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Applying to US Universities as an IB Student

Applying to US Universities as an IB Student

7 min Read|April 11 2024
|Written by:

Charles Whitehouse


US college admissions can seem daunting. With so many options to choose from and application processes varying from college to college, it can be challenging to know where to begin. Moreover, it takes a lot of time, dedication, and thought to curate applications which best reflect your strengths - which is especially tricky when you are already managing the intense academic demands of the IBDP.

However, by following these helpful tips and strategies, you can maximise your chances of success and make the most of your college application journey. If you want information straight from the horse’s mouth, check out this guide from the International Baccalaureate for IB students applying to US universities. In this article, we’ve summarised the key facts from the guide, and filled it out with much more.

Is IB accepted in US universities?

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

The IB states that, in 2014, US institutions received around 9000 transcripts from IB students, which is indicative of how many students have been admitted to and chosen an American university. The majority of the most popular institutions which IB students attend are in the top 100 universities in the world.

Pie chart showing the most common countries that IB students apply to US universities from

Source: IB guide for students applying to US institutions

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

Online tutors conclude that many US higher education institutions offer benefits to IB students. Benefits are determined by each institution individually, but might include credit for certain IB scores, scholarships or tuition assistance. Some universities allow IB students to enter their institution as second-year students, meaning the undergraduate education will be three years instead of four.

An expert IB Maths tutor said:

"Remember, your IB journey is more than just grades. Stay true to what excites you and use that passion to guide your college applications. It's about showing who you are, not just what you've achieved."

What is a good IB score for US universities?

Many US institutions do not have a set minimum score requirement for IB students. Instead, they consider a combination of factors such as course selection, performance, extended essay, creativity, activity, service activities, interviews or personal statements, letters of recommendation, and often performance on other standardised exams. Additionally, some institutions evaluate performance in individual IB courses rather than the overall point total.

It is important to note that admission selectivity can vary greatly between institutions, with some expecting exemplary performance from IB applicants while others accept a wider range of scores. Admissions requirements are often not clearly outlined in IB terms on university websites and may differ between institutions. It may be the case, moreover, that for some majors and courses you will need specific grades in specific subjects, so it is helpful to look into university requirements as early as possible. For example, if you are applying to pre-med, then even though universities may not specify the subjects that they want, IB Biology tutors recommend that you should study sciences at Higher Level to prepare yourself best for the undergraduate course. It is recommended to speak with a university representative directly to gain a better understanding of the expected level of performance for admission.

This makes the US system quite different to the UK, where each university will usually outline the minimum score requirement and the typical conditional offers given to prospective students.

However, based on a survey of hundreds of IB students, here are IB scores generally required for some of the top universities in the US.

Princeton University

The IB score range for Princeton University is 39-43. A score within this range can strengthen your application, but remember, Princeton also values qualities like leadership, community involvement, and personal character.

Harvard University

Harvard University's IB score range is 39-44. While a high score can enhance your application, Harvard also looks for students who can contribute to their diverse community in unique ways.

Columbia University

The IB score range for Columbia University is 38-43. Columbia values intellectual curiosity and initiative, so a strong IB score combined with evidence of these traits can make for a compelling application.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

For MIT, the IB score range is 40-45. MIT is known for its rigorous academic environment, so a high IB score can demonstrate your readiness to take on their challenging programs.

Yale University

Yale University's IB score range is 39-44. Yale seeks students who can bring a diverse range of perspectives, experiences, and contributions to the university's community.

Stanford University

The IB score range for Stanford University is 40-45. Stanford values academic excellence, intellectual vitality, and personal context, so a strong IB score can be a positive factor in your application.

University of Chicago

The IB score range for the University of Chicago is 37-42. The University of Chicago appreciates students who love learning and have demonstrated that in their IB scores and beyond.

Duke University

Duke University's IB score range is 37-42. Duke seeks students who are eager to engage in their rigorous and interdisciplinary academic environment.

California Institute of Technology (Caltech)

The IB score range for Caltech is 38-43. Caltech looks for students who have demonstrated exceptional academic ability that can be reflected in a strong IB score.

Johns Hopkins University

The IB score range for Johns Hopkins University is 37-42. Johns Hopkins values students who are academically prepared to succeed in their rigorous environment.

University of Pennsylvania

The IB score range for the University of Pennsylvania is 38-43. UPenn seeks students who have demonstrated academic excellence and intellectual curiosity.

Northwestern University

The IB score range for Northwestern University is 36-41. Northwestern values students who have demonstrated a high level of academic achievement.

Dartmouth College

The IB score range for Dartmouth College is 37-42. Dartmouth looks for students who are academically prepared and have demonstrated a commitment to learning.

Brown University

The IB score range for Brown University is 38-43. Brown values academic excellence, creativity, and intellectual curiosity, which can be reflected in a strong IB score.

Cornell University

The IB score range for Cornell University is 36-41. Cornell seeks students who have demonstrated a high level of academic achievement.

