Education Students Graduating

The International Baccalaureate Diploma and its recognition by universities globally

February 21, 2017

Long before high school students around the world approach graduation, their parents all have the same worry in their minds, “After graduation, what?” To many, the local educational systems offer a direct route if their offspring wish to pursue university level studies in their respective countries. However, the international school parent is likely to have their child either in a country-specific curriculum school serving expatriates or in an International Baccalaureate school. It is the latter configuration that gives the parents and the child an extra dimension and challenge to consider; this alters the abovementioned question to, “After graduation, what and where?”
The International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP) offers perhaps the widest selection of opportunities to its graduates in terms of accessing tertiary education institutions all over the world. This statement has stood the test of time as the vast majority of universities have accepted it as a reliable and competitive admission criterion. This acceptance has not happened overnight; it has taken more than four decades and the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) has been supplying governments and universities with plentiful documentation to support the value of IBDP recognition. This evolution has progressed rapidly during the last few years as more and more universities consider the IBDP as one of the most, if not the most, credible and consequently most widely accepted admission criteria. In countries such as the United States of America, where the number of schools offering the IBDP has exploded in the last decade, there is a constantly growing number of universities accepting it as meeting entry requirements in its own right and in essence making some traditionally required standardized tests non-mandatory. In the United Kingdom, the acceptance of the IBDP is such that it is reported in the standard entry requirements on all the university websites.
In Switzerland, the IBDP has been recognised by all major universities for many years, with a standard benchmark of 32 points. However, there are a few limitations in terms of the examination subjects that the IBDP candidate can take.[1] [Note that EPFL and ETHZ hold separate entry requirements.]
A rigorous and demanding course, the IBDP incorporates and teaches all those characteristics that make candidates (and the qualification) very attractive to admissions tutors. The average IBDP graduate has been taught how to perform scientific research and has implemented academic paper writing in the form of the Extended Essay. He/she has also been exposed to philosophical deliberations through the Theory of Knowledge, developing into a serious critical thinker guided by objectivity, thoroughness and balance whenever he/she presents work either orally or in writing. The IBDP graduate has been introduced to a way of thinking and acting which keeps internationalism, compassion and tolerance in mind in every aspect of life. Being an active global citizen is the expected norm in the IBDP, not the exception. As a result, the IBDP candidate has an obvious advantage over graduates from other systems, and statistically has a better outlook in the rank that he / she will graduate with from university.
One may also consider the importance of the bilingual opportunity that is offered in the IBDP. An IBDP student may opt to present a bilingual Diploma by taking an appropriate combination of Literature and/or Language & Literature subjects, or presenting another suitable subject in a second language. Taking into account that the IBDP student is receiving a holistic, truly international and highly academically rigorous education, then the competitive edge that this student has becomes quickly evident. In my school, Haut-Lac International Bilingual School at St-Legier, Switzerland, there is a policy for promoting bilingualism which aligns perfectly with the spirit of the IBDP.
The degree of confidence of universities in the IBDP is vividly depicted in the IBO produced and published list of countries with details about the status of acceptance and the pertinent restrictions for the IBDP.[2]
One indicative fact about the acceptance of the IB Diploma as one of the strongest entry qualifications to universities is that US based universities and Colleges offer credit to the IB Diploma holders, usually for Higher Level IB subjects obtained with a grade 4 or 5 or above.
In some parents’ minds, the theoretical question, “Why would a university prefer to admit a candidate holding the IB Diploma?” may be a valid one. The IBO answers this question in ample detail in its website[3] by citing the benefits of the programme to schools, students, teachers, universities and even governments. The following excerpt[4] explains the reasons from the IBO point of view as to why universities benefit by recruiting IB Diploma holder students into their ranks:
Universities and colleges benefit from recruiting and admitting students from IB programmes in a range of ways, with IB programmes developing the knowledge, skills and disposition students need to be successful throughout their university careers.
As a result of their time in the IB, students develop: 

  • time management skills and a strong sense of self-motivation 
  • a keen interest in civic engagement
  • notable academic ability
  • strong research and writing skills
  • critical thinking abilities
  • an international outlook. 

Research suggests, for example, that IB students are more likely than their peers to complete their undergraduate degrees and pursue graduate work; and that they are more likely to be engaged in various aspects of university life.
According to the research, IB students are strong on:

  • student leadership activities
  • working with university faculty on research projects
  • finding opportunities to study in other countries
  • tutoring other students
  • taking part in voluntary and community service
  • completing internships.

Since every IBDP student is characterized, and to some extent determined, by the IB Learner Profile[5], he / she is equipped with enduring skills and a state of mind that ultimately makes them a well-rounded , tolerant, understanding and capable individual. In brief, the IB Learner Profile states that it aims to develop learners who are[6]:

  • Inquirers
  • Knowledgeable
  • Thinkers
  • Communicators
  • Principled
  • Open-minded
  • Caring
  • Risk-takers
  • Balanced
  • Reflective

These aspects are indeed incorporated and taught within every aspect of the IB Diploma programme and as students embrace these characteristics, ideally for a lifetime, one can understand why they become excellent university candidates: at once open minded and empathetic, yet determined to succeed and ready to take on new responsibilities as citizens of the world. They embody rationalism in its classical sense and humanism in its most effective form. The recently surfacing challenges in today’s world society make it even more indispensable to prepare young adults that share the IB philosophy, and carry that into the university environment, thus living up to the etymology of the term ‘university’ which suggests a global approach to all matters.
By Nick Pounaras
Higher Education Counselor at Haut-Lac International Bilingual School

1.  (, and Information And Links Accurate As Of May 2. UNIVERSITIES ACCEPTING IB CREDIT (n.d.): n. pag. Saint Edmund Preparatory High School. Web. Jan. 2017.

Share now

Read our latest magazine for free!

Our International School Parent magazine is free to read online or download on your computer, tablet or smartphone. Check out the latest editions

Subscribe to our newsletter

and be the first to get the newest updates