I just don’t have sufficient data to statistically demonstrate it.
(Disclaimer: I have no connection with IB schools or programs, and this is not an endorsement of IB. I believe and know that good applicants can come from any school system. If you are interested and attracted to the IB program for its own sake, then certainly go for it. But if you would rather spend your time and energy on other things, that’s OK too as far as I’m concerned.)