University of Notre Dame

The IB score range for the University of Notre Dame is 36-41. Notre Dame values academic excellence, leadership, and community service.

Rice University

The IB score range for Rice University is 36-41. Rice looks for students who have demonstrated a high level of academic achievement.

Vanderbilt University

The IB score range for Vanderbilt University is 36-41. Vanderbilt seeks students who have demonstrated academic excellence and intellectual curiosity.

Washington University in St. Louis

The IB score range for Washington University in St. Louis is 37-42. WashU values students who have demonstrated a high level of academic achievement.

University of California, Berkeley

The IB score range for UC Berkeley is 36-41. UC Berkeley looks for students who have demonstrated a high level of academic achievement and intellectual curiosity.

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

Will doing the IB get me into an Ivy League?

According to a survey conducted by the International Insight Research Group in partnership with the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO), over 4,000 students were surveyed and the results showed that IB students had an acceptance rate into Ivy League universities that was up to 18% higher than the overall acceptance rate for the total population. The gap was even more notable for highly-ranked universities outside of the Ivy League, where the acceptance rate was on average 22% higher for IB students.

This suggests that doing the IB will support your chances of getting into a top US university. Admissions counsellors recognise it as an academically rigorous course, which will set you up to flourish in your academics at university. You will need a high IB score to be a strong candidate to be admitted to Ivy League universities: typically, a score in the 40s will be enough to make you a competitive candidates. Of course, Ivy Leagues are equally looking for people who excel outside the classroom, so the extra-curriculars you have been completing and reflecting on as part of CAS will also strengthen your application.

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Does Harvard prefer IB or A-Levels?

Marilyn McGrath Lewis, Director of Admissions at Harvard University, said: “IB is well known to us for excellent preparation. Success in an IB programme correlates well with success at Harvard. We are always pleased to see the credentials of the IB Diploma Programme on the transcript. GPA is not nearly as important a factor in university admission as the IB Diploma. If a student has to choose, choose the Diploma over protecting the GPA.” This indicates how much Harvard University values an IB education.

While universities do not explicitly state whether they prefer an IB or A-Level education more, both the A-Level tutors and IB tutors suggest that it is likely that the IB is a better preparation for the undergraduate courses of top US universities. This is because the breadth of subjects studied at the IB facilitates a wider range of course choices at university, in comparison to the 3 subjects studied in A-Levels.

How can I stand out in my application?

The good news is that everything you are already doing to be a successful IB student is exactly what US universities are looking for!

1. Academics

You are, of course, on an intellectually rigorous programme. With over 80% of undergraduate degrees now not requiring standardised testing for admissions, you stand in good stead with excellent evidence of your academic capabilities, demonstrated in your IB subjects and predicted grades.

2. Extracurriculars

Extracurriculars are fundamental to success in US college applications. Colleges are interested in students who are involved in extracurricular activities such as sports, clubs, volunteer work, or internships. Find activities that align with your interests and passions, and commit to them long-term. These experiences will not only make your college application stand out but also help you develop valuable skills and experiences. The great news here, again, is that you will already be engaged in lots of activities because of CAS!

3. Personality

US colleges also look for an engaging and unique personality. This can really shine through in your essays, as they provide an opportunity for you to showcase your personality, interests, and strengths beyond your grades and test scores. Spend time brainstorming, writing, and revising your essays to ensure they're authentic, compelling, and well-written. Ask for feedback from your teachers, parents, friends, or an IB tutor to make sure your essays are the best they can be. If you have interviews, then this can also be an excellent opportunity to showcase your personality and demonstrate your interest in the college. Prepare ahead of time by researching the college, practicing common interview questions, and dressing professionally. Some colleges have even more creative ways for you to show your personality - such as Brown’s Video Introduction.

4. College choice

College choice is very important to your chances of success. Think critically about which colleges best align with your interests and personality, and then express this in your application. Colleges want to know why you value their campus and opportunities in particular, and this ultimately will help you end up in a place that is best suited to you.

How can I manage my time when balancing the IB and college applications?

Time management is very crucial in order to plan well for your iBs and college applications. An experienced IB English tutor recommends the following steps to follow which are very important for all students:

1. Start early!

Try starting to think about college applications as early as possible. It’s likely that you will have fewer demands from the IB in your first year (junior year of high school), so try to use that time to complete research, pick which colleges you want to apply for, and start understanding what essays and information you will need to submit to each. Hopefully, you’ve already been thinking about applying to college for the previous few years too, so you’ve built up a bank of extracurriculars and personal interests which will set you in good stead.

2. Organisation!

Stay as organised as possible. It can be overwhelming to keep track of important deadlines, requirements, and application materials, so it's important to stay organised. Consider creating a spreadsheet or using an organisation app to keep track of your applications and progress.

