The International Baccalaureate versus A levels

By: Seeta Bhardwa


The International Baccalaureate diploma programme is better at encouraging a “global outlook” in students, while A levels give students more “in-depth” expertise, according to the findings of the University Admissions Officers Report 2017.

UK university admissions officers were invited to rate both qualifications on how they develop a range of different qualities in students. The results found that there was a considerable difference in the two study programmes. 

The biggest difference was in “encouraging global outlook” where 97 percent of the admissions officers rated the IB as developing this “well or very well”. Only 7 percent said the same about A levels.

The IB was also top for “encouraging independent inquiry” with 94 percent of the admissions officers saying that it did this “well or very well”, while only 49 percent of officers gave the A levels a similar rating. 

However, A levels were considered to offer better “in-depth subject expertise” with 94 percent stating that they developed this “well or very well”, compared to 56 percent for the IB. 

A levels is a qualification offered in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, as an alternative qualification in Scotland and as an international school qualification worldwide. Students usually study three or four subjects in-depth over the course of two years. 

The International Baccalaureate is made up of four different study programmes, one of which is the diploma programme. Students must pick one subject from six subject groups including languages, sciences and the arts and then study three of these to a higher level. The International Baccalaureate is studied all over the world.   

This table shows the percentage of advisers who believed the two education programmes developed the listed skills “well or very well”. 

How well do you think A levels and the International Baccalaureate diploma develop the following qualities in students at present?



Encouraging independent inquiry

49 percent

94 percent

Developing in-depth subject expertise

94 percent

56 percent

Developing workplace skills

2 percent

67 percent

Developing ability to cope with pressure

62 percent

66 percent

Nurturing an open mind

24 percent

93 percent

Developing self-management skills

47 percent

91 percent

Encouraging a global outlook

7 percent

97 percent

Nurturing communication skills

37 percent

44 percent

Encouraging creativity

15 percent

37 percent

Developing intercultural skills

8 percent

70 percent

Instilling a positive approach to risk taking

4 percent

24 percent

Propensity to complete their degree

78 percent

83 percent

Interest to study to MA or PhD level

44 percent

54 percent