Your dream of a global life drew you to the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Program.  Its curriculum, taught in over 150 countries, explores perspectives from many cultures. The International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) developed the Diploma Program with the idea of creating an “internationally acceptable university admissions qualification.”

Still, you worry. You’ve heard some places limit what IB courses are accepted. How can you make sure your IB diploma will work for you when you graduate, wherever you go?

Difference is the Rule

You’re smart to look ahead. Don’t assume anything. Countries can vary substantially in what they want from IB graduates. institution can differ from institution within a country, and one program from another within an institution.

As an example at the country level, let’s take a look at three popular educational systems, the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

IB Recognition in the United States

The IB is not as well-known in the United States as it is in most countries. U.S. students more commonly enroll in Advanced Placement (AP) programs. While the latest figures report 940 IB schools in the United States, by comparison about 13,500 schools there offer at least one AP course.

Nonetheless, U.S. universities with any international ambitions will likely have a policy on the IB. And the policies tend to be generous. Rather than only using the IB in admission, universities often award undergraduate credit to those with good scores. Students who have finished the full diploma program successfully  may receive as much as an academic year of credit, shortening the four-year U.S. degree to three years.

Students who have taken even one IB course at High Level (HL) with good scores may also be eligible for more limited undergraduate credit.  To earn advanced credit on an HL course most commonly requires a score of at least 5, though a few institutions allow 4 and others may require a 6 or even a perfect 7.

U.S universities generally do not require specific minimum IB scores for program entry. They look at many different factors in making an admissions decision, from tests and recommendation letters to interviews and personal statements. IB scores are simply one piece of the equation.

Nor do U.S. institutions look for certain IB courses depending on the student’s planned field of study. Students in the U.S. commonly do not even decide on a major until their second year of study.

For more information, check out the IBO’s  “Guide for IB Students Applying to U,S, Institutions”. It provides background on the U.S. system and international admissions process, specifics regarding how the IB is recognized, and details on the 10 universities that receive the most IB applications.

IB Recognition in Germany

You will not generally be awarded advanced credit based on IB results in Germany. (However, bear  in mind that the typical bachelor’s degree in Germany lasts three years, compared with four in the U.S.)

There are country-wide, quite specific conditions qualifying when an IB diploma may be used for entrance into German higher education. Those diploma-holders who do not meet these conditions will have to try to qualify by examination.

To give some of the main requirements, a foreign language needs to have been studied in an HL course. Either a natural science (biology, chemistry, or physics) or mathematics also needs to have been studied as an HL course. If mathematics is not taken as HL, it should be taken as Mathematics Standard Level (SL)—the Mathematical Studies SL is not recognized, Scores of at least 4 are expected  on all courses, though a single score of 3 may be balanced out by a score of 5 in another subject.

For a full list of requirements, take a look at the “Guide for IB Students Considering Higher Education in Germany” .

IB Recognition in the United Kingdom

As with Germany, you will not receive advanced credit toward the UK’s typically three-year undergraduate degree programs. (Some Scottish universities with four-year programs are an exception and may award undergraduate credit to IB diploma holders.)

In contrast with the U.S., students in the U.K. choose their fields of study at the time of application. Individual programs set their own entry requirements, which vary not only from institution to institution but from field to field. Generally a minimum overall IB score requirement is set (34 or higher is common) and there are often requirements in terms of individual courses as well (often 4 or higher).

To confuse things further, the UK central admissions system, UCAS, uses a “Tariff” or points system designed to allow comparison of students from different educational systems. You may see requirements listed in terms of these points. Tariff scales can be found toward the bottom of the UCAS page on the IB.

IB students with good scores have an advantage in gaining a university place in the UK because their scores are released before those of the country’s A-Level exams. To learn more about the admissions process in the UK, review the “Guide for IB Students Applying to UK Institutions“.


Now that we’ve looked at a few specific countries, we’ll try to give some broader information based on questions frequently seen over the years at Newton Education Services.

Where can I find information on other countries?

In addition to the US, UK, and Germany, the IBO has published overview guides for international students applying to institutions in (to date) Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, and the Netherlands. The organization also has an extensive collection of country IB recognition statements, from Albania to Vietnam, some of which include useful specifics.

I want to study __. What courses should I take? At what levels?

For study in many countries, you can choose freely within the IB framework. Choose your HL options based on your abilities and interests. You probably want one HL choice related to the topic of “extended essay” you will write as part of your program. And it’s always good to take one or more HL courses related to the prerequisites of your expected future field of study. Getting credit for your HL choices means you can skip introductory courses, moving into more advanced work right away.

In some cases, as with many UK institutions, particular IB courses may be required to enter undergraduate programs in certain fields. For example, Mathematics and Physics may need to be taken at the HL level to enter engineering programs. Mathematics, at least at the SL level, may be necessary for fields such as business or the sciences. Someone planning to enter medicine may need to take either Physics, Chemistry, or Biology at the HL level. Some classes considered “easier,” such as Mathematical Studies or Literature and Performance, may not be recognized. You will want to check the policies at any institutions of interest that require commitment to a field of study at the time of application.

An undergraduate program I’m interested in doesn’t know anything about IB. What can I do?

The IBO website has a great deal of background information, including a university guide to the IB diploma program, in English and in Arabic. This background should encourage your program to accept the IB diploma.

IB allows the option of taking either three HL courses or four. Do I need to take four for selective universities?

No. To our knowledge, universities never require four HL courses. As to whether enrolling in that many HL courses might impress or gain you added credits, you need to look realistically at your ability to balance a very heavy course load. Compared to the 150 class hours required by an SL course, HL courses take a minimum of 240 class hours! You would be taking on quite a bit extra. Better that you do well in three HL classes than do poorly in four.

I’m taking English HL as my second language and doing well. Do I have to take TOEFL or IELTS?

Maybe. In the U.S., some universities allow substitution of an IB program completed in English and/or English HL study, but some do not. The situation varies similarly in Germany, with additional language testing sometimes but not always required to enter programs (whether taught in English or German). For most countries, you’ll need to check the policies of the specific institutions of interest to you.

So how do I research policies related to IB study?

The simplest and surest approach is to get information directly. Language requirements for international students are generally on university websites, in the “admissions” section. You can also search there for “international baccalaureate,” and you can contact the admissions offices directly. Almost all will have established, published IB diploma recognition policies.

Would you like help with your research or with other parts of the admissions process? We offer an advising service that meets needs from big to small. We’ll also be glad to respond to your questions here; just enter them in the comments section below.