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Applying to UK universities with the IB


Last Updated: August 31st, 2020

University applications to UK institutions in 2020/2021 is a year like no other. With uncertainty still surrounding Brexit and the wider impact on University fees, not to mention the ongoing examination uncertainty caused by COVID-19, it is now more important than ever to ensure you are making informed decisions about your University options and choices.

A few opening remarks to ensure you are aware of the current state of play

  1. May 2021 IB exams will be run differently to previous years. Be aware of these changes here.
  2. UK Universities remain optimistic about 2020/2021 applications, despite the ongoing  uncertainty around educational delivery and assessment. With that said, UCAS does not expect the same number of applicants as in the 2019/2020 cycle where we say a 30% increase of applicants from China & India
  3. Many students who held offers to commence study in 2020 may have asked Universities to defer due to the ongoing uncertainty around COVID-19. That will vary wildly from University to University, so existing statistical data may be less relevant than previous years – do not rely on student application numbers from previous years, focus on the requested IB point tally instead

On one hand there has never been a better time to apply to Universities – they will need student numbers to ensure their business models function. On the other hand, you may be entering the pool alongside deferred entries who would otherwise have taken their place on the 2020 academic course. There is a level of uncertainty not seen in many years and we plan to update this article constantly as more information is released by UCAS, IBSCA and the IBO.

The article below was last updated in January 2020, so much of it is relevant to 2020/2021 applicants, but please do refer to the list above and review both in collaboration.

It is a very interesting time at the moment for UK universities, particularly their stance on international applicants. With the impending wide-reaching impacts of Brexit, the past year has seen universities make more unconditional offers to students than ever before. Indeed, many universities have taken the unprecedented step of offering students unconditional, or lower offers, on the basis that the student chooses them as their firm (first) choice. Although there is no legislation around these practices, it sets an interesting, and potentially dangerous, precedent for the years to come.

For more information on UK university fees, read the UK government’s official advice here.

Add to this the disruptive impact of new universities coming into the fray such as the New College of Humanities and the London Interdisciplinary school, an ongoing discussion of potential fee structure changes, and, crucially to IB students, fundamental changes to the IB Maths syllabus, and it paints a very complex picture for IB students, teachers and parents in the coming 2-5 year period. 

Below, we carefully assess the information we’ve compiled, through our engagement with a global base of IB schools and educators, recent IBSCA Higher Education conferences, and ongoing research in discussions with UK universities.


Historically, UK university applications were seen as the less complicated option in comparison with the US. Recently, however, with changes to UCAS protocol (namely dropping from 6 to 5 choices, not to mention new UCAS weightings coming into practice in 2017) things have changed and it is vital as students or educators that you are up to speed with these developments. 

UCAS has always been incredibly ‘pro’ IB, so it is a case of resolving how well certain universities understand the IB points students are being asked to obtain. 

We work with schools and families all around the world applying to the UK, and have compiled a matrix which details the IB entry requirements to the top 50 UK universities. We’ve recently updated this to detail any specific HL requirements, as well as any external tests you may need to sit, and the dates by which these need to be completed. This is viewed by 1,000s people around the world on a regular basis, and is exactly the kind of thing we would have craved as IB students ourselves.

It is crucial to use the IB to your advantage when it comes to your personal statement and interviews. Your EE is perfect tertiary education level research. CAS shows great engagement in your local community, and leadership. TOK shows a level of thought and understanding of pedagogical approaches not seen in many other school-leaving certificate bodies.


More students means better informed decisions

Despite a couple of anomalies, I would argue that UCAS understands how difficult the IB is, but that universities are still playing catch up. This is improving year on year as more and more IB students apply through UCAS. The old UCAS weighting system effectively said that 45 points was the same as 5 A*s and an A at A-level. I know a few 45 pointers, but have never met anyone with 5 A*s and an A at A level. Moreover, the IB’s consistency in approach offers a robustness that A-levels have lacked over recent years; however, the introduction of the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) moves A-levels towards a more diverse educational programme.

