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How the IB Curriculum Prepares Your Child for Success

Sponsored by Swiss International School in Qatar

Several years ago, while working in the UK as a Head of Post 16 education in a successful new school, I was involved in interviewing high school students who had applied to study medicine at one of the UK’s leading universities. 

As I read the applications, I realised the enormity of the task ahead. All twelve applicants had high academic grades and great references, had done well on the admissions test, and had participated in a range of activities at school. 

But universities look for more than just impressive academic CVs. Admissions officers also look for students with an obvious passion for a chosen course of study. They want students who are articulate, able to think for themselves, respond well under pressure, and can talk about the many interests they have outside their academic studies—skills that the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme excels at helping students develop.

photo by Sam Peat Photography

A well-rounded curriculum

Before we interviewed the applicants, the university showed us a study comparing the success rates of students who had studied A Levels with those who had studied the IB programme. 

In the first year of university, A Level students tended to do better as they had a more in-depth knowledge of science subjects. However, from the second year until the end of the course, IB students tended to outperform their A Level counterparts as they had not focused on science subjects alone in their post 16 studies. They had a broader education and were also more able to synthesise information, write essays and manage an ever-increasing workload. 

The advantages of the IB in preparing students for university study are well documented. A 2016 study published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) found that students who had studied the IB were more likely to get a 1st Class Honours degree than those who had studied A Levels. Furthermore, they were more likely to gain a place at a top 20 ranked university and complete further study after their first undergraduate degree. 

The IB, through elements such as the Personal Project and Extended Essay, enables students to choose whatever they are interested in and research it in-depth, thus developing a passion and interest they can explore further, as well as valuable and useful research and writing skills.

Furthermore, the IB programmes develop students who can inquire and think independently as well as being able to persevere and complete tasks under pressure. These are again key qualities that universities, and indeed employers, are looking for. 

photo by Sam Peat Photography

A University Admissions Officers Report in 2017 found that 97% of respondents felt the IB encouraged a global outlook in students, while 94% felt it encouraged independent inquiry and 93% said it nurtured an open mind. The IB achieves this not only through its academic curriculum, but also the value it places on all of the activities that a student does. For example, in Grades 6-10, all students must participate in Service and Action projects that see them engaging with their local community to solve real-life problems. During the Diploma Programme in Grades 11-12, students must complete a component called Creativity, Activity and Service, where again it is up to them what they do, as long as it is worthwhile and allows them to develop key skills they can reflect upon. 

Skills to last a lifetime

The candidates we interviewed had looked almost identical on paper, and all met the university’s exceptionally high entry requirements. However, the interview highlighted whether they had the most important skills that would be required by a doctor: communication, empathy, teamwork, and the ability to work and cope under pressure.

In the end we offered places to four of the twelve applicants. I felt confident that after six years of medical study they would make good doctors who could solve problems, work with others, cope with breaking bad news to a distressed family and make decisions that would impact the future lives of many. 

They had the skills that no exam could measure, but only some curricula could develop. 


Bhardwa, Seeta. (2017). “The International Baccalaureate versus A Levels.” Times Higher Education, 11th July 2017, https://www.timeshighereducation.com/student/news/international-baccalaureate-versus-a-levels. Accessed 18th January 2018

Lewis, Jeremy. (2017). “Top 7 qualities universities look for in student applicants.” Times Higher Education, 13th October 2017, https://www.timeshighereducation.com/student/advice/top-7-qualities-universities-look-student-applicants#survey-answer. Accessed 18th January 2018

Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). 2016. “International Baccalaureate students studying at UK higher education institutions: How do they perform in comparison with A level students?” Bethesda, MD, USA. International Baccalaureate Organization.


Lana Kulas is the Head of Secondary School for Girls at the Swiss International School (Doha, Qatar). Lana has been working in education for eleven years, four of those in Qatar. Before arriving in Doha, Lana was an Assistant Principal and Head of Sixth Form at Chelsea Academy in London, where she helped to set up a large new school. Lana is passionate about international education and the IB programme. For more information about Lana and the school, please visit www.sisq.qa

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