Which IB subjects should I choose?

Your IB subject choices are one of the first big decisions you have to make when embarking on your IB journey (and beyond). We have put together this article to help guide you through which subjects you may want to take and what the deciding factors could be. We hope you enjoy!

We know that choosing IB subjects can be daunting, but, remember that this, firstly, is an experience to enjoy. You have the freedom to study what you want, which puts you in a position of a little more independence. No longer do you have to study Geography or P.E. or Chemistry! We understand that you are still required to pick a subject from each of the 5 groups (and yes these include Maths), but you are likely to now have a greater amount of freedom to choose what you study than you did at GCSE level or equivalent. Therefore, try and enjoy this process, and see it as a chance to develop your skills in a direction you wish.

Additionally, the subject choices you make will not limit you entirely to one career path. As we will discuss in this article, it is possible to ‘keep your options open’ studying the IB. In fact, by choosing the International Baccalaureate, you have done just that! You can now study 6 subjects, rather than the standard 3, and participate in CAS, ToK and an EE. This will help you develop skills that apply in all fields of work and study.

If you would like to know how the IB stacks up against A-levels, please take a look at our article comparing the two!

The first way to narrow down your subject choices is to look at the subjects your school offers. For example, the International School of Geneva, La Châtaigneraie, publishes a report on all of the IB subjects they offer –and it is noticeable that they do not offer Psychology or Global Politics. It is possible to study subjects that your school does not offer by using online learning tools, such as Pamoja, that work in partnership with schools; however, we would recommend speaking to your school’s IB co-coordinator about this and contacting our tuition team for support in these subjects.

A second way to choose subjects you want to study is by university course requirements. A lot of university courses will have subject or grade requirements, so doing your research on these is key when choosing your subjects. If you know which course you want to study, you can use our entry requirements matrix to find the grades and subjects you need.

A few examples of university courses and their typical subject requirements can be seen below:

It may also be the case that you need to attain certain grades in your Higher Level subjects to be accepted for your course. For example, to study Mathematics at the University of Bath, you must achieve at least a 6 in Maths HL, as is the case at Exeter and Newcastle. This means choosing your Higher Levels carefully so that you are confident you will score the points you need in all 3 subjects.

If you have not decided which course you want to study, or are looking to keep your options open moving forward, it is definitely possible to do this with your subject choices. Trying to choose subjects that will allow you to pursue multiple career paths can be a daunting task, but King’s College Cambridge has put together a list of suggested Higher Level subjects that they view as keeping as many doors open as possible.

Their recommendations are:

This is not to say that you must take 3 of these subjects at Higher Level. In fact, King’s recommend that you take “at least one” of these subjects at Higher Level, and use your Standard Level subjects to “take courses that you enjoy and think will be useful”. Ideally, you will find your Higher and Standard Level subjects both enjoyable and useful, but, if you are unsure which subjects to place where the guidance above is a good starting point.  

If you are applying to Oxford or Cambridge, we offer tailor-made support to help you achieve your potential. We work with work schools and individual students to offer consultations, preparation talks and mock interviews. 100% of our Oxbridge applicants have achieved an interview, with 55% achieving offers – far higher than the 22.5% national average.

Alternatively, it may be the case that you intend to start an apprenticeship or have long term career plans in mind after university, so tailoring your IB subjects to suit this can be helpful.. For example, an aspiring engineer will benefit from taking Maths and Physics at Higher Level, whilst a future psychiatrist will be in a better position having studied Higher Level Biology and Chemistry. The skills you gain from studying these subjects will help you adapt to the workplace as you progress in your career, and will give you firm academic foundations should you wish to pursue further study.

This is not to say that your IB subjects have to all directly relate to the field you wish to work in. Target Careers’ website says that “a surprising number (of jobs) are open to graduates of any subject”, so choosing to study 2 languages or learning to code may help you stand out from the competition, no matter what field you are looking to move in to. Personally, I am studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics and looking to become a Member of Parliament, yet I did not study Philosophy or Global Politics during the IB. I took this as an opportunity to study material I wanted to from these subjects outside of lesson time, opting instead to study Latin and Japanese as part of my IB. Showing an interest outside of your school studies can help with your personal statement, and allow you to diversify your subject choices in case you change your mind on your degree course.

The reason why so many recruiters do not worry about IB subject choices is that they are more concerned with the transferable skills you gain during sixth form and university. Students studying Maths, Physics or Computer Science will gain lots of problem solving skills; whilst Global Politics, Economics and English students will develop a creative and analytical mindset. Nevertheless, it is by no means necessary to study these subjects during sixth form to work in these fields later in life.  

If you are looking to remain up-to-date with current affairs, Politics and Economics are both subjects that relate directly to the news today. This means you can apply the knowledge you are learning in the classroom and have a readily available source of examples to use in your essays!

When looking at Group 4 Science subjects, the practical experiments you undertake will be slightly different depending on whether you study physical or natural sciences. Natural sciences, such as Environmental Systems & Societies or Biology, will have fieldwork and are likely to take you out of the lab for your internal assessment. By comparison, physical sciences, such as Chemistry or Physics, are likely to conduct laboratory-based experiments. Both of these subjects will be enjoyable, and you could choose to take Environmental Systems & Societies at Standard Level whilst taking Physics at Higher Level. Whichever you choose, be sure to make the most of the opportunity to conduct hands-on research!

Group 6 Arts subjects are optional, and can be replaced with another subject from one of the other 5 groups, but are useful for students looking to continue studying Art or Drama at university. These subjects have a particular focus on creativity and developing students’ ability to express themselves with confidence. They offer a diverse curriculum and definitely should not be discounted.

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