The IB Diploma Program: Why It Is a Great Route to University

Why Would This Author Know Anything About The IB Diploma Program?

I teach an IB Diploma subject in a busy IB school in Barcelona, Spain. I have been a full time IB teacher for over 16 years. Over the past ten years Barcelona’s international schools have been proliferating quickly – at times it can seem a bit like an arms race. Schools racing to get their act together, seeking grants and planning permission to construct the right facilities.  Working hard to attract the most experienced IB teachers and administrators. Schools that can offer the IB diploma program, combined with great facilities are set to attract the large number of families looking to put their children through the IB education system. 

What is the IB Diploma Program?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma program is known for its firmly established popularity in the international school community. Universities are also well aware of the qualification. The IB defines itself as the go to pre-university qualification for students who live in a multilingual, international communities. 

Newcomers to the IB diploma program are often unaware that the IB is a school wide program. Depending on the school the IB starts with the youngest students entering primary school, guides them into middle and high school before preparing them for their final diploma exams. IB programs start in primary school, continue into middle school and high school. These are known respectively as the ‘Primary Years Program’ (PYP), ‘Middle Years Program’ (MYP) and ‘Diploma Program’ (DP). When the students are preparing for university usually in years/grades 11-12 (or 12-13 in some schools) the IB Diploma Program kicks in for their final two years and students complete their IB journey by preparing for and taking their final IB exams. Then follows university – hopefully. 


The route to this place can be a tricky one…but a good IB diploma under your belt can help.


How Popular is the IB globally?

According to the IB official website and the IBO’s Middle Year Program and IB Diploma Program annual statistical bulletins, ‘Between 2012 and 2017, the number of IB programmes offered worldwide has grown by 39.3%’. The Americas is where most IB schools are found but huge numbers of IB schools are now found across Europe and Asia with most large cities boasting at least one IB diploma school.

The IB Diploma Program is Increasing in Popularity

The number of schools offering the IB in the UK is now over 100 (source). The popularity of IB schools has proliferated and students taking the IB has predictably followed suit- 69,834 students took the IB diploma in 2016, rising slowly but steadily each year to 85,783 in 2019. (Source: Perhaps predictably with increased numbers of students, the number of diploma grades awarded by the IB has decreased over this time period from 57.86% of students passing the IB diploma in 2015 to 53.72% passing in 2019. This is an important statistic as it is the students who have gained the IB diplomas (not just simply passing) that will make it into universities, especially desirable universities in Europe, USA and Asia. Globally the average grade achieved in subjects has dropped slightly in the same time period from 4.84 to 4.76 – the IB uses a scale of 1-7 for grading (1 is low and 7 is high). 

19 Reasons Why the IB Diploma Program is a Great Route to University

Reason #1: US universities look favourably on the IB as an Entry Qualification:

American universities lead the world in their acceptance of the IB qualification. One reason for this is that US universities tend to value the holistic, all encompassing nature of the IB qualification. A successful IB student offers six subjects (three higher level, three standard level) plus an extended essay and large theory of knowledge (TOK) and creativity, activity and service (CAS) components. This is attractive to US universities who are looking for well rounded students who come with a range of studies as their background – see the next point where this is contrasted with UK universities. The IBO (IB headquarters) has carried out research on this very subject and reports that IB diploma students are accepted at a rate that can be up to 18% higher than the natural acceptance rate. 

The USA, so friendly to the IB Diploma that many American universities will give you undergraduate credits.

Does this mean that the IB is given preferential treatment? Probably not, but it might indicate that the IB Diploma Program prepares students in a way that universities, especially in the US, appreciate and as a result their performance in interviews and entrance tests is elevated.

For more information on the research carried out by the IB in these areas of post IB college/university application see:

Reason #2: UK universities open their arms to IB Diploma Program students… with a few specific added extras

UK universities show great respect to the IB as a qualification, but they will tend to need more information on why you want to specialise in their subject. So as well as a high IB diploma score they will also want to see evidence that your academic interests in and out of school are reflected in your application.

