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Pros & Cons of the International Baccalaureate

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is globally renowned and highly regarded as an awesome qualification. In fact, it’s probably recognised more widely in mainland Europe than it is in the UK.

This could really open up your future university and career prospects but do the advantages of the IB work for everyone? We outline the pros and cons to help you make a decision.

Pros

1. Subject variation

With an IB you will study a wide range of subjects including languages, sciences, mathematics and the arts.

This will support you to develop all round knowledge on a wider level of subjects than if you were studying science A-levels in Physics, Biology and Chemistry or Art A-levels in History, Music and Sociology. 

This broad brush approach will be welcomed with open arms by universities if you’re wanting to study degrees in Business, Economics, Politics etc. as it showcases your ability to learn across many different subjects.

However, if you’re thinking of a degree in Medicine, Veterinary Science or Engineering, you may achieve more by studying A-levels in a narrower range of subjects, but in more depth. This means your specialist knowledge and skills is at a far deeper level when you start university.

Many people who want to experience university life aren’t sure exactly what they want to learn and study. In this case an IB can be a great solution as the wide ranging subjects studied, can open up more options to choose from.

2. Broaden your horizons

If you’re not sure which university to go to (as well as which subject to study) with the current university course fees and student loan system in the UK, studying abroad in other European countries may be cheaper.

This would also give you the opportunity to experience a new country and culture first-hand, and even (possibly) learn a new language.

In Europe, the IB Diploma is widely accepted and more easily understood than A-levels.

Whether you’re in the state sector or studying at an independent school or college, it’s worth considering the subjects within an IB that your school is offering and compare these to the A-level subjects on offer.

Not all schools in the UK offer the full range of IB subjects, which might limit your choices.

3. Gain well-rounded skills

In contrast to A-levels, compulsory units in the IB will develop your communication skills, both verbal and written. You’ll take part in debates, initiate research and analysis and write extensive and thorough essays.

All these skills are vital parts of university study and very attractive to employers when you’re searching for a job. A great advantage to have at the start of your university life.

A rather cool aspect of gaining an IB Diploma is that you can join the IB Alumni network.

IB Alumni live all around the world, so the knowledge you built up of different cultures as part of the compulsory section of your IB will be really useful when making new alumni friends.

4. Personal development

The Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) component of the IB places emphasis on emotional and social development by getting students involved in activities outside the classroom.

Not only does it make you take a break from your studies to give you a more balanced education, but you have the chance to develop softer skills like empathy, teamwork and organisation.

Other curriculums are purely academic and do not focus on individual development in this way.

Cons

1. Workload

If the subjects are as wide ranging as they should be, you also need to consider the hard work and magnitude of study which is needed.

A quick comparison will show you that the maximum number of points you can achieve with an IB Diploma is 45.

UCAS shows that this is equivalent to 6 A-Levels at A grade and you’re probably aware from your friends and siblings how much time, effort and dedication is needed to aim for 3 to 4 A-levels at A grade, never mind 6!

2. Reduced flexibility

Even with so many subject choices, there’s less flexibility in the IB due to the compulsory breadth of study it requires.

The IB Diploma is a rigid curriculum with a six subject allowance dispersed across six categories, or rather five if you forgo the arts category, which is about as flexible as it gets.

If you don’t take an arts subject, you can “double dip” in another category, but there’s no triple dipping. This means you can take two sciences, for example, which for most people might be enough.

However, if you’re set on studying Medicine at university, you will probably be better off following the school’s standard syllabus where you can take as much science and maths as you like.

Not only this, but the number of subjects available depends on what your school offers, so there might not be much choice in the end.


An IB Diploma is not for everyone but for those who do take on the challenge, the rewards at university level and for future job prospects can be immense and wide reaching.

Further information

For more about the International Baccalaureate, please see: