Course selection guidance

Are you a student deciding on subjects to enroll in? Are you a parent or a counsellor supporting your student in reaching their higher education goals? The information below can help you select the courses that best fit you or your students’ goals.

Diploma Programme (DP) course selection 

In the DP, the curriculum consists of six subject groups and the three elements of the DP core: theory of knowledge; extended essay; and creativity, activity, service (CAS).

Whether you are enrolled in the DP or enrolling in several DP courses, it is important to know which course selections will help students achieve their goals and career aspirations.

Guidance counsellors and university careers counsellors (UCC) can help students make course selection decisions. They know what universities in different countries will look for and what combination of standard level (SL) and higher level (HL) courses students should take to be eligible for admission to university. Students are also encouraged to check admission requirements with individual universities.

Refer to the following resources as you develop your course plan: example subject choices and DP subject briefs, located below. SL and HL courses differ in scope but are measured according to the same grade descriptors, with students expected to demonstrate a greater body of knowledge, understanding and skills at higher level. Each student takes at least three (but not more than four) subjects at higher level, and the remaining at standard level. The table does not include school-based syllabi (SBS) or pilot subjects and neither SBS nor pilot subjects have subject briefs. Note for students: Not all IB World Schools offer every course listed below.  

DP language and literature subject group

  • Language A: literature SL & HL 
  • Language A: language and literature SL & HL pdf
  • Literature and performance* SL pdf

DP language acquisition subject group

  • Classical languages SL/HL pdf
  • Language B SL & HL pdf
  • Language ab initio SL pdf

DP individuals and societies subject group

DP sciences subject group

  • Biology SL/HL pdf
  • Chemistry SL/HL pdf
  • Computer Science SL/HL pdf
  • Design technology SL/HL pdf
  • Environmental systems and societies* SL pdf
  • Physics SL/HL pdf
  • Sports, exercise and health science SL & HL pdf

DP mathematics subject group

  • Mathematics: analysis and approaches SL & HL pdf
  • Mathematics: applications and interpretation SL & HL pdf

DP arts subject group

The DP core

* Interdisciplinary subjects are marked with an asterisk.

**Note: items with the & symbol indicate that the SL and HL information is in the same document.

School-based Syllabus (SBS)

An SBS is a DP course that has been proposed and developed, in close collaboration with the IB, by an IB World School that has completed at least two examination sessions. An SBS provides an opportunity for a school to develop a course that is not otherwise offered by the IB and that meets the needs of their students. An SBS must be officially approved by the IB before it may be offered by a school.

  • Art history
  • Astronomy
  • Brazilian social studies
  • Classical Greek and Roman studies
  • Food science and technology
  • Marine science
  • Modern history of Kazakhstan
  • Political thought
  • Turkey in the 20th century
  • World arts and cultures

Pilot subjects 

These subjects are those which the IB is trialing at a small number of schools as part of its commitment to curriculum innovation. The IB provides the same level of oversight and standards to these subjects. 

  • Nature of Science – Pilot SL

Key considerations for choosing subjects

The IB encourages you to spend time reviewing universities and degree programs of interest to you and noting their specific entry requirements. Many universities will use terminology similar to the following to indicate what is required, preferred, or recommended for admission. 

  • Required subjects: For many degrees, universities will expect you to have achieved minimum grades in specific subjects.
  • Preferred subjects: Some university entry requirements state preferred subjects, which are not required for entry, but may give preference to your application over others who do not have that subject. 
  • Recommended subjects: Some university entry requirements state recommended subjects. These are not required for entry but provide a good foundation for future for study. 

As you select your courses, it is important to remember the notes above about SL and HL courses. The IB encourages you to work with your guidance counsellor or UCC to determine your personal SL/HL distribution. 

The following questions may help guide you when deciding which courses to enroll in.

DP languages subject group 

Are you planning to apply to a university that has language requirements? Do the language(s) you are taking cover you for the language requirements of your chosen university(ies)? Do they require a Language A course, or Language B course?

If you will need to apply for a visa, are there language requirements? Do the language(s) you are taking meet these requirements?

The IB has written a letter that clarifies the proficiency in English of International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (DP), Career-related Programme (CP) and Diploma Programme Course candidates, who are completing our English courses.

DP individuals and societies subject group

The entry requirements for these subjects tend to be flexible, unless you are applying for a single honors program such as history, where history may be required at HL.

DP sciences subject group

Are you enrolling in the appropriate science courses for the universities of your choice?

Does the university of your choice accept Environmental systems and societies; Sports, exercise, and health sciences; and Computer science?

Are you applying for Medicine, which in a few countries (such as India, Pakistan and some Scandinavian countries) will require three HL science courses and you will need to consider the non-regular Diploma? Please discuss with your guidance counsellor or UCC.

DP mathematics subject group

Are you enrolling in the appropriate mathematics courses for the universities of your choice?

The following New DP Mathematics pdf gives a good overview of what to think about when choosing which IB mathematics course you or your student should enroll in.

DP arts subject group

Do the universities you are interested in applying to consider the arts subjects? If not, should you take a course in another subject group? It is rare that this is an issue, but for example, this needs to be considered if you are applying to Swiss universities.  

Additional guidance

Please refer to the country-specific guides, ask for help from your university careers counsellors (sometimes referred to as a guidance counsellors), and reach out to your universities of choice. They can help you decide which combination of subjects will help you achieve your future goals. 

Please note that some countries and universities will not accept students who have not completed the Diploma Programme or who have completed courses taught online. For example, universities in Germany will not accept online DP courses studied as part of the Diploma. 

Career-related Programme (CP) course selection

In the CP, students combine the study of at least two DP courses with career-related studies and the four elements of the CP core. As mentioned in the DP section above, university careers counsellors are best equipped to answer questions about and give advice on course selection. The course selection process for CP is as important as it is for DP. 

The career-related studies (CRS) component is selected and developed by each IB World School authorized to teach the CP. Note for students: you may need to speak to your prospective university contact (and check the country index) to determine if the CP is accepted by the country and if your combination of DP courses and CRS is accepted.

Middle Years Programme (MYP) course selection 

The MYP curriculum consists of eight subject groups and the two elements: service and personal project. In years 4 and 5, students have the option to take courses from six of the eight subject groups within certain limits, to provide greater flexibility in meeting local requirements and individual student learning needs. 

In countries such as India, Pakistan and the UK, completion of the MYP unlocks access to further study, as it is considered comparable to other qualifications taken around the age of 16. A Comparative analysis of assessment in the MYP and the GCSE shows that assessment in both programs is similar in cognitive demand and that MYP eAssessment is a reliable indicator of student success.  

Read more about each of the subjects below.

In some countries, such as Pakistan, subject choice in years 4 and 5 is important depending on what profession you wish to pursue. Use this tool to learn about the country of your choice.