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Applying to UK Universities as an IB Student

Applying to UK Universities as an IB Student

7 min Read|February 06 2024
|Written by:

Thomas Babb


Applying to UK universities as an IB student can seem daunting, as the UK education system appears generally geared towards A-Level students. There is, however, nothing to worry about! This article will take you through everything you need to know about applying to UK universities as an IB Student.

The primary thing to know is: no, you are not at a disadvantage for having taken the IB instead of A-Levels. UK universities recognise and accept the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma as a qualification for admission. In fact, many UK universities actively encourage students to apply with an IB diploma.

Is the IB accepted in UK universities?

The IB is widely respected for its rigorous and comprehensive curriculum. Admissions officers also appreciate the fact that the IB is an internationally recognised qualification, which means that it provides a level of consistency and comparability across different educational systems. So, the answer is: yes, absolutely, UK universities accept the IB, whether you are a domestic or an international student.

The IB Diploma is regarded as providing a very high standard of post-16 education, making graduates of the program highly desirable to universities. Extensive research has consistently demonstrated that students who achieve the IB Diploma have a 57% higher probability of gaining admission to one of the top 20 UK universities, as opposed to those who pursue British A-Levels. Additionally, they are also 21% more likely to be accepted into the most esteemed universities in the United States.

Do UK universities prefer the IB or A-Levels?

A recent survey of 80 UK university admissions officers, who represent almost half of the universities in the UK, found that the majority of them favoured the IB Diploma as the superior preparation for university and the workforce. This suggests that IB students may have an advantage in applying to university, as admissions staff recognise how well the programme prepares you.

This may come as a surprise to many who are more accustomed to the conventional A-Level pathway. However, IB Diploma is consistently ranked as the top qualification for university, both in the UK and worldwide, as it equips students with the necessary skills to excel in higher education.

Should I take IB or A-Levels to get into UK universities?

UK universities love both IB and A-Level students. So, your decision should also be based on which course you think fits your interests and work-style best.

You have the freedom to select any combination of subjects for your A-levels, provided that your school or college can schedule them. For instance, if you prefer studying only humanities subjects, you may do so. However, your curriculum will be relatively limited because typically, students take only three subjects, and taking more than four is highly unusual. If you feel any difficulty in any subject, no need to worry. Expert A-Level tutors can be quite beneficial and can help you achieve high grades easily.

On the other hand, the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum mandates students to study a broad range of subjects, a total of six, but with limited choice. The subjects are divided into six groups, including sciences, modern languages, and humanities. In the first five groups, you must select one subject from each group, and for the sixth group, which is arts, you can either choose a subject from that group or choose a second subject from any of the other groups. Some might find some of the subjects difficult so it is best to consult a good IB tutor for the areas you find to be hard. They can provide you with expert advice and tips that are extremely useful for achieving a good grade.

What impact will doing the IB have on my university experience?

Broadly, doing the IB will have little impact on your university experience. You may enter having more experience with long-form essay writing than A-Level students, having completed the Extended Essay. You also may find yourself adapting more quickly to rigorous, academic courses, given the workload and demands of the IB.

However, if you’re interested in the wider picture of IB students at university, here are some facts!

In the University Officers Report 2017 (a survey of the people who decide which students are admitted to university), officers assessed that the IB is better at encouraging a “global outlook” and “independent inquiry” in students, while A Levels give students more “detailed and in-depth expertise”. This makes sense given the subject distribution of each course.

A report by the IB found that students holding an IB Diploma are 3.02 times more likely than students holding an A-Level qualification to enrol at a Top 20 higher education provider, after controlling for academic ability. Students holding an IB Diploma are 36% less likely to enrol in a STEM subject course in their first year of study, when compared with students with an A-Level qualification. This may reflect the lesser specialisation of the IB.

The great news is: In the UK, students who hold an IB Diploma have a greater chance of obtaining a first-class honours degree compared to those who hold A levels, even when their academic abilities are taken into account. Additionally, the type of pre-university qualification was found to be significantly related to the likelihood of achieving a second-class honours degree. Specifically, students with an IB diploma have a 40% higher probability of obtaining an upper second-class honours degree compared to those with A levels.

How do IB students perform in comparison with A-Level students at university?

Source: Research by Jisc on behalf of the IB

What IB subjects should I take?

This will be heavily influenced by which degree subject you think you might be likely to study. The IB is great because it allows you to keep your options open, studying 6 subjects at once.

You should look at the admission requirements of the universities or colleges you're interested in attending. Some institutions may require specific IB subjects or recommend particular subject combinations.

For example, if you want to study a maths-based subject at university, you may be required to take IB Higher Level ‘Analysis and Approaches’ rather than ‘Applications and Interpretation’.

Have a look at our comprehensive set of IB Study Notes and IB Practice Questions, developed by expert IB teachers and examiners!

What are the IB requirements for UK universities?

You will generally need to have achieved the IB Diploma in order to get into UK universities, and some courses will require specific overall and subject scores. It is rare for universities to mandate any requirements regarding Theory of Knowledge, the Extended Essay or CAS.

The exact IB score that you need to get into a UK university will vary depending on the university and the program you are interested in. Some universities may require a minimum overall score, while others may require minimum scores in specific subjects or a combination of both.

What is a good IB score to get into a UK university?

In general, most UK universities will require an IB score of around 34-36 points for undergraduate programs. However, some more competitive programs may require higher scores, while others may accept lower scores depending on the applicant pool and other factors.

For example, if you wish to study English at a UK university, this is the range of entry requirements across some universities:

It's important to note that the IB score is just one factor that UK universities consider when making admission decisions. Admissions officers will also consider your academic performance in individual subjects, extracurricular activities, personal statements, and other factors. So while your IB score is important, it's not the only thing that matters when it comes to gaining admission to a UK university.

Is the IB accepted at Oxford and Cambridge?

Yes, the IB is accepted at Oxford and Cambridge, as it is at all UK universities, with admissions organised through the central UCAS system. Both Oxford and Cambridge accept IB students and recognise the value of an IBDP education. Watch out, though - you can only apply to one out of Oxford and Cambridge!

What IB score do I need for Oxford and Cambridge?

For Oxford, you will need a total score of 38, 39 or 40 points (depending on the course) including core points, with 6s and 7s in subjects taken at the Higher level. You can check the specific course requirements here. For example, for English Language and Literature, you are required to achieve 38 (including core points) with 666 at HL. Data from 2018 suggests that the average offer holder scored 41.3 points.

For Cambridge, you will typically need a total score of 40-42 points with 776 at Higher Level. Cambridge offers are generally higher than Oxford offers, as they make more offers and then cut down their candidates based on their final exam results. For instance, applicants for English will need 40-42 points with 776 at Higher Level, including a 7 in English Literature (HL English Literature and Language may be accepted as a substitute at some Colleges).

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Professional tutor and Cambridge University researcher

Thomas Babb

Written by: Thomas Babb

Oxford University - PhD Mathematics

Thomas is a PhD candidate at Oxford University. He served as an interviewer and the lead admissions test marker at Oxford, and teaches undergraduate students at Mansfield College and St Hilda’s College. He has ten years’ experience tutoring A-Level and GCSE students across a range of subjects.

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