International Baccalaureate (IB) gives students a unique opportunity to apply to almost any university in the world. Special curricula are designed for children from ages 3 to 19 and include all the basic levels of primary and secondary education. IB is useful not only for students who decide to apply to a foreign university: studying at an International Baccalaureate teaches students how to discuss global issues, think critically and independently and be creative in solving problems.


It is believed that the foundation of the International Baccalaureate system was laid by the French teacher Marie-Thérèse Maurette. In 1948 she wrote "Educational Techniques for Peace: Do They Exist?". In the book she described the three techniques that would later form the basis of IB system: the principle of international culture (children are taught to position themselves as citizens of the world, not accentuating attention on their home country), the principle of world history (teaching history in the context of all mankind, and not just one country) and the principle of complete bilingualism (teaching in two languages at once — English and French)[1]. In the mid-1960s, a group of teachers from the International School of Geneva created the International Schools Examinations Syndicate (ISES), which became the forerunner of the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) and later the International Baccalaureate (IB). The first IBO headquarters was officially opened in Geneva in 1968. The main goal of the organization was to create a common curriculum for all countries, allowing students to enter any educational institution in the world. This program was later renamed as the Diploma Program. In 1994, Middle Years Program was established, and in 1996 — the Primary Years Program. The final IB project was the Career-related Program proposed in 2012[2].

Advantages of the International Baccalaureate

  • Foreign universities. Students with an IB diploma can directly apply to many universities in the world without attending foundation courses, usually required from foreign applicants. IB graduates have the opportunity to apply to the most prestigious universities in the world: Ivy League universities, MIT, Oxford, Sorbonne, Humboldt University of Berlin and many others.
  • Teaching methodology. International Baccalaureate programs help students develop critical thinking and research skills, strengthen the ability to learn on their own and boost learning motivation. In addition, teaching in most schools is at least partially conducted in English, which means that by the end of the education, children will be fluent in a foreign language.
  • Interesting classes. IB students willingly interact with the teacher and classmates, look forward to the start of the lesson and actively participate in it. Students have the opportunity to engage in various clubs and extracurricular activities. Students also say that teachers are very attentive, and classmates’ positive attitude makes them feel like being part of the family or a community[3].
  • The quality of education. According to studies conducted by IB, students of International Baccalaureate programs demonstrate better academic performance[4] and more developed critical thinking[5] than students in other secondary schools. In addition, graduates of Diploma and Career-related programs are more successful in post-secondary education institutions than students of other schools: they are more likely to enter elite universities[6] and graduate with honors[7].
  • Objective assessment. In order to offer students the most objective and unbiased methods of assessment, IB has a two-stage verification system. Students' work is checked not only by teachers in schools, but also by external examiners who adhere to special assessment guidelines developed by IB.
  • Scholarships. International universities often provide special scholarships and grants, as well as discounts for IB graduates.
  • English language examination courses conducted at IB are recognized as language certificates (instead of IELTS / TOEFL) during the admission process; another language studied at higher level (HL) can also be accepted by the university admissions committee as a substitute for a language certificate;
  • Credits may be transferred from IB programs;

Disadvantages of the International Baccalaureate

  • Non-universal recognition. Although International Baccalaureate programs are designed to make admission purpose universal all over the world, universities in many countries (for example, the majority of CIS members) still do not accept IB diplomas. Students in these countries have the only option of enrollment on the basis of a certificate of secondary education and entrance exams.
  • Location. Despite the growing number of IB schools, there are not so many of them compared to regular schools. Most of them are located in the countries’ capitals or big cities.
  • Heavy loads. Studying at IB programs is a very complex and intense educational process. Tight deadlines, high requirements, and hard independent work will be a student’s reality.
  • Cost. Attending an IB school can be a costly proposition regardless of it being state or private. The price can range from 2,800 USD per year to 3,000 USD per month.

IB programmes

International Baccalaureate is a continuing study of four consecutive programs. It includes all levels of primary and secondary education.

Primary Years Programme3-124-8 years
Middle Years Programme11-162-5 years
Diploma Programme16-192 years
Career-related Programme16-192 years
Primary Years Programme

Primary Years Programme (PYP) is aimed at preschoolers and primary school students from ages 3 to 12. The main goal of the program is to educate and motivate children to independently explore the world and self-education. The curriculum consists of six subject and six interdisciplinary areas. The main subjects studied include:

  • Language
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Arts
  • Social studies
  • Personal, social and physical education.