Showing your Dedication to your Specialism is Key

This might mean that you work in your spare time at a veterinary clinic, volunteer at a local school or write a blog on the economy of your local area. Showing that you’re passionate for your specific subject is important for UK universities and means that your application might need a little extra to get over the finish line. 

Reason #3: Some universities will even recognise IB subjects and give you credit to your undergraduate degree, especially in America.

Yes – once you get to university many IB students will receive credit from universities that will go towards their degree.

Examples are:

Example 1: Concordia Colleges – Various Locations – USA. Concordia Colleges recognizes the International Baccalaureate (IB) and accepts individual course credit for higher level IB courses with test scores of 4, 5, 6, or 7. No credit is given for standard level (SL) courses. Source

Example 2: Dartmouth College USA – provides up to six course credits for higher level IB qualifications, mainly for HL subjects. Source

Example 3: Adelphi University USA – Gives credit to IB students who get a 4 or higher on their higher level (HL) courses. Source

Interestingly none of the UK universities in this list offer credit to IB students for merely having an IB diploma. Some of the top american universities certainly accept the IB Diploma Program as an entry qualification but don’t give you any additional credit, Harvard is a good example of this. 

The information in this article was based on: List of Universities offering credit to IB diploma students

See also: IBO official information on recognition of IB by countries and universities

Reason #4: The IB Diploma Program makes a decent attempt at producing well rounded individuals, not just academic machines. 

The set up of the IB with its three higher level and three standard level subjects, plus the theory of knowledge and CAS (community, action and service) makes for well-rounded, if exhausted , end of course students. Universities are aware of this and that’s why the IB is one of the most widely accepted and fastest growing pre university qualifications in the world. 

Reason #5: The IB Diploma Program is recognised as an Excellent Academic Challenge

Universities yearn for students who have been through the academic mixer. Can they cite or reference sources? Are they able to deal with multiple subjects and the avalanche of deadlines they often bring? Does the student balance a busy academic life with community service and sports? If the student is an IB student then the answer is a definitive yes. Bottom line is that you’ll have the skills universities are currently looking for. 

Your academic skills, sharpened by the IB Diploma experience, will be indispensable at university.

Reason #6: As an IB Diploma Program student You are a Different Shaped Diamond in a Vast Ocean of Shiny Well Crafted Diamonds

Most students applying to universities are NOT IB students, but does this matter? In 2014 universities in the US received over 15 times more applications from AP students than IB students. 

Source: Program Summary Report 2014 and IB May 2014 Stats.

But this doesn’t make one better than the other. There is a strong argument that an IB diploma might just make your application stand out from the crowd with its holistic, international and multilingual nature. 

Reason #7: Not ready to Specialise yet? The IB Diploma Program is for you.

A’level qualifications in the UK and the AP in the US are quick to push students to specialisation. There is certainly some advantages this. But this isn’t for everyone.  The IB diploma program avoids this by ensuring that all students follow the same formula of 6 subjects combined with extracurricular and philosophical disciplines. Keeping this breadth of study makes you an interesting applicant to all university courses. You can still apply to specific degree such as medicine and many of my IB Diploma Program science students have successfully done this. 

Reason #8: The IB Diploma Program is great preparation for the rigours of university life:

The IB is no push over. Six subjects. Three at higher level. Multiple languages, theory of knowledge, multiple internal assessments and an extended essay. Plus all the extracurricular hours that CAS – community, action and service required. To do all this IB students need to liaise and coordinate with many different staff and support staff, as well as work in multidisciplinary teams. An IB student’s life is complex and reflects the type of weekly lifestyle they will encounter at university; it’s great training and universities know this. 

Reason #9:‘TOK’ will help you see connections between subjects

Theory of knowledge or ‘TOK’ is a running theme through all IB subjects as well as having its own class. As TOK elements pop up in IB class it causes students to pause and consider the wider implications of some the topics they are studying.

How does the IB Diploma Program make Connections between Subjects?

This, of course, happens in all subjects but is especially included in the ‘TOK’ aspect of the IB Diploma Program. 