3. Research!

Dedicate time to research. There are thousands of colleges and universities, which all offer different opportunities. Attend college fairs, explore college websites, and talk to college representatives to gather as much information as possible. While academic performance is a crucial factor in college admissions, you should also consider the location of the college, its size, the culture on campus, extracurricular activities, and potential career opportunities. Try thinking about what matters most to you and prioritise those factors when creating your college list.

4. Use help!

Use all the resources at your disposal. One of the most helpful sources of information may be your school counsellor. They can provide guidance on the application process, suggest potential colleges, and help you stay on track with deadlines. Make sure to schedule regular meetings with your counsellor throughout the application process.


What are the benefits of applying to US universities as an IB student?

The International Baccalaureate (IB) programme is recognised for its rigorous academic standards, which align well with the expectations of US universities. IB students are often seen as well-prepared for university-level study due to the programme's emphasis on critical thinking, independent research, and global perspectives. Furthermore, the IB's Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) component demonstrates a student's engagement beyond academics, which is highly valued in US admissions. High scores in Higher Level (HL) IB courses may also earn students college credits, potentially reducing the time and cost to complete a degree.

How does the application process differ for IB students and A-Level students?

While the application process for US universities is generally the same for both IB and A-Level students, there are a few differences. IB students might have an advantage as the IB curriculum's holistic approach aligns well with the broad liberal arts education favoured by many US institutions. However, A-Level students can also make a strong case by showcasing their in-depth knowledge in chosen subjects. Both need to provide transcripts, recommendation letters, and personal essays, but IB students may also submit their Extended Essay or Theory of Knowledge (TOK) work as evidence of their research skills.

What are some tips for IB students applying to Ivy League universities?

Ivy League universities are looking for students who excel academically and personally. High IB scores are important, but so are extracurricular activities, leadership roles, and community service. Your Extended Essay and CAS projects can showcase your intellectual curiosity and commitment to service. Personal essays should reflect your individuality and passion. Also, prepare for potential interviews by being ready to discuss your IB experiences in depth.

Where can I find IB study and revision notes?

At TutorChase, we offer a comprehensive collection of free revision notes and questions answered by expert tutors, explore them here:

How does the IB curriculum prepare students for US universities?

The IB curriculum prepares students for US universities by developing a broad set of academic and personal skills. The curriculum's emphasis on critical thinking, research, and writing prepares students for the rigours of university-level study. The Theory of Knowledge course enhances critical thinking and reflective skills. The Extended Essay develops research and writing skills, while CAS projects encourage students to engage with their communities. These components can give IB students a head start in their university studies.

How do US universities view the IB compared to other qualifications?

US universities generally regard the IB highly due to its rigorous academic standards and holistic approach to education. The IB's emphasis on critical thinking, research skills, and global perspectives aligns well with the values of many US institutions. While each university has its own policies, many offer college credit for high scores in HL IB courses, recognising the depth of study these courses entail.

What extracurricular activities are recommended for IB students applying to US universities?

US universities value well-rounded students, so engaging in a variety of extracurricular activities can enhance your application. These could include sports, arts, clubs, volunteering, or leadership roles in school or community organisations. It's not just about the number of activities, but the depth of your involvement and commitment. Activities related to your intended field of study can also demonstrate your passion and initiative.

How can IB students effectively manage their time during the application process?

Balancing the demands of the IB and college applications can be challenging. Start by creating a timeline for your college applications, noting deadlines for applications, essays, and tests. Break down tasks into manageable chunks and set specific goals. Prioritise your tasks and stay organised with a planner or digital tool. Don't forget to allocate time for relaxation and self-care to avoid burnout.

What resources are available to help IB students with their university applications?

There are numerous resources available for IB students. Your school's guidance counsellor can provide personalised advice and support. The IB's official website offers resources on university recognition policies. Websites like The Common Application simplify the application process for multiple US universities. Online platforms such as Khan Academy offer free test preparation resources. Finally, university websites and admissions blogs provide valuable insights into what specific institutions are looking for.

How can an IB student make their application stand out to US universities?

To stand out, showcase your unique experiences and perspectives gained through the IB. Highlight your Extended Essay or CAS project in your application or essay to demonstrate your passion, curiosity, and commitment. Show how you've embraced the IB's learner profile traits in your academic and personal life. Remember, authenticity is key. Admissions officers want to see who you are beyond the grades.

What factors do US universities consider in addition to IB scores?

While IB scores are important, US universities consider a range of factors in their holistic admissions process. These include your high school transcript, letters of recommendation, personal essays, extracurricular activities, and interviews. They're looking for evidence of your academic potential, personal qualities, and ability to contribute to the university community. Demonstrating a genuine interest in the university and a clear understanding of how you'll fit into their community can also make a positive impact.

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Professional tutor and Cambridge University researcher

Charles Whitehouse

Written by: Charles Whitehouse

Oxford University - Masters Biochemistry

Charles scored 45/45 on the International Baccalaureate and has six years' experience tutoring IB and IGCSE students and advising them with their university applications. He studied a double integrated Masters at Magdalen College Oxford and has worked as a research scientist and strategy consultant.

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