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International Baccalaureate (IB) students: applying to university

The International Baccalaureate has grown in popularity in the last decade. But how will taking the IB affect your university application – and can it give you an advantage over A-level students?

Note, the International Baccalaureate (IB) offer several programmes to students of different ages; the below information refers strictly to the IB Diploma Programme, for students aged 16-19.

What is the IB Diploma?

Like A-levels, the International Baccalaureate Diploma is a subject-based qualification which students study over two years.

IB Diploma students take a broad mix of six subjects to standard level, before continuing with three subjects to higher level, choosing one subject from each of these groups:
  • Studies in language and literature
  • Language acquisition
  • Individuals and societies
  • Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • The arts
We have further advice below on picking your IB Diploma subjects.

As well as studying these six subjects, students complete the following as part of the 'DP core':
  • study a philosophical 'theory of knowledge' course
  • write a mini dissertation-style extended essay
  • get involved in sports, volunteering and extra-curricular community activities
The number of students applying to higher education with the IB has doubled in the last decade; in 2008 there were 1,035 acceptances, while in 2017 there were 2,190 acceptances – a figure that has remained pretty stable for the last few years.

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.

Have a degree course in mind? Search now to see its full entry requirements (and more)...

IB, Ucas points and entry requirements

Under the current Ucas tariff, the IB Diploma itself doesn't attract Ucas points; however the individual components which it's made up of (ie higher level subjects, standard level subjects, extended essay, theory of knowledge) do. That said, universities almost always make offers in terms of IB points rather than Ucas points, so this shouldn't pose such a problem.

As for what IB Diploma students should aim to achieve in order to apply to university, we've taken a look at what a few universities broadly recommend on their website (though you should always check the specific entry requirements for a course):

We make offers solely on the basis of the IB marking scheme and not the Ucas tariff.

We have a standard IB Diploma offer of 34 points across all programmes of study including any specific subjects at higher or standard level required by the particular degree programme.

As an alternative to achieving 34 points, for most programmes, the University will also make IB students the offer of passing the IB Diploma with specific achievement in higher/standard level subjects. Both offers will be communicated to Ucas.

The standard minimum requirement is 34 points overall, with a combined score of 16 achieved in three higher level subjects with no grade lower than 5. However, many of our programmes have higher entry requirements than this. 

Typical offers usually require scores between 40 and 42 points out of 45, with 776 in Higher Level subjects. Applicants may be required to achieve 7 in a particular subject(s), depending on individual circumstances.

Read more about the Ucas tariff, including what it means for IB applicants.


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.

When are IB results released?

International Baccalureat Diploma results are released to students on 5 July.

If you get 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. This should leave you in a good position 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

When applying, stress the extra experience your IB course has given you and how different elements of the course have helped to shape your skills.

You can do this both in your Ucas application (specifically, your personal statement) and during a university admissions interview.

Picking your IB 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 – search for a degree course or university now.

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 the Diploma to apply to universities 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 possibly being able to speak the language.

Learn more about the IB Diploma on the International Baccalaureate's official website.

About the author
The Uni Guide 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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