Student and Graduate Publishing

A-Levels Vs. IB: The View of University Admissions Teams

Wednesday, 05 July 2017 15:32

What do university admissions officers think is the best post-16 qualification? The debate is between A-Levels and the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP.) University admissions officers have participated in a survey that suggests the IB Diploma is more desirable in ‘encouraging a global outlook’ and ‘nurturing an open mind’ - but is this true?

The ACS International Schools and IBSCA (IB Schools and Colleges Association) have conducted a survey into how the IB Diploma Programme compares to A-Levels, with results coming from university admissions officers’ point of view. Here is a breakdown of the main findings:

Firstly, an advantage to students who completed the IB Diploma - results day is on July 6th as opposed to A-Level students having to agonisingly wait until the August 17th. Putting that aside, there are many arguments attempting to determine which is the ‘better’ post-16 qualification.

The survey observed how the IB Diploma and A-Level students performed across categories such as; nurturing an open mind, encouraging creativity and developing workplace skills. Percentages were then generated from admissions officers’ views on how they considered students demonstrating skills – either ‘well or very well.’

IB was top for ‘encouraging independent inquiry’, as 94% of admissions officers say that it develops ‘well or very well’ skills in the students who completed it. On the other hand, just 49% perceived A-Level students as being well equipped with such skill.

The survey suggests that A-Level students do better in developing detailed and ‘in-subject expertise’. It was found that 94% of admissions officers believe that A-Levels prepare students to degree level study because of the detailed courses. In opposition, only 56% believed the IBDP programmes were able to develop pupils accordingly. This is due to classes not being as in-depth on a given subject.

According to 97% of officers, the IBDP helps to ‘nurture an open mind’, this is compared to A-Levels, which were only supported by 24% of those surveyed. 

Jeremy Lewis, School Head at ACS Egham International School, highlights the importance of this firsthand, stating that “in today’s increasingly fractious and challenging world, encouraging a global outlook and nurturing an open mind must surely take a greater significance in schools than ever before, and it’s interesting to see how highly the IB is considered in this respect”.

The most striking difference comes from the section of the survey analysing the extent of ‘encouraging global outlook’. Here, the IB got a 97% rating of ‘well or very well’ whereas A-Levels received only 7%. However, this needs to be taken with a pink of salt - research has also found that university performance and success is no different across students who completed the IBDP or A-Levels. 

Further information can be found on the University Admissions Officers Report 2017, and the BBC has some useful information on A-Levels in order to help prospective students decide which post-16 programme is right for them.

-  By: Eliz Akdeniz

LinkedIn: Eliz Akdeniz