Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What makes International unique?

Our students are smart, independent thinkers who enjoy academic challenges and like being around more eclectic classmates than traditional college preparatory schools provide. We call ourselves “International” for a reason. Our teachers and our student body are from all over the world. The international element is present in all of our classes and activities. Our global travel programs are second to none. Our Performing Arts are edgy, uncensored and are recognized as the soul of the school. Our baccalaureate programs ensure that there is never an intellectual glass ceiling. Working on a daily basis alongside other intelligent individuals from differing backgrounds guarantees that your day will never boring and predictable; and you will learn more.

Q. What does International look for in a student?

This is the most interesting question. We recruit an astonishing range of individuals. We are not a one-size-fits-all school and we do not have a particular student applicant profile in mind. We want the best and brightest and most interesting students. To be accepted at International, you must convince us that you are ready to do the work and ready to bring all your unique qualities and intellectual curiosity without reservation.

If your Middle School grades and standardized tests scores are strong and we can discern some extra, special talent or quality that will add value to our diverse, internationally-minded community then it is likely that we will offer you a place.

If you have known all along that you are smart and curious, but your grades and standardized testing do not tell the whole story, do not despair. You can earn a spot if you can demonstrate to our Admission committee that you have the potential to thrive in our unique academic environment and are 100% ready to reinvent yourself. We have seen plenty of unconventional, late bloomers emerge as academic leaders and go on to the very best colleges. 

Whatever your profile is coming in, it will be up to you to take charge of your own destiny. Here at International we will look you in the eye and take you seriously, both as an individual and as an emerging young adult. We are exceptionally supportive, respectful and inclusive; but we do not coddle.

In summary: you can be feisty or on the quiet side, super-organized or a little dreamy; but you must be smart, be literate and numerate, have sparkle, be willing to explore your passions, and, on your best days, provoke and inspire your teachers and your peers.

Q. How many spaces are available for grade 9 applicants?

There are 45 available spaces for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Q. Do students need to speak French to enter the high school?

No, students do not need to speak French or any other second language to enter the high school. Students in the International Section can choose to start Mandarin or French, or continue Mandarin, French, Spanish, Italian, or Arabic.

Q. Do you have a student laptop program?

In the 2017-2018 school year we implemented a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) laptop program. This step was a logical progression in our modern learning program. By using a BYOD program, we are ensuring our students are prepared for college and the workplace trained on appropriate devices for writing, data processing, and computer programming.

We arrived at this decision after a thorough process of research and reflection. Over the last two years we have examined the use of computing devices at our school and other similar schools, reviewed the literature on best programs, and surveyed our faculty and students about their device use. We learned that 42% (in the spring of 2017) of our students already bring their laptop to school because it is the tool that best meets their needs.

Q. Where can I find more information on the International Baccalaureate program?

Attend a Sunday Open House, read our colorful Viewbook, and visit our IB page. Here you will find our own subject offerings and links to articles from good media sources about IB benefits and IB college recognition. The IBO website has a short IB Diploma video that captures the essence of the program from the student perspective. For more detail, download their IB Recognition brochure, Diploma Flyer and the IB Learner Profile.

Do not hesitate to contact us with specific, detailed questions at any time during your application process. As educators, we love talking about the IB Diploma program.

Q. Does the IB Diploma somehow replace a regular high school graduation diploma?

Not at all. The IB Diploma does not replace regular high school graduation. At International you get a recognized 8-semester transcript, with a regular GPA. The big difference being that the course titles on your transcript look really good in the eyes of college admission, because you will be engaged in so many IB honors classes. You still get focused preparation for SATs and personalized college counseling. You still get your regular high school Diploma.

It is also worth mentioning that the IB examinations actually take place in May of your senior year, long after February, when most US college acceptances are settled. You use the results of the IB for college credit. It is the fact that you are taking the IB and, of course, obtaining good grades along the way, as evidenced by your transcript that will get you into a great college.

Q. Why should I be interested in taking a foreign Diploma?

There are now more than 900,000 IB Diploma students around the world. Half of them are in the United States, which is the International Baccalaureate’s largest growth area by far. Rather than being exotic and foreign, the IB is viewed as a mainstream, elite academic program here in the United States.
International is one of only two IB Diploma Schools in San Francisco. It is the IB that sets us apart from other schools. Incidentally, we are very proud to be—historically—the fourth school in the country to offer the IB Diploma. We were beaten to first position, in the 1970s, by the famous United Nations International School in New York.

Q. Why doesn’t International offer AP courses?

AP classes are great, but we specialize in the IB.

It would be redundant for us to offer AP classes because our IB classes offer similar benefits. Both programs provide college level honors classes. In terms of gaining Admission to selective colleges, and being "advanced placed" in more interesting, advanced classes once you get there, both programs will serve you extremely well.

We prefer the IB because of its integrated, holistic approach. In a single, seamless package you explore six chosen subjects, write a major research essay, satisfy the action, creativity and service component and participate in the Theory of Knowledge seminar class. Intrinsically there is significantly more emphasis on extended writing and personal research in the full IB Diploma.

The AP has come a long way in recent years but a large proportion of their assessment is tied to multiple choice questions which can be graded inexpensively by machine. The development committees for each AP subject maintain excellent standards but, as the detailed course descriptions reveal, they tend to work as autonomous entities.

Q. We are convinced about the value of the IB Diploma, but what happens in Grades 9 and 10 in the International Section?

Grades 9 and 10 provide the foundation for the IB Diploma.

