Course selection guidance

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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) subject selection  

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

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

Guidance counsellors and university careers counsellors (UCC) can help students make subject 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. 

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.   

If you would like some examples of subject combinations, please take a look at these examples of diploma subject choices.

Read a list of current DP subjects and their subject briefs by clicking on the link below.

Universities and governments who would like a copy of the full subject guide for any subject, including SBS subjects, can contact us.

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 study.  

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

The following information for each subject group may help guide you when deciding in which courses to enrol. 

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 subject or a Language B subject?

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

The IB commissioned a study that examined how grades in selected IB language courses compare to levels on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). The CEFR is widely used in the development and referencing of language syllabus qualifications, assessment and other learning materials. Additional comparisons with other qualifications and language proficiency tests have been benchmarked to levels of the CEFR scale. View additional comparisons.

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 subjects 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 science subjects (biology, chemistry, physics or mathematics) 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 subjects for the universities of your choice? 

Supporting Student Choice in DP Mathematics: A Guide for University and Career Counsellors 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 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 programmes is similar in cognitive demand and that MYP eAssessment is a reliable indicator of student success.

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.