The IB Diploma: A ticket to a top university?

For those of us who have been teaching and administering the IB Diploma Programme for many years, the dramatic growth in the programme’s popularity worldwide comes as no surprise. It is now taught in over one thousand schools world-wide, and the total is growing at a rate of between 12% and 15% a year.

The reason appears to be the gradual realisation by students, parents and school management that the Diploma, in educational principle at least, is difficult to fault. For it guarantees coherence, breadth and rigour, a combination that should be irresistibly attractive to those concerned about alternative qualifications whose reputation as a national ‘gold standard’ has become increasingly tarnished.

With three subjects at ‘higher level’, three at ‘standard’, and a Theory of Knowledge course and Extended Essay to hold the structure together, the qualification has a coherence and balance that educationalists and universities applaud. A foreign language, Maths, English, a science and a humanity are compulsory components, so the likelihood of Diploma graduates leaving school as literate scientists or numerate artists is greatly increased.

There is a  myth that the IB Diploma is a qualification for the academically able only. Certainly it is a programme that contains an academic rigour that may be missing from equivalent qualifications, but to see it as a programme suitable only for highly selective schools is an Anglo-centric view that does not see the wider picture: The vast majority of schools across the globe that teach it are non-selective – and considerably less well resourced than, for example, UK independent schools.

Unsurprisingly then, the IB is officially recognised by universities in over seventy countries. In the United States, for example, the qualification is so highly thought of that entrants may be exempt from the first year of university there. In over twenty –five years of advising students about university entry, I have become convinced that a university admissions tutor, whether at Cambridge, Harvard or Sydney will give an IB applicant the edge over another, all other things being equal. The most recent Ivy League universities’ admissions statistics confirm this observation

Familiarity to universities has bred respect, not least because the IB Diploma has maintained the value of its currency and not been subject to ‘grade inflation’, a phenomenon that has done much to devalue the currency of some national qualifications’ systems.

Universities are attracted to the IB partly because at the top end of the ability range its method of assessment discriminates effectively. An IB applicant with more than about 36 points out of a total of 45 would, it is estimated, be equivalent to a three A* grades A Level candidate; so an IB applicant with a score of, say, 40 points (secured by ten Southbank graduates this year) really is special.

Therefore at Southbank we not only believe in the IB’s educational philosophy but see the Diploma, supported by its sister programmes the PYP and MYP, as a valuable passport to higher education and the world of work. Employers are increasingly attracted to bilingual, literate and numerate applicants. And it would appear that other governments, at least in the industrialised world, recognise that a post-sixteen curriculum embracing coherence, balance, breadth and rigour is vital for their country’s economic prosperity and cultural well-being.

It is therefore with great pleasure and excitement that at Southbank we are offering the IB Diploma Scholarship to any applicant from outside the school interested in starting to study the Diploma in one of the top international schools, in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, for first admission in September 2015. Merit-based, the Scholarship will cover 100% of the tuition fees and aims to attract students with records of academic excellence, committed to practising the principles of the International Baccalaureate. For more details of the Scholarship and to download the Candidate Information Pack, please visit the IB Diploma Programme Scholarship website.