The academic year begins with an exhilarating three day, Freshman Retreat which includes camping under the stars, zip-line and rope course activities and white water rafting. The Retreat rapidly establishes early friendships and binds the class together. When you return to school your intellectual and extracurricular adventure will begin.

Our core pre-IB classes provide foundational skills and ensure that you explore widely, keeping your mind and options open. You will discover new talents outside your comfort zone and you will consolidate further those areas where you already excel. The IB foundation classes have conventional titles, but are not conventional in the sense that it is not so much what you will be taught, but how you will be taught. This transcends rote learning and busy work. You will learn nothing less than the essential skills and attitudes of a real experimental scientist; a real historian or geographer; a real literary scholar; a real mathematician; a real economist; a real working artist, musician, actor, or film maker. We emphasize above all questioning, imagination and critical thinking.

Q. How large is the high school?

Our campus consists of the fifth and sixth floors of the 150 Oak Street building (which occupies an entire city block) in Hayes Valley, a large gymnasium across the street and a three floor Arts Pavilion on Page street. We also have a state-of-the-art "Makers Space" for our Design Technology classes and an athletics "Performance Lab" on the lower floors of the Oak Street site.

The student body totals 380, with 90-100 students per grade level. Class size is typically 16-18 for core subjects; but can much smaller for advanced baccalaureate selections and most language classes.

Q. How can I make friends in a freshman class that has students who already know each other from French American?

It is the opposite of what you may be thinking. New students like you entering in Grade 9 have special status. You are the new blood—bringing new ideas to the classroom and a critical mass of talent that enables us, for example, to field competitive athletics teams and six or more theatrical pieces a year.

Students arriving from our own 8th grade will be anxious to meet you. Many will approach you directly even on the first day and you will make new friends fast. These returning students are, themselves, an eclectic, international crowd. They were thrown together from an early age and grew up respecting and enjoying differences. They are interesting, open and friendly. They love their school but, just like you, can’t wait to reinvent themselves in an exciting new social arena. On the first morning of school the sense of anticipation is electric. When the elevator doors open, and students, old and new, spill out into the 5th floor hallway the tension is broken and the semester is unleashed.

Here at International we pride ourselves on an absence of cliques. The students look after each other and really value individuality and eccentricity. There is little talk of popularity in the conventional sense. Even quiet “nerdy types,” who might feel a bit isolated in a conventional school setting, tend to be looked after and thrive at International. There is no anti-intellectual culture. The kinds of things considered cool at International include: asking the teacher tough questions in a seminar class, making a wild spirit day costume, delivering an elegant oral presentation, being on a winning team, starting up an original club, or writing—and performing live—your own alternative folk song.

Q. Can you tell us about your campus?

Our hallway sometimes feel a little crowded at recess; but this is counterbalanced with a superb Arts Pavilion, excellent library research facility, one of the best gyms in the city, roof garden and very well equipped science labs.

We sit on top of French American and Chinese American—both celebrated San Francisco International Schools. There are younger children in the lower floors of the building from all over the world. You might encounter them occasionally; but only high school students have elevator privileges.

Our campus is unapologetically urban and unpretentious. It is rooted in the real world. And our artistic and cultural setting is second to none. The Conservatory of Music and SF Jazz are our closest neighbors. The Opera, Ballet, Symphony, Herbst Theater and City Hall are all within a five minute walk. Even closer is the freedom and fun of open campus in "hipster" Hayes Valley.

Another major factor when weighing the pros and cons of our unorthodox campus is the empirical fact that an education at International goes way beyond classroom walls. Each year a third of our students participate in our famous global travel and exchange program.

There are losses and gains in all of life's choices. This is an odd question in some ways. Think very carefully. Will you really limit your horizons by allowing the layout of a campus, rather than the sheer quality of education available, be your deciding factor for choosing a high school?

Q. Does International accept transfer students?

We accept qualified transfer applications based on space availability.

Q. How are learning differences viewed at International?

Our teachers are used to accommodating learning differences. This is viewed as part of reaching and engaging every student in every class. In fact we want all students to be fully aware their own learning style. We encourage students with learning differences to apply to International and to provide full disclosure and documentation. Under the auspices of our excellent Learning Specialist, we have many successful students who routinely receive extra time and other accommodations on exams, standardized tests as well as the final IB and French Bac examinations. We cannot dilute the work but we do offer great support.

Q. Is International LGBT friendly?

Of course.

Q. What team sports are offered at International?

Badminton, Baseball, Basketball, Cross Country, Sailing, Skiing, Soccer, Swimming, Tennis, Track and Field, and Volleyball

Q. What other extra-curricular activities are offered?

A great way to follow your passions and generally have fun is active participation in Student Life. This encompasses: Student Council (which provides genuine student voice), peer counseling, performing arts, various student-initiated and student-run clubs and student dances and other social events. You can join an existing club or established student organization, or you could be creative and entrepreneurial and initiate a brand new club with a group of like-minded friends. You can find out what is on offer at the annual Club Fair in October.

Q. What travel and exchange opportunities are available?

We offer trips with a cultural/community service focus, linguistic trips, and short and long-term exchanges. Recent destinations include Berlin, China, Copenhagen, Cuba, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Galapagos Islands, India, Jordan, Laos, Malawi, Senegal, Tahiti, Taiwan, Thailand, Tibet, and Vietnam. Visit our Global Travel page for more information.

International High School

150 Oak Street

San Francisco, CA 94102-5912

Phone: 415.558.2000

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An independent Pre-K through 12th grade co-educational day school in the heart of San Francisco. The school delivers a rigorous bilingual (French/English) immersion program through middle school, culminating in either French Baccalaureate or International Baccalaureate program in its International High School.

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