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WHY IT'S COOL TO BE IB

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October 25, 2023

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame Prep, an independent, Catholic, International Baccalaureate school, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

Five of our upper school juniors and seniors currently enrolled in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program talk about the benefits of the curriculum and why they're glad they're taking it. They also love the support they get from faculty and staff.

In a remarkable interview, five IB Diploma Program students talk about why they decided to enroll in the innovative curriculum. They also look forward to a bright future as a result. Notre Dame Prep is the only Catholic school in Michigan offering the prestigious International Baccalaureate.


According to the National Student Clearinghouse, a data source for students in postsecondary institutions in the United States, students who receive the International Baccalaureate diploma are 38% more likely to graduate from a university with a degree than other students in higher-education institutions. Some 88% of IB diploma students received a bachelor’s degree within six years or less, and international IB diploma students attending U.S. schools showed similar graduation rates (86%) compared to a rate of 58% for all students. 

Within the University of California system, for example, IB Diploma students showed higher graduation rates than a matched comparison group of students of similar backgrounds and achievement levels. They also had higher GPAs, both at the end of their first year and upon graduation. Furthermore, scores on the IB Diploma were strong predictors of performance in university, and a one-point increase in the IB exam score was associated with a corresponding increase in GPA of up to 0.38 points, or approximately 10%.

Dr. Kedra Ishop is vice president for enrollment management at the University of Southern California. She said that students with IB experience stand out from others. 

“We’re looking for students who are engagers — students who are maximizing opportunities in and out of the classroom, she said. "What’s very unique about IB is that through its curriculum, it allows students to be able to better satisfy the requirements of the types of students that we’re looking for.” 

The National Student Clearinghouse study also notes that the strong performance of IB Diploma students in college is consistent regardless of whether they attended state or private schools or even the socio-economic status of the student.

Notre Dame Prep's Katrina Sagert, an English teacher and International Baccalaureate Diploma Program coordinator, says that students in NDP's Diploma Program definitely benefit from the breadth of classes offered at the IB-DP level — and that college admissions offices indeed value the program. 

"Most importantly, we find that once students get to university, their IB-DP education has more than prepared them for the challenges that await them," she said. "Our IB alumni also often get in touch with their former NDP teachers to thank them for such a fantastic preparation."

She added that a special kind of camaraderie also is evident for students in the Diploma Program.

"From my vantage point, I see students self-esteem build as they are able to complete this challenging work," she said. "I see students support each other as they study and prepare for assessment tasks. I see the trust that develops between students and the teachers who mentor them. To me, this is the most rewarding part of my role as coordinator."

For five Notre Dame Prep students in the Diploma Program, there is a remarkable consistency in their assessment of the program. Juniors Sehaj Gill and Sam Phillips, and seniors Michael Kenny, Sophia Pauwels and Ryan Wells all think it's pretty cool to be enrolled in the Diploma Program even though it's sometimes a more difficult curriculum. 

"Despite its challenges, I am definitely glad to have enrolled in the IB Diploma Program," said Gill, who also credits her teachers for any extra guidance she might need. "I enjoy the interdisciplinary learning approach that it offers and the program allows one to go into expertise in specific subject areas. I am super excited to continue my academic journey with the IB-DP at NDP for the next two years."

To learn more about how students at NDP are transitioning through the IB program, we interviewed Gill and four other upper school students in the IB-DP. They were at once candid about the work involved with the program and complimentary about why they like being an IB student. They also look forward to a bright future as a result of taking such innovative courses.

The following conversations have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity. 

QUESTION: Why did you decide to enroll in the IB Diploma Program? Or perhaps, what was the biggest factor motivating you to enroll in the IB program?

SOPHIA PAUWELS: I decided to enroll in the IB Diploma Program because the depth of the classes really appealed to me. I was really excited about being able to take classes that examined certain topics for a lot longer and in a lot more detail than other classes I had taken. I also liked that there were a lot of projects in the classes in the IB Program because I know that projects are one of the best ways I learn. In general, though, I enrolled in the IB Diploma Program because it fit my academic goals. 

SAMUEL PHILLIPS: I enrolled in the IB Diploma Program mainly because I have been going to Notre Dame Prep since second grade, and the course work of the lower and middle schools does a great job of preparing students for the Diploma Program, so I felt it was something that would be good for me. Also, it's no secret that having the program on your resume is good for college apps, but I was also hoping to explore a more in-depth avenue of learning with my IB HL classes.

MICHAEL KENNY: My decision to enroll in the IB program lies in the different approaches that it takes to learning. As opposed to AP, which, don't get me wrong, is great and all, IB takes a far more detailed approach to its style of education. AP goes a mile wide, and an inch deep, while IB goes an inch wide, and a mile deep. That focused approach to learning is amazing in the way it allows me to develop not only as a student but a person. I am led to consider different perspectives than my own and I can take an analytical approach to my subjects, as opposed to rote memorization.