Interdisciplinary topics enable IB to include global questions into a discussion:

  • Who are we?
  • Where are we in place and time?
  • How do we express ourselves?
  • How does the world work?
  • How do we organize ourselves?
  • How do we share the planet?

Each year, students analyze all the questions proposed (students from 3 to 5 years old — only four). Starting from 7 years old, children can choose an additional foreign language. The final year of study is associated with work on a large-scale joint project. Pupils should choose one global problem that exists today and propose ways to solve it. Children present their completed works at the Exhibition at the end of the school year.

Middle Years Programme

Middle Years Programme (MYP) was created for middle school students from ages 11 to 16. The program is aimed at developing creative and critical thinking in children, it usually lasts five years, but in some schools it can be reduced to two or three. The curriculum consists of eight subject areas:

  • Language acquisition
  • Language and literature
  • Individuals and societies
  • Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Arts
  • Physical and health education
  • Design.

At least 50 hours of classes in all groups of subjects are provided each academic year in order to fully grasp the disciplines. During years 4 and 5, students have the opportunity to take courses in six of eight areas, which increases the flexibility of the program. In addition, MYP students participate in interdisciplinary programs each year that include at least two groups of subjects. Most of the curriculum is project work. Students graduating from MYP during years 2 to 4 should present a community project, and students graduating at the 5th year — a personal project. The community project encourages students to explore their rights and responsibility in the context of serving the community. Pupils can carry out a community project individually or in small groups. The personal project is thematically unrestricted and is carried out by each student independently. Since 2016, an additional series of final examination tests in the subjects studied and an assessment of the student's portfolio have also been introduced. A study conducted by IB Global Research in 2014 showed that MYP students show better academic results than students in other secondary schools, as well as greater awareness of global problems[8].

Diploma Programme

Diploma Programme (DP) is aimed at high school students from ages 16 to 19. A two-year pre-university training course for high school students can be completed in grades 10-11 at the same time as preparing for the exams or after receiving a certificate of completed secondary education. Graduates who have successfully mastered the program receive an IB diploma[9].

Learning is based on three basic components:

  • Theory of knowledge is a key subject of DP, allowing students to develop critical thinking and gain insight into the learning process itself. In this course, students study the nature of cognition and discuss the understanding of knowledge as a result of a person’s mental activity. IB devotes at least 100 hours a year to this discipline.
  • The extended essay with a length of 4000 words is the result of an independent study conducted by the student. Teachers advise students in three compulsory consultations, the last of which is an examination interview. Essay is graded on a scale of 0 to 34.
  • Creativity, activity, service (CAS) involves students in different types of work in parallel with the study of academic disciplines throughout the DP. Creativity introduces students to art and improves creative thinking. Activity is aimed at fostering a healthy lifestyle. Service is another format for acquiring new knowledge in the context of general education. In this discipline, students must complete three projects.

The curriculum itself also includes subjects from six areas. All areas consist of several items. DP students must choose one subject from each category, but "the Arts" can be replaced with an additional course from any other group.

DP subject groups

Native Language:

  • Literature
  • Language and literature
  • Literature and theater.

Language acquisition:

  • Language B
  • Classic languages
  • Foreign language for beginners.

Individuals and societies:

  • Business and management
  • Economy
  • Geography
  • History
  • IT in global society
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology
  • Social and cultural anthropology
  • World religions
  • Ecological systems and society.


  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Design and technologists
  • Ecological systems and society
  • Physics
  • Computer science
  • Sport, physical education and health.


  • Mathematical Sciences, standard level
  • Additional mathematics, advanced level
  • Mathematics, standard level
  • Mathematics, advanced level.


  • Music
  • Theater
  • Fine art
  • Dancing
  • Cinema
  • Literature and theater.

Students can choose between standard level and higher level options for studying the subject. Each student must take at least three (but not more than four) advanced courses. The standard level provides 150 training hours, and the advanced level — 240.

In addition, at the end of the program, students pass written exams and tests, which are checked first by teachers and then by external examiners. For each course you can get from 1 (lowest) to 7 (highest) points. Three additional points are awarded for the course of epistemology and an extended essay. Students with at least 24 points receive a diploma provided that they have demonstrated the established minimum levels of proficiency in the material throughout the program and fulfilled the requirements of the CAS program.

Career-related Programme

Career-related Programme is the newest IB project since it was introduced in 2012. The program is designed for high school students ages 16-19 interested in vocational education.

