Bac is hard work, but ultimately rewarding, say students

For two hours a week, Hannah Venn gets behind a microphone to do a radio show at Swansea's Singleton Hospital. This not only counts towards the community service part of her International Baccalaureate, but it's also good work experience. "I'm interested in going into journalism," she says. "Anything you're interested in can pretty much count, so it's not a huge extra burden."

Hannah, 17, is following in her sister's footsteps in taking the IB at Swansea College rather than the traditional A-level route - Laura Venn is now studying politics and philosophy at Oxford University.

"She really enjoyed it," says Hannah. "Also there had been so much bad press about the AS-levels. It seemed there were a lot more options because I didn't feel I wanted to narrow it down to three or four subjects."

As an IB student she takes three main subjects - in her case history, French and English - and three subsidiary subjects, psychology, maths and environmental systems. On top there is theory of knowledge, and 50 hours each of art, sport and community service. The workload is a challenge, but Hannah believes that the bac is an option more of her peers from school could have chosen. "I think a lot more people might have done it if they had known more about it," she says. "It's been really good. Quite a few German students who have been here for a term and then moved on. Coming to college you meet people from different schools. But when you can meet people from different countries, it's really interesting."

Freyja McClenahan, 17, originally from New York, had already begun the International Baccalaureate in South Carolina. She started at Swansea College when her parents moved there from the United States on business. She says the IB helps you become self-reliant and is a good grounding for university. "Personally, I think that's really important - last year I'd break out into a cold sweat if I had to present anything, but now I'm really confident just after a year.

"People underestimate that about university and about life in general. You can be very intelligent but if you're not able to express yourself it doesn't mean a whole lot. The IB teaches you to express yourself. "It's a very integrated course - all your teachers work together, all your courses are connected - so you're able to draw connections between subjects. You're able to find common ground in your different subjects. I think that's something that's really important."

Sion Taylor has just come to the end of his final exams at Llandrillo College in north Wales, and has been offered a place at Oxford to study law.

Why did he choose the IB? "Partly because I was a bit worried about the fact that the new AS system was being brought in the year I would have started A-level courses. It seemed my year group has always been the guinea-pig year for different schemes.

"I took so many exams at the end of the GCSE course I felt I wanted a bit of breathing space. I didn't want to go into the AS system and have only a few months before I was preparing for exams again.

"The IB was a great way of giving myself that space - it's only in your second year you take exams."

He cites working alongside foreign students as a big plus - he has Swedish and Greek friends from his course, and he likes the international thread running through the subjects.

But, he says, the workload is not for the faint-hearted. "It has to be said that it's a challenging course. It can be a bit of a juggling act at times - it can be quite stressful.

"On the other hand, you learn a lot about time management. I think it's prepared me well for what I'll have to face at university."

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