SEHAJ GILL: The IB Diploma program is recognized across the world for its high bar when it comes to preparing students for college. The experiences gained in the IB Diploma Program and each individual course are also applicable to many other aspects of life beyond education. The rigorous curriculum offers me the opportunity to sharpen my critical thinking and research skills, along with providing a unique balance of theoretical knowledge and hands-on experiences.

RYAN WELLS: I enrolled in the IB program because I knew it would set me up for not only college but for my life in general. Its reputation and dedication to higher education are unmatched, and that appealed to me. My brother, who is currently at the University of Notre Dame, raved about the program's ability to prepare students, which also motivated me to enroll in the program.

QUESTION: Do you enjoy what you are doing in IB classes? If so, why? Further, do you enjoy it because of the teaching? The assignments? What you’re learning?

PAUWELS: I really enjoy what I'm doing in IB classes. We're working on a lot of internal assessments right now, which are big projects we have to do for every IB class. They're a way for us to use what we've learned in our classes to find new knowledge about a specific topic of our choosing, and it's a really exciting way of learning. Additionally, I really like all of my teachers. I can tell that they all care about what they're teaching us.

PHILLIPS: I enjoy what I am doing in my IB HL classes so far. Biology has been fun because a lot of it was review from freshmen year, but way more detailed. History has been interesting learning about the causes of WWI and what the war was like. I've definitely learned the most in English, as Mr. Butorac has completely changed the way I write with all the journals and essay revisions.

KENNY: The IB classes themselves are very enjoyable, as they are mainly discussion-based. Each IB class and teacher has a different teaching style that sincerely complements each course. The teachers instructing the IB courses are extremely fluent in the methods and applications that the class deals with, and they are always very open to helping students understand difficult concepts, whether it be during class time, community time, or before or after school. Many of the assignments are writing-based, which helped me develop my skills not only in the classroom but for applications to college and my future career. What really helps me prepare for college is the part of IB that prioritizes long-term assignments. While there are a lot of essays included in the IB-DP program, each of them has helped me tremendously, knowing that most if not all of my college courses will require some form of writing.

GILL: The IB program strives to “develop lifelong learners who thrive and make a difference.” This core concept is embodied in every IB course offered at NDP. Students can gain depth and breadth in diverse subject areas. My teachers provide valuable guidance to ensure that their students are successful.

WELLS: I enjoy what I am doing in all my IB classes as they challenge me both academically and spiritually. It’s not solely about learning the subject. It’s about applying what you’ve learned to benefit others. That to me is especially rewarding. The teachers are all extremely knowledgeable and experienced, making for some engaging class discussions and dialogue that you would not find in a regular class. 

QUESTION: How would you describe the content you are learning in the IB curriculum? Is it challenging? In what ways? Favorite IB course so far?

PAUWELS: The content I'm learning in IB classes is definitely challenging. Most of my classes are very fast-paced, which means that there's a lot of material that I have to absorb pretty quickly, and that's not always easy. The curriculum challenges my ability to understand big concepts quickly, but it is incredibly rewarding when I am able to. Additionally, all of my teachers are approachable and happy to answer all of the questions I have. My favorite IB class so far has been IB English. I've always loved literature, and we go so much deeper into every book we read than I ever have before. It's a challenging class, but I've learned so much.

PHILLIPS: The content we are learning in IB has been a little challenging because it's very in-depth and requires a lot of work and writing, but with proper planning and time management, it's very doable. IB Biology would have to be my favorite IB class so far because I'm really interested in learning about biology as opposed to other sciences. 

KENNY: While the IB curriculum is challenging, I find the subject matter we cover to be very interesting. The time management aspect is definitely a challenging part of the curriculum, as you need to learn early on how to manage your assignments. The coursework itself is not impossible, but if you take the time to sit down and draw out the concepts you quickly begin to grasp the ideas in the class. Teachers also play a large role in bringing the concepts to an understandable level for their students. One of my favorite courses is IB HL History with Mr. Osiecki. I was already a history nut, but Mr. Osiecki's teaching methods, love of the subject, and wealth of knowledge really brought the class to life for me. I enjoy the challenge that the IB curriculum throws at me, and I know that I am not alone if I need help or don't understand something. Every teacher that I have in my classes genuinely cares about the subjects and students they teach and they go out of their way to be there for each and every student.

GILL: The course content of the IB curriculum is surely challenging. Because IB HL classes span for two years, there is ample opportunity to explore concepts in significant detail. Some finer details can be hard to understand at times, but my teachers — and all of the teachers at NDP — are always willing to help explain concepts in a different way that can make it easier for my peers and me to understand. I really enjoy all of the IB courses, whether it’s learning the hydrogen spectral series in chemistry or studying rhetorical skills in English! However, if I had to choose one, my favorite course would be IB Biology, which encompasses interesting lectures about concepts like van der Waals interactions. We also do fun hands-on activities, such as making bubbles to study the cell membrane!