Fundamentally, our research has shown us that if more students apply with IB scores, universities are more ‘accurate’ with their point requirements. 

A fantastic example of this is King’s College London, who originally asked for 38+ points for many of their subjects. But, as of 3 years ago, King’s changed their points requirements to 35 points across the board. Consequently, Kings has more IB graduates than any other university in Europe, and are unashamedly pro-IB. At a recent IBSCA conference, Head of Admissions, Paul Teuton, held no punches in his love for the IB – King’s 2029 ambition of becoming more interdisciplinary focused is pulled heavily from the IB’s teaching philosophy.

It is important to be aware that some parents and schools will assign ‘value’ purely based on the entry requirement, rather than the true value of the course. For example, a 37 point entry requirement could be considered superior to a 34 point entry requirement, but this does not take into account measures such as student satisfaction, employability or teaching quality, that give a better indication of the quality of the degree. Measures such as the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) explore these areas, and are definitely worth reading about if applying to university soon. Our upcoming university research report will also go into this in far more detail – please contact us for more information on this. 

The impact of the new maths syllabus

Over the past year, we’ve delivered presentations on the IB & UK universities in over 40 cities and at countless schools. At each of the talks we’ve given over the past year, and indeed many of the school meetings, one of the most commonly asked questions is “what are the impacts of the new maths syllabus?” This is a question which will be answered more robustly over the coming year, but we do know that IBSCA are working exceptionally hard to teach UK universities about the new Maths changes. 

For those not aware, the IB is changing what used to be 3 maths levels (Higher Level, Standard Level and Studies) into 2. The new courses are titled Analysis & Approaches and Analysis & Interpretations, with each one being offered at HL and SL:

Although the below graphic is a simplification, it paints a picture of the potential impacts. 

However, until universities have worked with enough students who have taken the two different routes, it is very hard for them to create robust entry criteria, and it is likely that these criteria will change over the course of the coming year or two. At the recent IBSCA HE conference, the University of Warwick confirmed that they will be asking for an HL 7 in Maths A&I (effectively, applied Maths) but only a 6 in Maths A&A (pure Maths) for their Engineering courses (2020 entry). I would not be surprised if many universities came to similar conclusions, drawing the assumption that the pure version of maths is slightly ‘harder’, even if this were not the intention of the IB in its design. For more information on the Maths syllabus changes, please take a look at our article dedicated to this!

We are running free IB Maths teacher training workshops on the new maths syllabus, please get in touch if you’d like to find out more. 

How important are subject combinations?

When it comes to the IB, selecting your 6 subjects is tough enough – your school may enforce their own requirements to allow you to take certain subjects, whilst classroom timetabling and teaching quality all come into play. Schools ongoing love-hate relationship with Pamoja (an online software that allows you to study IB subjects not offered at your school) also means that certain students may have a very high aptitude in a subject which they simply aren’t able to take. On top of this, it is often down to students to investigate whether certain universities have specific subject requirements alongside a total IB score. For example, did you know that to study Economics at LSE, you require a 7 at Higher Level Maths? Our IB entry requirements matrix enables you to be informed before you make your choices.

When selecting your subjects, you must strike a balance between enjoying what you are learning whilst ensuring you aren’t missing out on key course entry requirements. Think you’d like to study medicine? Make sure you’re taking HL Chemistry and Biology, and on track for at least a 6 in both.

Interestingly, many universities have started offering HL only requirements, as well as overall point tallies. For example Law at Exeter ask for either 35 overall, or simply 6,6,6 at HL (perhaps to draw a more obvious comparison with A-levels).

For more information, we have an informative piece on picking your IB subject choices that we would wholeheartedly encourage you to read.

