How To Choose IBDP Subjects: A Guide By Halcyon



How to choose IBDP Subjects: a high school curriculum that opens doors

Choosing the school subjects that will lead you into university and beyond can be a difficult choice. Although the IB Diploma Programme doubtlessly offers its students a much broader and in-depth curriculum than A-Levels for young people between 16-18, it is nonetheless important to select HL and SL options that suit you, and prepare you for your chosen university course. 

Choosing the best IBDP subjects for your future plans

The IB Diploma Programme requires its students to select subject options from six different groups - literature, language, mathematics, science, individuals and societies, and the arts. This already ensures that you will be well prepared for any path when you leave school: whether you plan to train as a doctor or become a graphic designer, possessing well-developed writing skills, a solid grasp of a second language, and confident mathematical abilities will make you stand out as a diligent and well-rounded candidate for a place at any university. In fact, university admissions officers state that the IB Diploma Programme is superior to A-Levels in encouraging its students to engage in independent inquiry - a key skill for higher education.

To specialise in your favourite area of study while pursuing a broad programme, you can customise your subject selection even further. The International Baccalaureate Organization allows its Diploma candidates to ‘swap out’ a subject from the arts (Group 6) for any other subject from Group 1-4 (Language and Literature, Language Acquisition, Individuals and Societies, and Science).

IBDP Subject Groups

Take Halcyon alum Boet, for example. Boet pursued a Diploma Programme consisting of English Literature, Dutch, Environmental Systems and Societies, Chemistry, Biology, and Mathematics, and is now enjoying his studies of Medicine at the University of Manchester. Studying Dutch at Higher Level also allowed Boet to be awarded a bilingual diploma, and with two group 4 (Science) subjects as well as Environmental Systems and Societies for group 3 (Individuals and Societies), he is well-prepared to build a career in health anywhere in the world. 

For another example of how a broad and specialised programme of study can prepare you for success, you can read Sabrina’s story. Sabrina decided to take both History and Geography as IBDP subjects - two options from Group 3 - and this has prepared her to thrive in her studies of Politics and International Relations at UCL. 

The stories that Halcyon alumni have shared about their IBDP studies and their time here highlights what it’s like to learn on our vibrant campus - and why we’re considered among the best international schools in the UK.

Courses: from history to computer science

IBDP subject offerings vary depending on the school that you attend. At Halcyon, we offer a broad range of Diploma Programme courses in arts, languages, sciences, mathematics, and humanities that can change and expand depending on student demand.
We also offer further courses online via the Pamoja platform, including Psychology, Computer Science, and Business Management. It is important that our students are equipped to shape their paths of inquiry, and we also offer our students the opportunity to take a Mother Tongue language as one of their IBDP choices. In the past, chosen languages have ranged from Icelandic to Japanese, studied at school with a tutor on a one-to-one basis or in a small group.

HL and SL: what’s the difference?

Each student’s IBDP programme consists of three Higher Level (HL) courses and three Standard Level (SL) courses. Higher Level courses carry a coursework component and contain more course content for students to learn, and are assessed by more challenging exams than their Standard Level counterparts. Most Diploma Programme options are offered at both Higher Level and Standard Level: this means you can consider your strengths and weaknesses while planning your programme.

Extended Essay, Theory of Knowledge, and CAS

Regardless of your choices, you will be required to complete the IBDP ‘core’ of the Extended Essay - a 4000 word piece on a topic of your choice related to one of your six subjects - Theory of Knowledge, and CAS (Creativity, Activity, Service). 

The critical thinking, research, and reflection skills supported by the core of the Diploma Programme will provide students with the foundation to achieve highly in all of their subject choices. 

How to succeed in the Diploma Programme

The Diploma Programme is an academically rigorous, broad, and challenging curriculum. Although there are other routes which offer young people the opportunity to develop future-proof skills, such as the IBCP, the IBDP is a ‘gold standard’ for universities. Preparing for success means developing responsibility and understanding the learning methods that suit you best.

At Halcyon, an empowering institutional culture of student wellbeing and a research-driven approach to the integration of digital learning tools provides students with the confidence they need to achieve.

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