Is your dream to go overseas for university?
If so, now’s the time to act, because there are certain things you can do in high school to make that dream a reality!
One of them is choosing the right curriculum.
Depending on where you’re from, you may or may not have heard of the International Baccalaureate, which is a globally recognised high school syllabus.
So that means it will give me a better chance of getting into a top university overseas?
Well, that depends on where you want to go. Some universities love the IB, and others... not so much.
If you’re looking at the US or UK for university, then you had better know where the IB matters, and the scores you need to get in!
Guess what? You’re in luck! Because that’s exactly what I’ll explain in this blog.
What is the IB?
In case you didn’t know, 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 three to 19, but the one you need to know about is the IB Diploma Program (DP), which is a two-year “pre-university” course that students start in their second 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 148 countries, so check to see if your school is one of them before you get too excited.
Why take the IB?
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.
Does the IB increase your chance of getting into a US university?
Short answer: Yes.
The IB Diploma Program is kind of a big deal in the States, 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, I suggest you jump on the IB bandwagon ASAP!
Need more convincing?
Most of the top US colleges will even give you credits for your Diploma Program subjects if you get over a certain score.
You know what that means... One step closer to graduation, baby!
For example, at University of Pennsylvania (an Ivy League), 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, SUNY, 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.
And yet there are more perks!
Strong IB performance can also benefit you when it comes to university scholarship and financial aid assessments.
So, why do US universities love the IB so much?!
To be perfectly honest with you, 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.
While it seems like a lot to take on, believe me when I say that the DP provides all the ingredients for a strong application to a top US college.
That’s why, 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:
1. It shows that you challenge yourself
The top US colleges love good grades, but what they love even more is to see that you’ve pushed yourself to get those good grades.
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 taken the hard route and that you’re not afraid of a challenge; that you've taken the extra step people around you have not.
If you apply with your country’s high school qualification, it’s not as easy for these unis 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.
What if you just took all the “easy” subjects so you didn’t have to work as hard? What if you only played to your strengths by selecting subjects you’re good at? What if you had the opportunity to move up to a more advanced maths class but chose not to because it guaranteed you a better mark? It’s impossible for them to know!
With the IB, there are no guessing games.
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.
And this isn’t speculation – some unis will 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 Ivy League colleges remain tight-lipped on the importance they place on the IB, but it’s possible that admissions officers at these universities are more biased towards a good DP result than they are a good result in a country specific qualification.
2. It shows that you have breadth of knowledge
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 specialisation, or major.
3. It shows that you are a well-rounded person
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.
Does the IB increase your chance of getting into a UK university?
Short answer: No.
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, well, none of these things!
Instead, they 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 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 university, 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, there is a way you can increase your chance of getting into a UK university:
Taking the CIE.
Yep, there’s another globally recognised high school curriculum, called the Cambridge International Examinations (check out our blog on everything you need to know about the CIE). And you guessed it, it’s straight outta University of Cambridge. Well, technically, straight outta a not-for-profit organisation that’s run by the university.
CIE is focused on depth of knowledge, as opposed to breadth. Not surprising for a curriculum coming out of the UK, where there are literally whole degrees dedicated to one subject, like English.
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.
So, what can we take away from all of this?
It’s not safe to assume that universities do not factor in the curriculum you take when assessing your application.
What IB score do I need to get into a top university?
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.
However, trawling through different universities’ admissions information pages gives us some intel on IB DP score requirements in the US.
For example, 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.
Moral of the story: get the highest mark possible. Just because a university specifies a minimum score requirement doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed entry if you meet it.
They’re a bit stricter in the UK.
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:
Course: Natural Sciences
IB cut-off: 40 points + 7/7/6 at higher level
University College London:
IB cut-off: 39 points + 19 at higher level
University of Oxford:
IB cut-off: 38 points + 6/6/6 at higher level
IB cut-off: 38 points + 6/6 at higher level
IB cut-off: 36 points + 6/6/6 at higher level
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
There’s no denying that the IB is well renowned in both the US and the UK – with just a little more emphasis on the US!
Admissions officers at top US and UK universities hold the IB Diploma Program in very high esteem compared to country specific qualifications, because they’re familiar with the intensity and difficulty of the course and believe it adequately prepares students for tertiary education.
That said, an IB qualification certainly holds more weight in the US, where they promote a well-rounded education, than in the UK, where they value specialist knowledge.
It’s no wonder almost 900 of the 4,000 IB accredited schools are in the US alone!
The answer is clear, then!
If you want to study in the US…
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.
If you want to study in the UK...
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.
No maths or science classes, yay!
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. Anything else is irrelevant!
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!
So, what have we learned from all of this?
Whether the IB will help you depends on where you want to go to university.
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 US of A.
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.