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International Baccalaureate (IB) students: applying to university

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is an increasingly popular qualification in the UK. How will taking the IB affect your university application – and can it put you at an advantage over A-level students?

Like A-level students, you’ll study the IB over two years, taking a broad mix of six subjects to standard level before progressing three subjects to higher level. On top of that, you'll study a philosophical 'theory of knowledge' course, complete a mini dissertation-style extended essay and get involved in sports, volunteering and extra-curricular community activities as part of the qualification.

IB uni application basics

  • As an IB student, you apply to university courses through Ucas like anyone else – the only difference is the qualifications you list. 
  • You'll usually be expected to have taken a higher level in a subject related to the course you're applying for.
  • Universities will often ask for specific results in your higher level subjects as well as giving you a total points target.
  • While there isn’t a direct parallel between higher level standards / A-level, and standard level / AS-level, it’s safe to assume that if a university asks for a particular subject at A2 level in its entry requirements, they’re likely to require it at higher level as part of the IB.

IB and Ucas points 

Under the new Ucas tariff being used for applications from September 2016 onwards, the IB Diploma itself doesn't attract Ucas points; however the individual components which make it up (e.g. higher level subjects, standard level subjects, extended essay, theory of knowledge) do. You can read more about the new Ucas tariff and what it means for IB applicants.

However, universities almost always make offers in terms of IB points rather than Ucas points so this shouldn't pose such a problem.

Will my application be treated differently? 

Your application will go through the same process whatever your qualifications, and admissions tutors will be familiar enough with the IB to judge your application fairly.

Course offers given to IB students may sometimes appear more challenging than offers made to A-level candidates, but that’s usually down to how the IB and A-levels are graded – the points scale allows competitive universities to more keenly differentiate between very able IB candidates.

IB results are released to students on 5 July, so if you’ve got the results you hoped for you’ll receive confirmation of your university place well in advance of A-level students. ‘Near miss’ applicants can face a tense wait until A-level results come out for a final decision to be made about their place - but if you need to go through Clearing, you’ve got the extra time to plan in advance and be first on the phone.

Making the most of the IB

So what are the main benefits of applying to university with IB qualifications?

1. The IB is good preparation for university-level study

'The things you do – the extended essay, CAS [the Creativity, Action, Service programme], studying a wide range of subjects and so on – give you distinguishing features to push in your personal statement, as well as better prepare you for university study. Simply being an English student studying the IB may be enough to make you stand out from the pile of applications with A-levels.’ Daniel Penman | Ib Student Now Studying History At University Of Cambridge

2. It gives you a broad study base

The structure of the IB means you study a broad range of subject options. It’s compulsory to take English, maths, a science, a language and an ‘individuals and societies’ subject (such as history, geography or economics), plus a sixth subject of your choice.

This should set you in good stead when it comes to making your university choices, especially if you’re not sure what course you want to take, as you’ll be keeping your options open (nearly always better than opting for a narrower combination of subjects). 

The IB is also particularly well-suited to subjects like law because of its breadth and rigour.

3. You've got lots of experience to shout about

Stress the extra experience your IB course has given you and how different elements of the course have helped to shape your skills, both on your Ucas form and during a university entry interview.

Picking your subjects

The subjects you choose will make a big difference to your application – and in particular your combination of higher level subjects – as these will usually determine what you go on to study at degree level. You’ll need to make sure you fulfil the requirements of the degree course you want, but also play to your strengths to ensure you get a good result.
‘Find where the gaps are and fill them in by taking extra modules (or offering to take extra modules) where necessary, and don't make life harder than you have to by taking the hardest optional sections.’ Emily Hale | Ib Student Now Studying Civil Engineering At University Of Edinburgh
When it comes to degrees that require maths qualifications, for instance – such as maths, some economics and many engineering courses – you're likely to need higher level maths as opposed to standard level or maths studies. If you've got an idea of what you want to study at university, check the entry requirements of specific courses to find out what's expected.

Is it easier to study abroad with the IB?

As the name suggests, the IB is recognised internationally, and you should be able to use it to apply to university outside the UK.
However, other qualifications, including A-levels, are also recognised by universities around the world, so the IB may not be an advantage in itself. More important for studying abroad are good results and being able to speak the language.

Busy making your university application? Don't miss our expert advice on personal statements, admissions interviews and entry tests.

Which? University provides guest spots to external contributors. Brightside is an education charity which creates, develops and manages online mentoring projects, and other online tools and resources for students, including the Bright Knowledge website.


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