A Guide To Choosing Your High School Curriculum in Dubai

31/08/20225 5 minute read
A Guide To Choosing Your High School Curriculum in Dubai

As a city in a country with more than 200 nationalities, Dubai has a unique need to provide education to people of a multitude of different backgrounds and cultures. As a direct result of this, schools in the region provide a large variety of choices for curriculum to attract prospective students. With college admissions getting more competitive every year, prospective high school students stand at a significant crossroad regarding which curriculum they will choose to study in their last 2 to 4 years of conventional schooling. Knowing this choice can be a daunting one, we have prepared this guide to give you the factors and figures to help navigate your final decision. 

Out of the more than 220 schools in Dubai and their 17 curricula, the most popular by far are the IB, A Levels, and the American System (AP). Focusing on these three, we aim to give you an idea of what you can expect, and what these curriculums are best suited for. 

Before diving deeper into what each curriculum has to offer, the most important factor to consider is how well one fits into each curriculum. Additionally, you would want to consider your end goal for what skills you want to leave your high school life with, whether they be academic or more general. 

The IB: The International Baccalaureate system, abbreviated as the IB, is a type of holistic schooling curriculum that is very popular among private schools in the region. Students studying the “Diploma Program” are required to take 6 subjects with 3 at a higher level and the other 3 at standard level. In addition to this, students are responsible for completing the IB’s “core components”. This includes a community service component named CAS, a 4000-word “extended essay” research paper, and a philosophical component that explores the origin and interpretation of information called the Theory of Knowledge. Students should consider the following when considering the IB as their future curriculum:


  • Emphasis on skills such as research, leadership, and time management which universities recognize and like
  • Strong academic reputation
  • Assessment components are not always based on exams which could benefit students who are better with application-style scenarios


  • The strong rigor of the IB could burn out some students
  • Assessment components are not always based on exams which could negatively impact students who are strong predominantly with exams
  • Certain subjects like Math, English, and a foreign language are required which could hamper attainment for students who are specialized in a specific field (for example someone could be stronger in the arts or stronger in STEM)

A Levels: Originally the official high school curriculum for the UK, the “Advanced Level” qualifications present a popular alternative in the region. Unlike the IB, the A levels don’t prescribe compulsory subjects. Instead, students typically pick 3 subjects of their choice. While students sometimes get assessed by their coursework, a majority of their attainment stems from their performance in their final examinations. The A Levels have a strong reputation for their academic focus and rigor. An important point to mention is that, unlike the IB and AP, A Level’s students can get their qualifications from more than one exam board. The most popular choices among international schools in the region are Edexcel and CIA (Cambridge International Assessment). 


  • Strong emphasis on academics
  • Allows students to specialize in their own areas of interest which could benefit them in applying to certain universities such as the ones in the UK (as the UK pays special attention to subject-specific academic interest)
  • Only studying 3 subjects allows for curriculums to be more in-depth which could be ideal for students who have academic curiosity in their selected subjects


  • The focus on academics could leave students lacking in their soft skills which could have been beneficial in real-life situations otherwise
  • Students who struggle with purely exam-based attainment could face difficulties presenting their abilities
  • While specializing could be beneficial for certain students, the lack of required subjects could leave students underprepared for future subjects they could be required to take in the universities they commit to

Advanced Placement (AP): Usually characterized in the region as the “American System”, the AP qualifications present a certain selection of courses that are at the undergraduate university level. Offered by the College Board (the same institution that administers the widely known SAT exam), AP courses don’t have a specific number requirement. With that being said, students who have a higher number of AP courses that they have achieved high scores in stand a greater chance of showcasing prospective universities how they have challenged themselves academically. Typically for the most competitive universities, 6-8 APs is a strong number. Unlike the previously mentioned curricula, the APs span across the typical US high school timeline of the last four years of conventional education (the IB and A levels cater to the last two years).


  • Taking 3 AP courses allows you to get an additional qualification named an AP scholar award which could be used as an additional achievement in college applications
  • Admissions officers in the US especially are more aware of the course rigor and difficulty as they consider the same courses for their domestic applicants
  • APs can be taken throughout your 4 years of high school which means that a student can cater their workload based on their preferences


  • While AP subjects are still academically rigorous, the likes of the IB and A levels are more renowned for their academic strengths
  • Being assessed with an examination, students who are more real-life oriented can sometimes struggle
  • Planning your subject selection across 4 years could be a long-term process that students who arent confident with their future aspirations could struggle with

Written By

- Yagiz, UAE Based Former Crimson Student and Recent UPENN Admit