The importance of 1st year IB exams

At many of the talks I give through the academic year, the questions I am asked span a wide breadth of subjects, but one of the most striking commonalities about each presentation is how surprised students are about how vital their first year results are, given they are not sent off to the IB as part of your diploma. Looking at the deadlines below, you can see how, particularly for students keen on Oxbridge or medical degrees, there is little time back at school in the 1st term of 2nd year to improve mock grades. UCAS applications are sent off on October 15th, or even sooner if applying to one of these two routes – this means 1st year mock exams are fundamental to the grades teachers will supply on your UCAS form.


End of year 1 exams


UCAS early submission (Oxbridge, Medicine)

15th October

UCAS general submission (all other courses)

15th January

Final Exams

Late April/May

Results Day

6th July

Drawing A-level comparisons

This brings up the important discussion as to how the IB stacks up against A-levels, and how you can ensure you use the IB’s strengths to your advantage. Although an IB Higher Level 7 is weighted the same as an A-level A* (at 56 UCAS points), an IB Standard Level 7 is weighted 8 UCAS points above (at 28) an A at AS level (at 20). This means students applying with the global average IB score of 29.63 would be applying with the equivalent of 2 A*s and an A at A-level. For more information on how A-levels compare to the IB, please see our article comparing the two.

Ultimately, these UCAS weightings are there to serve as a barometer for universities to compare a plethora of applications arriving on their desks from all around the world and it is the total IB predicted score, and not the UCAS tally, that you should focus on. To learn more, it is always worth playing around with the UCAS tally calculator.

Our IB calculator

Throughout the year, we carry out extensive research on developments to university entry, both for the students we support with our UK university support packages and schools we advise. We realised there was no central, easily accessible comparison to see the entry requirement to universities, leaving students to trawl through the Times, Guardian and QS rankings (although this is still helpful). 

As such, we have drawn together this simple but effective calculator, which tells students, based on their subject combinations, how close they are to different universities entry requirements. It will help inform students if they have the right subject combination for certain university degrees and the necessary point tally for their desired university choices. 

We will be sending this out to all IB schools globally soon, and we do hope you find it useful.

In short

Do your research. See which Universities have many overseas applicants as this usually means a large number of IB applicants, which means they understand the programme and the that the scores they are asking for are correct and relevant. Be very careful to review the HL scores and subject combinations they may be looking for. Ensure you have the correct Maths level, and English aptitude. Speak to the University about how the proposed May 2021 exam changes may impact the requested grades.

Our detailed research report

With all of the above in mind, we have come to realise how schools’ understanding of the UK University application process can differ markedly. Our ‘UK Universities & the IB’ study is an unprecedented investigation into the International Baccalaureate and the university system in the United Kingdom. In this project, we are working closely with some of the most well-regarded universities in the UK to build profiles of institutions and courses. This will present detailed information for IB students regarding university’s expectations of IB students in a central hub.

Each of our university and degree profiles considers the average point score of students when making their applications to universities ; compares the advertised IB score requirements for programmes with the most common offer actually made; and ranks the the programmes with the highest demand for IB students, amongst a host of other facts and figures, to provide students with information we hope they will find invaluable when making their UK university applications. 

In conjunction with the leading universities in the UK – and considering the most popular degree choices of students – Elite IB’s ‘UK Universities & the IB’ study hopes to level the playing field for IB students, who often must contend with universities’ preconceived notions of the IB and its academic rigour, breadth, and the stringent demands it makes of students. Our research is already shedding light on the realities of making UK universities applications as an IB student or graduate, illustrating the mismatch between advertised entrance requirements and actual offers made by universities.

We hope to publish the first of our exciting investigations into the IB and UK university admissions and encourage students and IB professionals to contact us to find out more. 

Can we help you?

Our work at EIB Admissions sees us helping students and families directly, but also schools and educators, in their support of IB students in their applications to UK universities. We can offer a number of services to help support you, such as:

Alternatively, if you would like to know more about the IB and applications to University, please visit our resources page to find more blogs like this one!