+44 (0)20 3959 8329
MAR 16, 2020 • 12 min read
Is your dream to go overseas for university?
If your answer is 'yes', then it's time to start choosing the right curriculum.
If you’re looking at top universities in the US or UK, it's important to know where the IB matters and what scores you need to gain admission to world-leading universities.
The IB is a global standard academic program run by the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO), an independent not-for-profit based in Switzerland.
There are four programs catering to students from ages 3 to 19, but the IB Diploma Program (DP) is by far the most popular, which is a two-year “pre-university” course that students start in their second-to-last year of high school.
You can take the DP as an alternative to your high school qualification, which might be GCSE, AP, HSC, VCE, or NCEA, or another, depending on where you’re located.
However, in order to do that, you need to be a student at an IB accredited school, which means there are teachers who have been specially trained to deliver the DP.
There are about 4,000 IB accredited schools spanning across 148 countries. Check to see if your school is one of them.
Now that the formalities are out of the way, let’s get into the juicy stuff.
One of the main reasons you might be considering the IB Diploma is to improve your chances of gaining admission into a top university.
Let’s look at what this means in the US and the UK – two of the most popular (but very different) study destinations.
The IB Diploma Program is well known in the US, where it’s unofficially accepted as a “college standard” curriculum.
In fact, universities tend to admit IB students at a higher rate than their non-IB counterparts.
An IBO survey showed that the acceptance rate of IB students into Ivy League universities is up to 18% higher than the total population acceptance rate.
The gap is even more significant for top-ranked universities outside of the Ivy League.
This is not to say that an IB student will be given preference over a non-IB student in the university selection process, but it indicates that students are stronger candidates as a result of taking the IB.
Regardless, completing the DP definitely won’t hurt your chances of admission. So if you had the US in mind for university, definitely consider the IB.
Most of the top US colleges will even give you credits for your Diploma Program subjects if you get over a certain score.
For example, at University of Pennsylvania, a score of six in most “higher level” (HL) IB subjects will earn you some credits towards your degree.
At Stanford University, specified HL IB exams with scores of five or higher in the subjects listed here are eligible for credit.
New York University typically awards eight hours of course credits for each HL subject in which you’ve scored at least a six.
The state university system (UC Berkeley, UCLA, etc.) is even more generous when it comes to the IB. As a policy, DP recipients will earn a minimum of 30 credit hours and up to 45 credit hours of advanced credit.
Strong IB performance can also benefit you when it comes to university scholarship and financial aid assessments.
the IB ain’t easy.
The Diploma Program can be up to double the coursework of your school’s standard curriculum and requires a lot of independent study and self-discipline. You need to perform well in all subject fields – not just the arts, humanities, or sciences – everything, including two languages!
On top of this, it requires you to be involved in activities outside the classroom, such as sport and community service.
If you do well, an IB qualification is the best way to demonstrate your strength as a candidate to US universities.
There are three reasons for this:
When admissions officers see the IB DP qualification on your application, they automatically get a picture of you as a student and an insight into your character.
They know that you’ve worked hard and that are not afraid of a challenge.
If you apply with your country’s high school qualification, it’s not as easy for these schools to interpret your academic journey.
You might have achieved good marks all throughout high school, but it’s hard for them to know what was required of you to achieve those grades when they aren’t able to compare like with like.
Universities understand the IB’s rigour and they know what it takes to come out of the DP with a good score: consistent hard work and dedication.
These are the kind of qualities they look for in candidates.
Some universities even say outright that they hold IB applicants in higher stead.
Purdue University, ranked 89th in the world, states on its website that students who take advantage of HL IB courses are “more competitive candidates for admission and more qualified to succeed in college”.
Likewise, University of Southern California (USC) states that “students who undertake an IB curriculum are well-prepared for the rigours of university academic life” and that “IB courses are factored into the admission evaluation process because USC recognises the extreme rigour of such a curriculum”.
The IB offers a broad education by requiring students to pick subjects from a range of academic disciplines.
This, in turn, gives students a well-rounded liberal arts perspective, which is highly sought after in the US university admissions process.
That’s because US colleges encourage “intellectual exploration”, which means for the first two years you’ll study a bit of everything before deciding on a specialization, or major.
This is no surprise considering the IBO aims to create well-rounded students with all of its programs.
They do this by making sure students show achievement not only academically, but non-academically as well.
This works in favour of US universities who look for things like community involvement, leadership, research, and impactful projects – all of which are built into the IB curriculum.
While the IB is also highly regarded by UK universities, it’s not valued in quite the same way.
Colleges in the US and UK have very different ideas of education. Whereas the US encourages diversity, experimentation, and breadth of study, the UK encourages, specialization and focus on a particular subject.
UK universities like to see that you’re involved in activities related to what you want to study.