CP consists of three elements:

Courses from the IB’s Diploma Programme (DP). Students must complete at least two courses of the Diploma Program in any of the subject groups. This will help expand the theoretical base and strengthen the academic knowledge of students.

The CP core. These courses occupy a middle ground between DP subjects and vocational education, allowing students to develop personal and social skills.

  • Personal and professional skills. As part of these classes, students develop a sense of responsibility and positive intellectual habits, diligence, the ability to solve practical problems and effectively absorb new information.
  • Service learning involves the application of acquired skills for the benefit of society. Students are presented with opportunities to apply the acquired knowledge and skills in practical situations.
  • Reflective Project is an extensive work that is defended at the end of training. Students should select, analyze, discuss, and evaluate the ethical issue associated with their professional education. Implementation of the project teaches students intellectual and creative scientific work, as well as communication and writing skills.
  • Language Development is a fundamental principle of all IB programs and aims at broadening students’ intellectual horizons. Students can start or continue learning a foreign language in accordance with their plans and previous experience.

Career-related studies is designed to prepare students for postsecondary education, internships or work in the chosen field. An educational institution is directly involved in this part of the program, so the curriculum may differ due to the capabilities of different schools.

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IB educational institutions

As of September 2019, more than 5,000 schools offer 6,800 IB programs in 157 countries. About 53% of them are located in the Americas, 26% — in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East and 21% — in the Asia-Pacific region[10]. See the complete list of schools in each country here.

Authorization of IB schools

Step-by-step authorization process

authorization of educational institutions for teaching International Baccalaureate programs is a long and laborious process consisting of 5 steps:

  • Consideration. In order to start the authorization process, the school must declare its interest by filling out an online application on the official IB website. After confirming the statement, the head of the school must visit at least one IB workshop, as well as find a coordinator and determine the necessary resources for switching to IB programs.
  • Request for candidacy includes filling out an application and paying registration fees. Consideration of the request takes up to 28 days. If the commission finds any issues, the candidate is given another 14 days to resolve them.
  • Candidacy can last from one to three years. During this period, the educational institution will begin a test introduction of the desired program, and teachers will take special courses to improve their skills. The school receives support from IB in the form of consultations from the regional office and a designated consultant. 30 days are allocated for consideration of the final report on the implementation of test programs. After receiving a response, the candidate has another month to pay the administrative fee and consultant services.
  • Request for authorization. The application is submitted along with documents confirming the understanding of the IB school philosophy by the headmaster of the school in question, as well as a specific plan for implementing programs in the educational institution. Consideration of the request takes up to 42 days. After that, the school must agree on the date of the confirmation visit of a member of the authorization commission. He is appointed no earlier than six weeks later. Report review takes another 56 days. If no problems arise at any stage, an authorization agreement is drawn up and signed within 28 days. From now on, the school can officially teach selected IB programs.
  • Authorization. Every five years, an educational institution must confirm its status. To do this, the school must not only continue to successfully teach IB programs, but also participate in continuing education courses, workshops, and conferences, as well as pay annual fees.

Only an already registered educational institution accredited by an independent commission or the state in which it is located can become an IB school. All teachers and the school headmaster are required to take part in the IB workshop, where they learn about the philosophy and goals of the programs, as well as the timetable, teaching and assessment methods.

New programs can be taught in any language, but the main program in most cases should be taught in English, French or Spanish.

In addition, in order to be accredited, the school must submit a detailed program implementation plan with a description of the organization and distribution of the budget to the IB board. If the institution has branches, they are accredited separately.

Before receiving permission to continuously teach IB programs, the school must first enter them in the schedule in test mode for a period of at least one year.

Opportunities after IB graduation

IB actively collaborates with higher educational institutions around the world, helping to develop entry requirements and improve study programs. On the official website, you can find special guides for students wishing to enter universities in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, Hong Kong and the Netherlands. Stanford University has even prepared a series of videos about IB programs.

A complete list of universities that recognize an IB diploma and the exact list of conditions can be found here.

Admission to US universities

In order to enter the most prestigious US universities (top 20), the average score at the end of DP must be at least 34-38 points. In addition, you should carefully consider the selection of subjects to study at higher level (HL). The average score of 32-36 for DP exams is enough to enter the top 200 best universities.

