Understanding the IB Diploma Programme
Jennifer Wallace

The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) on offer at ISN Nice is sometimes unfamiliar to families enquiring about our High School.

Often they have come from a school offering A Levels or the French baccalaureate, and therefore have questions about the curriculum, the components, and how the IBDP can help a student prepare for university. We sat down with our IBDP Coordinator, Dominique Dubois, to gain insights into how ISN Nice implements the programme, and the benefits it offers.


Let’s start with the most basic question, what is the IB Diploma Programme?

The IBDP is a high-quality two-year IB course offered to students aged 16 to 19 from all over the world. The IBDP aims to develop students physically, intellectually, emotionally and ethically, and it culminates in the award of a globally recognised Diploma. 

There are six subject groups on offer for IBDP, and students choose one course from each group: Studies in Language and Literature; Language Acquisition; Individuals and Societies; Sciences, Mathematics; The Arts. There is also the option to study an additional Sciences, Individuals and Societies, or Languages course instead of a course in The Arts. The IBDP is divided into levels, with each student required to take at least three (but no more than four) subjects at Higher Level (HL), and the remaining at Standard Level (SL).

Aside from the subject groups, the IBDP also has three compulsory core elements: Theory of Knowledge (TOK), the Extended Essay (EE), and Creativity, Action, Service (CAS).


TOK, EE and CAS are quite different to anything that A Levels or the French Baccalaureate offer. Can you explain a little more about them and their benefits?

TOK asks students to reflect on the nature of knowledge, and on how we know what we claim to know. Epistemology is a pre-requisite to philosophy: you can’t answer a philosophical question if you don’t have the tools to understand knowledge, where it comes from, and its influences. Students learn that the answer won’t be given to them; they have to go and find them. TOK is assessed through an oral presentation, which is a fantastic opportunity for students to develop their public speaking skills, and a 1,600-word essay.

The EE is an independent piece of study that culminates with a 4,000-word paper. Students complete it after TOK, so they are continually building on their research skills. They learn how to structure their work, how to hypothesise, and how to use sources and reference them correctly. This is comparable to something asked of first-year university students, and it is fantastic that our students graduate ISN Nice equipped with the skills they will need in higher education.

Finally, CAS requires students to get involved with creative, physical and charitable/voluntary activities. It is about both individual growth, and community outreach. Students challenge themselves to try something new, take a risk, and push themselves out of their comfort zones. Even our non-IBDP students often choose to undertake CAS for personal growth.



What are the benefits of the IBDP compared to A Levels or the French Baccalaureate?

Both are highly respected, rigorous and challenging diplomas, but neither offers the broad perspective and personal growth aspects of the IBDP.

The French Baccalaureate is a well-respected diploma on a national scale, but to go to universities outside of France, students have to take additional steps. For starters, they will have to prove that their level of English is sufficient to study abroad, which the French Baccalaureate alone cannot guarantee.

A-Levels are traditional UK/British school based qualifications. There are no compulsory subjects, and students are free to choose the topics that interest them the most or feel will benefit them for their future studies or careers. Typically, students choose three or four A-levels, and whilst they will develop an in-depth understanding of their chosen subjects, they may not have that broad base that the IBDP offers. The main assessments are written examinations, with less coursework, and there is no equivalent to the EE, TOK or CAS.


What is a bilingual diploma?

Students achieve a bilingual diploma when they complete the IB in English as the instruction language, and choose another language in Group one. Fifty percent of students at ISN passed with the bilingual diploma last year, in a variety of languages. This demonstrates just how international we are, and that we nurture mother tongue and second or third languages too.


What do university admissions committees think of the IBDP?

It is appreciated by universities, as it shows a broad knowledge in a variety of subjects that cover the sciences, maths, humanities and often the arts too. As mentioned above, the TOK, EE and CAS components also boost applications, as they show autonomy and maturity in students.


Many French parents ask if French universities recognise the IBDP

Thankfully, French universities are now aware and accept the IBDP, and it is an option on the Parcours Sup portal – the French equivalent of UCAS for applying to universities. Recent ISN graduates have joined French universities such as IUT Nice, EDHEC Business School, SKEMA Business School and Université Toulouse 1 Capitol. 


ISN Nice is an inclusive school, and as well as the IBDP it offers the High School Diploma, and students can be IB Course candidates, can you explain more?

We are proud to be an inclusive school, and we know that the IBDP is not for everyone, both academically and personally. All of our students graduate with the High School Diploma as we are accredited by the Middle States Association (MSA), and students can be IB Course Candidates in the subjects of their choice too. These students cannot earn an IB diploma, but instead will earn individual scores for each IB class (from their assessment results) that can earn them college credits. 

We have ambitious students who want to take a different path after Grade 12, often in art, music, or the service industry. They take the core requirements for the courses of their choice, but they develop themselves in other areas such as building a strong portfolio. This puts students at the centre of their choices and plays to their strengths. This is highly appreciated by institutions offering alternative programmes: they see students with drive and purpose, who are taking ownership of their futures.


“Whatever path a student takes, ISN is a place where every student is supported and feels like they belong to a community. We encourage students to take an active role in their learning, to be at the centre of their growth, and we do not leave anyone behind.”

Thank you Dominique!