WELLS: Each of my IB courses is challenging in its own way, as they push you to look at information in ways that you haven’t before. I love what I am doing in my IB classes - especially Theory of Knowledge. It is philosophical and confusing — yet completely satisfying. I like the challenge it gives me to think differently and not only in an analytical context. Mr. Lilek is engaging, informed and funny, which helps make the class enjoyable for us.

QUESTION: In general, what are your impressions of IB courses vs. regular courses, or even AP courses? Is there an obvious difference to you? More challenging? More interesting? 

PAUWELS: The biggest difference between IB classes and regular classes that I've noticed is that IB classes tend to move at a faster pace than regular classes. There's also much more of an emphasis on projects in IB classes than there are in either regular or AP classes. IB classes also are more focused than regular classes, so I feel that I've learned more in IB classes than I did in regular classes. Because IB classes are more focused on specific topics, I feel that I learn more interesting things in IB classes as well. IB classes are also definitely more difficult than regular classes, but the classes are rewarding enough that I think it is worth it.

PHILLIPS: I have only been in two AP classes, AP U.S. History last year and AP Pre Calc this year, but I would say from a history perspective that AP is more about "know this and know that," whereas IB is more about knowing "why" things happened. I'm sure that applies to the other classes as well. 

KENNY: For me, IB courses are very distinct in the content covered and testing methods. The content is far more detailed as opposed to regular and AP courses, as IB spends far more time on certain events in IB History. As opposed to AP, IB History spends almost two months on WWI, something covered in only a session or two in AP classes. For me, IB allows me to remain curious, and ask questions without fear that I might run out of time to memorize a set amount of facts. When tested in IB, it is almost always writing, which can be challenging for some people. But what that writing does is it allows the student to apply their knowledge the way they learned it, and to know the nooks and crannies of the subject. As opposed to memorizing a set amount of dates for AP, IB focuses on the "why?" and the "how?" which are what every student in today's world should be asking.

GILL: An IB course is definitely more challenging than a regular or an honors course because IB courses go at a faster pace. But one of the biggest differences to me between IB and AP courses is that IB courses allow for students to learn about the subject matter at a greater depth than AP does. Sometimes, I’ve found that AP courses may quickly go over a topic in a few days, but its IB counterpart may be on that one topic for a few weeks, which definitely makes it interesting — at least for me! Something else unique about the IB Diploma as a whole is that it provides a holistic approach to learning. It provides an equal emphasis on STEM and humanities courses. Furthermore, through other IB Diploma requirements, such as Theory of Knowledge, the Extended Essay, and Creativity, Activity and Service, students are able to more easily connect the learning between the other various academic disciplines.

WELLS: I feel that my IB courses prepare me for my future academics in a way that AP and regular courses do not. The major difference I have noticed that sets my IB classes apart from the others is that in my IB courses, I am provided with a deeper understanding of each subject field rather than just the subject itself. When I am in IB Psychology with Mr. Smith, I am the psychologist. When I am in IB history with Mr. Osiecki, I am the historian. When I am in IB math with Mrs. Garcia, I am the mathematician. The IB program does not just push the content aspect of learning, it pushes the doing aspect.

QUESTION: Despite its challenges, are you glad you enrolled in the program? 

PAUWELS: Overall, I am glad I enrolled in the programs! I've learned so much and grown so much as a person as a result of the challenges I've faced. I love learning and I feel so prepared for college! 

PHILLIPS: Yes, overall, I'm glad to be in the IB program and do not regret my decision. 

KENNY: I would say that I am very glad that I enrolled in the IB program, despite the obvious challenges that come with the curriculum. I feel that I am able to succeed in my classes because of the amazing teaching of NDP staff, and how they empower each and every student to reach their full potential through a solid groundwork of education. The IB Diploma Program has equipped me with the tools to build a life of success, and I am so grateful to Notre Dame Prep for offering the IB curriculum and supporting me every step of the way.

GILL: I am definitely glad to have enrolled in the IB Diploma Program. I enjoy the interdisciplinary learning approach that it offers. The program also allows me to go into expertise in specific subject areas. I am excited to continue my academic journey with the IB Diploma Program at NDP for the next two years!

WELLS: Yes, I am glad I enrolled in the program. Though some may be hesitant when looking at the course load or difficulty of work associated with the Diploma Program, it is through those challenges that growth can truly happen.

For information on enrollment and registration at Notre Dame Prep, an independent, Catholic, International Baccalaureate school, please visit the admissions section of our website here.

Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org

Follow Notre Dame on Twitter at @NDPMA.

About Notre Dame Preparatory School 
Notre Dame Preparatory School is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. Notre Dame Preparatory School's upper school enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame Prep's middle and lower schools enroll students in pre-kindergarten through grade eight. All three schools are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the National Association of Independent Schools. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School, visit the school’s home page at www.ndpma.org.