If you apply for an English degree, for example, admissions officers will be looking for evidence of your knowledge in this particular subject area. You can still talk about activities outside the classroom, but they should be English-related.
Good things to mention would be the time you won that creative writing competition, the online writing course you completed, the book club you’re a member of, and the blog you run!
You’ll be studying English to the utmost degree at the university level, so you' need to prove that you have a real interest in the field, and that you’ll bring passion to your studies.
In no way does this mean that the IB hinders your application; just like the US, UK universities understand that it takes blood, sweat and tears to complete the IB DP, and they have massive respect for IB students!
It just doesn’t necessarily add value in the same way as it does in the US.
However, taking the CIE can help to increase your chances of gaining admission to Oxbridge and other top UK universities.
This globally recognized high school curriculum, called the Cambridge International Examinations (check out our blog on everything you need to know about the CIE) focuses on depth of knowledge, as opposed to breadth.
Because the CIE aligns more with the UK education system, students who take it could be in a better position, just like IB students are in a better position to apply to US universities.
Something else to consider before you start your IB journey is the score required to secure your place at uni, whether that’s in the US or the UK.
In the US, universities don’t release specified IB Diploma Program cut-off scores.
At least for the Ivy League and more selective colleges, you’re going to need a healthy mix of sixes and sevens (no less than six) in your subjects for a shot at admission.
A score in the 40s is going to make you a more competitive candidate academically (note: a lot of non-academic factors are at play), but a 38 is considered a good grade.
If you’re aiming for the Ivies, you certainly don’t want to be dipping below the 36 mark. Even then, the rest of your application had better be pretty exceptional to compensate for a score on the lower end.
The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), expects students to achieve a score of at least five in each HL subject. However, given the competitiveness of admissions (UCLA receives the most applications of any university in the US), most admitted students typically score 38+ points.
Most universities will not only consider your overall IB DP score but also your grades in specific HL subjects.
For example, to apply for English Language and Literature at Christchurch College, University of Oxford, an applicant needs a total DP grade of 38 points, and at least a six in three HL subjects.
Here’s a look at some UK universities’ IB score requirements for their most competitive courses:
University of Cambridge:
University College London:
University of Oxford:
It’s quite common for UK universities to change their IB score requirements depending on the degree, but usually these stay within a pretty small range.
For example, IB score requirements at University of Oxford will vary between 38 and 40 (always with a minimum of six in each HL subject).
Other unis have standard cut-off IB scores across the board, which makes it a thousand times easier for everyone.
University of Bath: 36 total points
King’s College London: 35 total points
University of Leeds: 35 total points
University of Kent: 34 total points
Birmingham University: 32 total points
Royal Holloway College London: 32 total points
Take the IB.
It helps you excel both inside and outside the classroom, critical for US admissions and the liberal arts pedagogy.
It produces students who have developed good self-study patterns as well as good reading and analytical skills, particularly important for university level courses.
And best of all, the IB allows you to explore a range of subjects, which is also what you'll do in your first two years of college in the US.
Take the CIE.
It's their national curriculum, and trains you for the depth of study required at UK unis. If you know you love history, then you can take A levels (subjects) in history, art history, and classics.
Then when you go on to study history at university, you’ll already be used to the huge amounts of reading and writing, and skilled at source analysis and critical appraisal.
This is highly desirable for UK universities who are interested in your knowledge and love of history.
That’s why the IB’s range doesn't translate well to the depth the UK looks for. It forces you to do well in a range of disciplines, which means you can’t possibly go into the same depth of study as you would in the CIE. There’s simply not enough time in a day!
The high school curriculum choice you make now can have a huge impact on what and where you study later.
As you now know, the International Baccalaureate has a pretty good reputation in the USA.
Nearly all US universities will consider performance in the IB Diploma Program for the purpose of admissions or other factors including granting course credit, advanced standing, scholarships or financial aid.
But while taking the DP can be an advantage if you perform well, you are not going to be accepted into a US university because of your curriculum.
Admissions officers aren’t in the business of comparing high school syllabi – they’re looking at the overall calibre of the candidate. That’s why your US college application banks on a lot more than just your grades.
At the end of the day, students with all types of high school qualifications have gotten into Ivy League colleges. In fact, students have gotten in before they’ve even received their qualification!
That was the case with Australian student Nathan Huynh, who accepted an offer from UPenn three days before his VCE results were released.
So if you’re aiming for a top university in the US and doing the IB isn’t an option, the most important thing is that you look to exceed the expectations of your curriculum, regardless of what it is.
This means taking extra subjects so you’re forced to manage your time better or more difficult subjects that push you to work harder to get a good result.
Make sure you take the same go-getter approach to activities outside the classroom, too.
To have a shot at admission, you need to show that you go above and beyond the call of duty in everything you do!
Ultimately, that’s what will make you stand out in the eyes of admissions officers.