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The big debate: IB vs A-Levels

The big debate: IB vs A-Levels

One of the most important decisions a student can make during their final years at school is which academic program to study. A-Level students specialize in three or four subjects whereas IB students cover languages, humanities, sciences, mathematics and the arts. While both study programs are acceptable for university applications, both have their pros and cons; attributes that make them more or less suitable depending on the individual student.

But which one is best?

While A-Levels are the obvious choice if your goal is to study in the United Kingdom, they are accepted by universities around the world. It’s also true that studying three to four subjects might allow a student to develop more in-depth knowledge in their areas of interest.

“Being an A-Level student allows me to concentrate my energy on what I want to do at university because I only study three subjects,” said Federico Colio from Italy currently studying at EF Academy Oxford.

With fewer subjects and less coursework, classroom learning is combined with independent study and extracurricular activity – an ideal preparation for university life.

However, the A-Level program is not internationally recognized in the same way as the IB. It also requires a student to have a strong sense early on of their preferred career or course of university study. A-Level students will not experience the same breadth of topics as on the IB, and they will be required to specialize or narrow down their areas of interest far sooner.

“A-Level is great if you know what you want to study, for example, if you want to be a doctor and you want to take biology and chemistry – you can focus on those subjects,” said Dr. Amy Webber, Head of Science at EF Academy Oxford.

Last year’s University Admissions Officers Report (2017) found that the IB diploma was better at encouraging students towards a “global outlook”, while A-Levels delivered a more “in-depth”subject experience.

The IB is recognized in nearly 90 countries. Its varied program keeps things broad for those who are unsure about which career or course of university study they’re working towards. Students are given more time to study a wider range of subjects and eventually, are stimulated to take one to university.

Menna Clarke is from the UK and recently graduated from EF Academy New York. Of the IB program, she said, “I didn’t want to study three or four subjects but a whole range of things – which I can do with the IB Diploma program”.

Although students are given the opportunity for in-depth study with their IB Higher Level subjects, they’re still spread across a number of other subjects. The IB program is ideal for students who are looking to be challenged, but it can be overwhelming for those who aren’t used to a similar workload.

In the UK, IB is increasingly being recognized as a more intellectually rigorous preparation for university than A-Level. The Higher Education Statistics Agency recently found that IB students were more likely to be accepted to a top 20 UK ranked university than their peers studying for A-Levels. While we can conclude that both programs of study have their benefits, it’s clear that A-Level has competition in the UK.



At EF Academy International Boarding Schools, we offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma, A-Levels, and US High School Diploma, all of which are recognized by universities around the world. Our dedicated staff help our students consistently achieve top exam results and develop the skills they need to succeed at university and beyond.