An example of this could be perception of shapes and patterns in biology – bees and insects can detect electromagnetism in ranges that are non visible to humans. This means that bees ‘see’ flowers with different shapes and patterns to humans. A TOK discussion might delve deeper into our sense of reality for example how does the difference in how bees and humans see flowers affect how we perceive our own sense of reality? University life heavily on connections between topics and universities look favorably on those individuals who are skilled at seeing these connections. The IB Diploma Program prepares you for this. 

Reason #10: You time management and organisation skills will be tested and honed.

Universities value autonomous learners. The IB certainly promotes that throughout it’s two year diploma course. A good pass at IB diploma level is a badge that confirms your abilities to deal with high pressure academia, universities know this and that’s why they welcome you with open arms.

Reason #11: The IB Diploma Program offers a Bilingual Diploma

Bilingualism means more today than ever – global trade means that the ability for humans to communicate face to face and not through a translator or translating machine is invaluable. Scientific communities are admittedly dominated by English but I would argue this is even more reason to learn a new language other than English. The publication ‘Research Trends’ finds that almost 80% of published journals tracked by them are in English. Source

You will impress your future colleagues with your grasp of their local language and forge stronger bonds – this can only help in a world where teams are often international groups of collaborating professionals. 

How do I ensure I get an International Diploma?

The IB Diploma Program offers a bilingual qualification that helps bolster your international outlook and make you more attractive to universities. To get an international diploma you must fulfill one of the following criteria:

  • Successfully complete two languages from group 1 (Language and Literature), with a grade 3 or higher.
  • Successfully complete a group 3 (Individuals and Societies) or group 4 (Experimental Sciences) subject in a different language to the language studied in group 1. 
  • Get a grade 3 or higher in both group 1 (Language and Literature) and group 3 (Individuals and Societies) or group 4 (Experimental Sciences) 
  • Additional subjects selected by the student cannot be taken into account, nor does the extended essay or any school based course affect the awarding of a bilingual diploma. 

So if you’re applying to university this can look great on your application form, especially if you’re applying to courses involving Literature, Linguistics and/or Languages

Reason #12: The IB Diploma Program allows you to prove your social awareness, not just academic prowess.

Your IB qualification is proof of your effective social skills

Passing the IB diploma requires excellent social awareness and skills. The IB’s CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) program promotes this especially with its community aspect. I have supervised students working in soup kitchens, resident’s homes, children’s hospitals, all this takes a lot of organisation on their behalf and demonstrates their acute social awareness – an attractive quality to universities and looks great on your application.

Reason #13: The IB Diploma Program gives you the tools to think internationally

International perspectives are values in professional roles. Not only languages but the ability to interact and collaborate with people who may not be of the same linguistic and cultural backgrounds is a skill that universities and employees seek out. The diploma qualification with its emphasis on international thinking and languages enables you to build a convincing application with a sophisticated international slant.

IB Diploma Program: Thinking Internationally

As an IB teacher I have spend a lot of time with students in places such as Costa Rican tribal villages, Moroccan deserts, Spanish hospitals and universities, where the students were able to showcase their understanding of different cultural backgrounds and experience unforgettable moments of learning that enriched them as individuals. The types of additional ‘bonus’ skills that any good university would vale immensely. 

Reason #14: For Americans: the IB Diploma Program is aligned with the Common Core State Standards 

The route through to the IB final exams is a hard one and this is made easier for American students as the IB is closely tacked onto the Common Core standards. This means it’s an accessible route to American students, though certainly still a challenge. 

See also: Common Core Standards, USA Curriculum

Reason #13:The IB Diploma Program offers a whole school experience

The holistic approach of the IB produces well rounded students. At my IB school students start the IB course in the first year of primary school in the ‘Primary Years Program’ and head through the middle years program into the diploma program. Along the way the IB Diploma Program has created community and service events that inspire students to look outwards and think globally.

Reason #14: The Middle Years Program (MYP) places a great emphasis on inquiry and independent learning skills

Universities are places where you say goodbye to the support of your parents and move into washing your own clothes, dishes and getting yourself out of bed. Middle year students on the IB Diploma Program path have teachers that encourage them to be autonomous learners. Emphasis is on project based learning where students have control over their direction of study and its outcomes. Students tell me they really enjoy this phase and it sets them up very well for the inquiry based courses later on in the diploma and university. 