UniversityGrade for HL exam
1Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)6-7 (mathematics and physics)
2Yale University6-7
3University of PennsylvaniaAt least 5
4University of Southern CaliforniaAt least 5
5Northeastern UniversityAt least 5 for each subject; at least 30 total

Admission to universities in Canada

Since Canada does not have a centralized education management system, different universities can offer IB graduates different advantages in the form of transferring credits or scholarships. Some universities even accept such students immediately in their second year of study, allowing them to reduce the duration of bachelor’s studies to 3 years.

UniversityGrade for HL exam
1McGill UniversityAt least 5
5University of Alberta6-7
3McMaster UniversityA total of at least 36
28University of British ColumbiaAt least 3 for English as the main language (English A, SL or HL); min assessment for three core subjects has not been established

Admission to universities in the UK

It is impossible to enter a British university by graduating from an 11-year high school. You must either go through the Foundation year training program, or the A-level two-year program, or first study for several years at the undergraduate program in your country. IB, in turn, allows you to apply to most universities in the UK directly, including the top ones.

UniversityGrade for HL exam
1University of Oxford6-7 for each subject; at least 38 total
2University of Cambridge6-7 for each subject; at least 36 total
3King’s College LondonAt least 4 for English as the main language (English A); at least 36 total
4The University of EdinburghAt least 5 for each subject; at least 32 total (for medical programs — 37)
5University of BirminghamAt least 6 for each subject; at least 32 total

Admission to German universities

In most cases DP graduates can apply directly to German universities without studying at Studienkolleg. When applying for Numerus clausus quota programs, applicants with an IB diploma are considered on a par with German students.

For admission to a German university, the total duration of study must be 12 years.

For the recognition of an IB diploma in Germany, additional conditions must be met.

Six subjects in the DP schedule should be:

  • Two languages, one of which is a foreign language (A, SL or HL; B, HL);
  • One subject from the group of "Individuals and Societies": history, geography, economics, psychology, philosophy, social anthropology, business and management, or global politics;
  • One subject from the group of "Sciences": biology, chemistry or physics;
  • One subject from the group "Mathematics": mathematics SL, mathematics HL or advanced mathematics in conjunction with mathematics HL;
  • One subject from the group "The Arts": fine art, music, theater, cinema, literature and theater, modern foreign language, Latin, ancient Greek, general chemistry, applied chemistry, natural systems and communities, IT, design technology, world religions or sport, physical education and health.

Selected higher level subjects (HL) must include at least one subject from the group of Sciences (biology, chemistry, physics) or mathematics.

All exams must be passed on a grade of 4 or more. A grade 3 for one of the subjects can be compensated by 5 for another.

German as one of the foreign languages (A or B). If it was not included in the IB schedule, an applicant should provide other evidence of language proficiency.

Admission to Dutch universities

Students with an IB diploma are free to enter any university in the Netherlands. Since submission of documents to universities usually occurs earlier than obtaining a diploma, enrollment takes place on the basis of the expected grades that the IB school provides to the university. There are minimum requirements for admission to Dutch universities:

  • Subject areas of economics, econometrics, and international business require mathematics (SL) in the DP schedule;
  • For admission to the universities of applied sciences (hogescholen), you must have math (HL) as well as physics or chemistry (HL) on your schedule.
  • For training in the medical field, the schedule requires biology (HL), chemistry (SL), physics (SL) and mathematics (SL). Please note that to add three subjects from the group of Sciences a student needs a special permission from the IB committee.

Dutch as the main language (Dutch A, HL or SL) or a foreign language (Dutch B, HL) is taken instead of a language certificate upon admission.

Admission to universities in Switzerland

Swiss universities recognize the following disciplines from the IB program: foreign languages, economics, business and management, geography, history, biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics at standard or higher level. From this list, students of the International Baccalaureate must choose six subjects from the listed categories:

  • Main language;
  • Foreign language;
  • Mathematics (SL or HL);
  • Sciences (biology, chemistry or physics);
  • Individuals and societies (geography, history, economics or business and management);
  • Additional subject of student’s choice (from group 2, 4 or 5).

Swiss universities set different criteria for selecting students:

UniversityEntry requirements
1Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne)At least 38 points, HL in mathematics, physics and main language; German or French as a foreign language.
2Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ZurichAt least 38 points, HL in mathematics or advanced mathematics, physics, chemistry or biology, main language.
3University of BaselAt least 32 total
4University of Bern (Universität Bern)At least 32 total
5University of GenevaAt least 32 total, HL in mathematics, and one of the natural sciences
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