The road to college acceptance isn't always easy and federal funding cuts mean competition is tougher than ever.
Students at West High School in Knoxville are on a new path this year. And the white and blue flag flying out front tips off outsiders to what is going on inside the school's classrooms.
East Tennessee's only International Baccalaureate Program is underway. "We're only the 11th school in Tennessee to have the IB program. It's a curriculum that challenges them to the upmost on a daily basis so by the time they complete the program, we really do look at them as college students. They are right now going through the same growing pains a freshman in college would be going through," said Assistant Principal and Program Coordinator Shannon Siebe.
The International Baccalaureate Program, or IB for short, is open to all students. Around 10% of West's student body is in it now. The classes are similar to advanced placement course, but in the education world, the IB curriculum is viewed as the gold standard.
"I think it's an outstanding way for kids not only have a rigorous curriculum, but to learn time management skills, organization skills, all the real world things that they need to know in college, and when they get out into the real world," said Principal Katherine Banner.
The program starts during the students' junior year. Traditional core classes are replaced with near college level courses and students choose one of two paths.
The diploma route means they take all seven IB classes. "If you're going to push yourself then It's obviously a lot more challenging and if you do a lot more extracurricular stuff, that make it a lot more challenging," said IB diploma candidate James Reese.
While a certificate means IB course are paired with regular classes. "And that's what's good about the program - because you can mix what is good for you with not necessarily taking the whole program - but you can make you own kind of schedule," said IB certificate candidate Leah Powell.
Top tier universities notice the changes in courses. Numbers show Duke University only accepts 25% of those who apply. Having an IB certificate increased those chances by almost 7%. While an IB diploma bumps up your changes by almost 40%.
Vanderbilt accepts 46% of its applicants. An IB certificate increases you chances there by more than 35%. The diploma increases chances more than 65%.
The bottom line is, it is extra work, both in and outside of school, but it seems to be a sacrifice that driven students are willing to make.
West High used stimulus funds to pay for the IB program start up costs. However, the school said the county is committed to keeping the program going and has promised to fund training that the schools IB teachers will need.