Reason #15: The IB Diploma Program’s Extended Essay is an Opportunity to Showcase your Academic Passions and Research Skills. 

IB Diploma Program students must complete an extended essay of approximately 4000 words under the supervision of a subject related teacher. The topic of the extended essay must relate to an area of the syllabus of one of the IB subjects: this is, in effect, a very wide subject range. 

The Extended Essay: A Chance to Show off your Passions (…academically)

The extended essay is a great opportunity for students to pick a subject/topic they enjoy, carry out research and write a mid length thesis. Universities love the extended essay as it gives them something to talk about in interviews and really enable the candidate to show their love of the subject. For this reason it’s important to pick a subject that you are likely to study later at university. It really helps during an interview for medical school if your extended essay covers a subject related to chemistry, biology. 

Reason #16: The IB program is lead by teachers with an international mindset.

The IB qualification is attractive to universities because they know that IB students come from a background of international exposure and have mingled with fellow students and teachers from all over the world. This openness to a multicultural values is often a great reflection on the student as a whole and can only improve their chances of success. 

Reason #17: The IB Diploma Program offers you considerable choice in your studies.

The IB Diploma Program consists of six academic groups: Language Acquisition, Language and Literature, Individuals and Societies, Mathematics The Arts, The Sciences.

The IB diploma offers considerable flexibility and choice for students. This will obviously vary from school to school as the number of subject specialists changes. Students are able to put together an impressive mix of subjects that reflects their interests and skills.

Mix your Own IB Diploma Cocktail

Most subjects also have ‘option topics’ where students have to pick one extra topic from a selection of 3-4. This further enables personalisation of the IB qualification. Added to this there is also the combination of higher level and standard level choices and the student directed extended essay. This makes for a nicely personalised cocktail of topics that each IB student brings to the university interview stage. This level of specialisation is highly attractive to universities and their specialised courses.

IB Diploma Program Sciences: Not sure which course to choose?

Need Guidance with those tricky science subjects? Check out my summary of each IB Diploma Program science course to find out the routes they can lead to and the types of topics you’ll be studying.

Holatutor’s guide to IB Sciences

Reason #18: The IB Diploma CAS program gives you the opportunity to get involved in something you actually enjoy – make the most of it.

CAS – Creativity, Action and Service gives you an opportunity to make the most out of your out of school interests. An additional advantage of this is that you have a natural showcase for these talents when you move to apply to university. It’s important that IB students pick activities that reflect their strengths – these will bolster their university applications.

Reason #19: There’s tons of support out there for IB Diploma Program students, make sure you use it. 

University is a place that values autonomous learning and rewards those students who are able to find their own resources for their research. The IB is no different and if you succeed in the IB you are proving yourself in these areas. There’s tons of support out there for you – starting with your coordinator, teacher and fellow students. Additionally there’s IB question banks, resource sites like inthinking (can be shared with students) as well as high quality websites put together by IB teachers. Examples of great teacher constructed sites in my subject; and therefore very helpful are: Biology for Life, Bioninja, ibiology and bioknowledgy.

Autonomous Learners + IB Diploma = A Choice of Universities

Get out there and make the most of the resources in all your IB Diploma Program subjects, don’t just rely on your teacher to supply you with all the materials. OK, I admit it’s a tenuous link to end on but universities do really value independent learners so the ability to seek out and use all the resources is often the reason why one student does better than another. Universities value this, another of the many reasons why they value the IB and all the hard work is really worth it! 

Links / References

Link: Guidance: Holatutor’s guide to the IB Diploma Sciences
Link: IBO Facts and Figures
Link: IBO Statistical Bulletin for Diploma Program
Link: IBO Statistical Bulletin for Middle Years Program
Link: An additional example of how a University credits the IB qualification (Standford)


Good luck with the journey to university – The IB diploma is undoubtedly hard work, but a great way to get there. HolaTutorTom

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Thinking about studying the IB diploma Program and unsure about the science component?

Check out my article for prospective students:  Guidance: Holatutor’s guide to the IB Diploma Sciences

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