Nord Anglia Education
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Nord Anglia
11 April, 2022

The International Baccalaureate Diploma - is it suited for Swiss university admission?

High-quality university guidance is essential whether our students aspire to study in Switzerland or abroad. It ensures that our students access the best universities and those that best suit their own needs, talents, and aspirations, both on leaving school and in the future.
Andy Puttock
Principal
The International Baccalaureate Diploma - is it suited for Swiss university admission? Andy Puttock, Principal of La Côte International School Aubonne, explores the recognition of the IBDP in the context of international and Swiss university admission. 

"Whenever I speak with parents who are considering our school for their children, two questions are most often asked: Why do we offer the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) as our graduating qualification? And more specifically, does this qualification prepare students well (or may it disadvantage them) when they apply to Swiss universities."

Andy Puttock, Principal of La Côte International School Aubonne, explores the recognition of the IBDP in the context of international and Swiss university admission. 

 

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Our answer to the first question has been the same for a number of years.

We strongly believe that the IBDP is an ideal preparation for university. And our belief is supported by a wide range of evidence:

  • Almost all countries now accept the IBDP as a university entrance qualification, recognising its rigour, breadth and emphasis on a holistic, internationally-minded approach to subject teaching.
  • The programme's core components  - Theory of Knowledge (TOK), Creativity Action Service (CAS), and the Extended Essay (EE) - are widely recognised as better equipping students with the skills required to succeed at university and work than other qualifications. The Extended Essay, in particular, is excellent preparation for university study.
  • The nature of the programme, which requires a significant amount of independent study, time management, engagement, and critical thinking,  makes entry into a university programme seamless. Our graduates often confirm this when comparing themselves with fellow students who have completed another High School graduating qualification. Indeed, my own daughter, an IBDP graduate who is currently studying at university in the UK, has had the same experience.
  • With Higher Level and Standard Level subject combinations, the IBDP offers a great balance between specialisation and breadth (as do, of course, baccalaureate-style qualifications).
  • Importantly, worldwide data indicates that the dropout rate after the first year of study is significantly lower for students who have completed the IBDP than for students with almost all other qualifications.

As for the second question, parents often ask country-specific questions: "Which is better for university entrance, the IBDP or A levels (British universities), the Swiss Maturité, the French Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement (USA)?".

While the IBDP has always enjoyed international recognition, and therefore was often seen as the best international qualification, there is no doubt that until recently, domestic qualifications could enjoy some advantage compared to the IBDP. This was not a reflection of quality but rather a result of the experience and understanding of the programme by some university admissions staff. The higher education sector plays an important role in developing school qualifications in most countries and is naturally proud of its examinations. This has traditionally been the case in the UK but is also true for most other countries.

However, over the past decade, the IB Organisation has invested significant time and resource working with the higher education sector to build understanding, recognition and acceptance. Nowadays, the IBDP is recognised as a valid and sought after qualification, with parity to other qualifications in most countries. Of course, certain universities still hold traditional views. Therefore, our highly experienced university advisors and IB team actively work with these universities to ensure that our students are not disadvantaged.

Swiss universities have several specific characteristics as well as some very straightforward entry requirements:

  • To be admitted to universities such as EPFL or ETHZ, 38 IBDP points are required (excluding the "core" of TOK, CAS and EE). Other universities such as EHL require 32 points (again excluding the "core").
  • Whilst most of our graduates who apply to Swiss French-speaking universities are native speakers, non-native students must showcase a certain level of French proficiency. The most common requirement is level B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). This is, for example, the case at EPFL, although the C1 level is recommended. Many of our students whose native language is not French take the independently assessed DELF (Diplome d'études en langue Francaise), which certifies level B2, with great success in Year 11. Approximately 50% of our students also earn a bilingual IB diploma (French/English) each year. Finally, most universities offer additional language support programs for students who do not already have the level of fluency expected. 

At some universities, certain IBDP subject combinations are indispensable as a prerequisite for successful admission. Parents interested to read more can find the current guidelines here. However, these do change from time to time. That's why those students who wish to attend Swiss universities receive very targeted support and guidance from our university counsellor before they choose their IBDP subjects. This level of focus ensures they have 'accepted' combinations, setting them up for successful applications.

  • Finally, a range of private universities in the region offers excellent career pathways. While these are not necessarily the right choice for everyone, some of our students have achieved tremendous success this way. Our team has established excellent relationships with a number of them and is ready to work with our students to explore their aspirations and advise them on their options. 

As with entrance to most higher education institutions worldwide, admission to Swiss universities has its complexities and specific requirements. At LCIS, we are committed to tailoring our school offer to each student, personalising their learning and support to fit their starting points and aspirations. High-quality university guidance is essential whether our students aspire to study in Switzerland or abroad. It ensures that our students access the best universities and those that best suit their own needs, talents, and aspirations, both on leaving school and in the future.