This is a slightly stranger post for IB students.  It is actually a discussion for those considering the IB and in particular, what subjects you should be taking.

In truth, the details are primarily focused on trying to help students either in the UK or intending to study at a UK university.  Things are a little different depending on what other country is considered.  The principles involved in subject choices should be the same however.

When the IB Diploma is considered, it is not just an issue of the individual subjects that might be taken, but also the full ‘diploma package’ i.e., how the subjects fit together as a whole.  Also, you need to consider what level of work and time the Diploma will require of you.

As an example, it might be wonderful to take as many literature-based subjects as possible, but if only one or two of them are required for a university application, then care should be used – the large time required to manage such a Diploma may detract ultimately, from the final points that are achieved and this may affect your chances of meeting the university offer.

When considering subjects, talk to an advisor and start by making a list of the subjects taken at the level before the Diploma (e.g., at GCSE) and ask yourself five questions:

1. Which subject(s) do you love?

2. Which subject(s) do you hate?

3. Which subject(s) are you best at?

4. Which subject(s) are you worst at?

5. Which subjects a required for the degree you wish to study at university?

For every subject, consider the above questions and place next to it a tick, cross or leave it blank.  The complete profile should give an idea of where your interests and strengths lie.

Also, consider that these choices are not as simple as you might think.  Every time a subject is effectively dropped (i.e., not taken on the Diploma), you need to consider the implications of this – when you drop a subject, make sure you are aware of wht this will stop you applying for at university.

An example of the above might be a student who is not sure what they want to take at university.  However, they would like to keep options open for medicine and engineering.  If careers advice is taken, then often this will result in a focus on medicine and due to the ignorance of the majority of careers advisors, the student will be told to take Biology and Chemistry.  However, if the student does not make the grade, then they have dropped Physics and so, cannot now take engineering.

The major issues here are:

  • Physics – If Physics is not taken at HL, then the student is effectively not able to apply for most Engineering and Physics-based degrees.
  • Mathematics – If Mathematics is not taken at SL or HL, then the student is effectively not able to apply for most Engineering, Physics-based and Mathematics-based degrees.  HL Mathematics is required for a degree in pure Mathematics and often by universities in the ‘top 10’ for Mathematics-based degrees.
  • Chemistry – If Chemistry is not taken at HL, then the student is effectively not able to apply for most medicine-based subjects and veterinary science.

In addition, there may be some subjects that are offered in the IB which the student may not have studied before (e.g., Economics) and these may be important for a university application. All students should show some care in selecting these subjects.  The subject will be an unknown and if the subject turns out to be something that was unexpected (in a negative way), they may not like it and wish to change – such changes in the IB are not straightforward because the student cannot simply ‘drop’ the subject, they will need to take up another of the right level.

The above then forms the basis of a discussion on which subjects should be choosen.

Finally, there are two important points worth making:

  • The student who does not know what they wish to study at university.  Sometimes, students can become upset because they have no vision of where they wish to go with their education.  Be at ease, you should study whatever degree-subject makes you happy!  It is important that you read a subject which you are genuinely interested in.  If you are worried about getting a job at the end of your studies, don’t be – most adult graduates do not have a career in the degree subject they studied.  It is a fact that virtually all degrees give students a set of skills which allow them to apply for virtually any job (e.g., time-management, a measure of intelligence, presentation skills, problem-solving, etc).  Three small provisos to this are:

o    There are a small number of degrees which clearly lead onto a specific career because of the specialist nature of the work e.g., medicine, veterinary science.

o    Physics, Engineering and Mathematics are degrees which give a massively high level of Mathematics and this will often give students an edge in the employment-market.  It also means that there are a small number of very well paid jobs which only they can apply for – usually based on the use of Mathematics (e.g., working for an edge-fund, modelling the stock-market).

o    Physics and Engineering are degrees which give a level of practical problem solving second to none.  I would argue that this also gives such students an edge in employment market.

  • The student who wishes to study a degree in a subject they have never studied before.  If you have the chance to study such a subject as one of their IB subjects, the Diploma then gives them a wonderfully chance of showing their determination and interest by completing an Extended Essay in the subject.