How to choose your IB subjects

Students who are taking the International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma programme are typically required to choose a course from six categories: studies in language and literature; language acquisition; individuals and societies; sciences; mathematics; and the arts.

Students taking the IB are required to take at least three subjects at the higher level (HL), with the remaining classes taken at the standard level (SL).

A major benefit of the IB programme is that it’s well-known for preparing students for college. IB courses are designed to develop critical thinking skills, and require students to do research and oral presentations, which they will need to do as they progress to college.

It can be an anxious time for students as they are expected to choose subjects that will put them on the right path to their future university and subsequently, career.

But students studying for the IB can afford to be flexible as they are still exploring their interests and ambitions.

While there are a wide range of courses available under each category, schools typically don’t offer all to students, unless they are taking them privately.

Here are some tips for students if they’re finding it hard to choose their IB subjects.

Talk to your teachers 

In schools with small class sizes and more personalised attention, like international schools (where IB is typically offered), your teachers probably know your strengths and weaknesses.

Since they most likely teach IB courses, they are familiar with what’s expected of students and if they’re in line with your academic goals.

For the higher level courses, teachers can offer you advice on what to take to maximise your score. Seek their advice if you’re struggling to decide as they can be a great academic resource.

Explore your interests

At age 16 or 17, when most students will be taking their IB exams, it can be hard to decide what you want to do in the future.

While some students already know what they want to study, many others are still unsure what lies in their future.

Your time in school is the best time for self-exploration and finding out what you enjoy, as well as what you don’t.

Even if a subject doesn’t line up with your career goals but you’re still keen to learn it, the IB is a good opportunity to try it out.

For example, if you’re a student who’s always been drawn to the sciences but also hold an interest in business, you can take economics in addition to your science subjects and explore this particular interest.

A job or career is not always clear cut, and there are many interdisciplinary courses today that are preparing students for multifaceted jobs.

Many companies and employers are now looking to hire people with multiple skill sets and qualities, so it can be worthwhile to venture beyond your comfort zone and learn something new.

Check what universities are looking for

If you’re already certain what major you want to pursue at university, it should be easier for you to choose your subjects.

But different universities have different applicant requirements. For example, some medical schools may require IB students to take biology, chemistry and maths at HL level, but some will still admit students with these subjects taken at SL level.

Do some research with universities you’re keen on applying to in the future, so you can tailor your subjects accordingly to give yourself a better chance of getting into your dream school.

Don’t let others decide for you

It may be hard as a high school or secondary student to control this, but parents often can’t resist making the decision for their kids when it comes to choosing subjects.

Of course, they only want what’s best for you, but if you’re unhappy or uncomfortable with the subjects your parents are choosing for you, try and talk to them about how you’re feeling.

Express confidence in the subjects you want to take and assure them it’s better for you to decide, as you will be the one actually studying the subjects.

Taking a subject you find too difficult or boring will only demotivate you, which could negatively impact your academic performance.

If your parents are dead set on a particular subject you should be taking, try and compromise in other subject areas. Have a teacher, relative, or older sibling talk to your parents if your arguments hit a brick wall.

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