CAS is a wonderful opportunity to try out new hobbies or engage in volunteering, but with all those opportunities and ideas out there, it can get confusing. What combination of experiences is the best? How do I know what my portfolio is lacking and finally obtain that golden “trophy” on ManageBac? This article aims to answer these frequently asked questions.
What is a balanced CAS portfolio?
A balanced CAS portfolio aims at a near-equal distribution of activities attributed to different CAS strands. You make sure to have a certain number of activities dedicated to Creativity, Activity, and Service each, without a massive skew towards one of the strands. Moreover, a balanced CAS portfolio involves varying length of experiences, spaced out activities, high quality reflections and much more.
However, the most valuable part of virtually any CAS portfolio are the learning outcomes. Those are the 7 statements, some of which you tick when adding a new experience or writing a reflection. They reflect the main aims of your experience and help you with the contents of your reflection; and balancing them out is a great way to show that you understand the goals of the CAS program.
Why is it important?
Such a portfolio is by no means a requirement to pass CAS, but it shows commitment to the program and is generally appreciated by supervisors. Doing a large variety of activities may well enrich both your high school experience and your CV! Take a look at this article to learn how to use CAS as one of your main points of difference when applying to universities!
Furthermore, this is a way to ensure balanced personal development – the ultimate goal of the CAS program. You would get a chance to explore many potential hobbies or even learn a very relevant skill, like coding, for example. Dedicating a lot of time to create a balanced CAS portfolio may seem like a waste at first, but it might help you in the future!
How do I balance my portfolio?
Step 1: Identify weaknesses
Take a close look at the Timeline section on Managebac: it is a perfect summary of your experiences to help you quickly recognize what your portfolio lacks. Here’s some questions you may ask yourself during the process:
- Are red, green, and blue colors (and thus, different CAS strands) all present in the same amount?
- Do you have a mix of short-term, medium-term, and long-term experiences?
- Do some of your experiences, apart from the CAS project, incorporate several strands at once?
- Is the timeline evenly distributed so that at any moment during the two-year program you are working on at least one experience?
This is how my CAS portfolio looks at the start of the second semester of IB DP2. It does not necessarily contain many experiences, but it incorporates all the suggestions above, and so far has not received any harsh criticism:
- Are all learning objectives covered somewhat evenly?
For example, this is how my CAS Progress Outcomes section looks like. It is by far not a perfect example: just look at the difference between Challenge & Skills and Global Engagement outcome! Luckily, supervisors are usually very understanding and realize that it is much harder to fulfill one outcome than the other, so reasonable differences are tolerated.
Step 2: Plan ahead
I suggest you make a list of possible CAS activities that you may want to engage in. Every time you find an exciting idea you would want to try out – for example, when scrolling through these useful articles – add it to your list. Make sure to get your ideas checked and approved by your supervisor!
This will allow you to plan a month or so ahead, protecting you from a procrastination trap. This way, you can stay afloat even if something with your current experiences goes wrong, or your country suddenly goes into another lockdown.
In my school they had us make a CAS plan at the start of both DP 1 and DP 2, and, while barely anyone actually stuck to it for the entire year, it has been immeasurably helpful to reduce CAS-related anxiety.
Step 3: Level up your reflections
“Quality over quantity” – a saying that is highly applicable to CAS reflections! 20 in-depth reflections are probably more valuable than 100 one-lined comments. To raise the quality of your reflections, make sure you comment on the learning outcomes of the experience and analyze your progress honestly. From the technical side, I recommend varying the type of reflection, using photos, videos, and even audio recordings to provide more evidence for your experience. Especially if you get easily bored typing out paragraphs, like I do, you can always record your voice and submit an audio reflection instead!
Regarding the “quantity” aspect, aim to space out your reflections so that you write a paragraph or two every few weeks. Always remember to have a final reflection for every experience! That helps your supervisor understand when to mark it as “completed”.
Step 4: Ask for feedback
In some schools, students may only get 1 or 2 full-scale interviews with their supervisor, meaning you might have very few opportunities to get feedback. However, I wouldn’t recommend waiting for your supervisor’s permission for every step you make either, as that would only irritate them and be of little use to you.
Instead, attempt to establish a balance. I usually ask my supervisor for a small (usually oral) comment every other week, or if I made any major changes, to ensure everything is on track.
Leveling up your CAS portfolio to make it
takes effort and consistency at every step of the process. I hope these few tips provided some guidance on how to navigate through the program with ease and fun. Good luck!