IB versus A levels – what university admissions officers think

Posted on 13th Jul 2017 in International Baccalaureate, Diploma Programme

Considered by many an excellent alternative to A levels and other post-16 qualifications, ACS International Schools and IBSCA (IB Schools and Colleges Association) have explored how the IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) compares to A levels in the latest annual survey of UK University Admissions Officers.

Invited to rate both qualifications on their ability to develop a different range of qualities in students, the percentage of admissions officers scoring the different qualifications as ‘well or very well’ highlighted considerable disparity between the two main study programmes.

While the IBDP is top for ‘encouraging independent inquiry’, with 94 per cent of admissions officers saying the qualification develops this ‘well or very well’ in its students, A levels lag behind considerably in this respect with just 49 per cent of officers giving them a similar rating.

The IB also has the edge when considering how well the two qualifications prepare students to thrive at university but both perform well. The IB is given an outstanding 100 per cent ‘well or very well’ rating by admission officers, while A levels score ninety per cent.

One area where A levels are seen to be better, however, is developing ‘in-depth subject expertise’, with A levels cited by 94 per cent as developing this ‘well or very well’, compared to 56 per cent for the IBDP.

The most dramatic and perhaps significant differences between the two qualifications, especially given current events, concern ‘encouraging a global outlook’ for which the IBDP received the top ‘well or very well’ rating from 97 per cent of officers. This compares to a woeful seven per cent for A levels.

Nine in ten, 93 per cent, of admissions officers also consider that the IB helps ‘nurture an open mind’ well or very well, compared to just 24 per cent who think the same of A levels.

“In today’s increasingly fractious and challenging world, encouraging a global outlook and nurturing an open mind must surely take a greater significance in schools than ever before, and it’s interesting to see how highly the IB is considered in this respect,” said Jeremy Lewis, Head of School, ACS Egham International School.

“This year’s research results underpin once again the IB’s long-held reputation as the leading post-16 qualification in the world. It is, however, most pertinent this year to highlight its proven commitment to developing citizenship, open mindedness and communication skills as well as its intellectual rigour – qualities which the IB has long delivered on but which have taken on a greater significance in recent months,” said Sandra Morton, Chief Executive, IBSCA.