Curricula and Subject Selection • Pre-College Advising

IBDP or IBCP: Choosing a Curriculum For Successful College Admissions

POSTED ON 12/08/2023 BY The Red Pen

Student raising their hand.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) is an esteemed educational system that equips students for success in higher education. As of October 2023, over 8,000 IB programmes are being offered in 5,700 schools across 159 countries. The IB system has two distinct curricula for high school students: the IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) and the IB Career-Related Programme (IBCP). While both aim to provide students with a demanding and enriching education, they differ in certain aspects. In this blog, we will delve into the differences between the IBCP and IBDP to assist students in selecting a programme that best aligns with their unique goals and interests. 

What is the IBDP?

The IBDP is a two-year, globally recognised educational curriculum for grades 11 and 12. Its primary objective is to cultivate well-rounded individuals with a deep and extensive knowledge foundation, empowering them to excel in physical, intellectual, emotional, and ethical aspects of life. It nurtures a global mindset, which is essential in today’s day and age. 

Marlyn E. McGrath, Director of Admissions at Harvard University, says, “IB is well known to us for excellent preparation. Success in an IB programme correlates well with success at Harvard. We are always pleased to see the credentials of the IB Diploma Programme on the transcript. GPA is not nearly as important a factor in university admission as the IB Diploma. If a student has to choose, choose the Diploma over protecting the GPA.”

Research shows many benefits to choosing the IBDP over other curricula. For example, IBDP students in the US exhibit higher enrollment and graduation rates than the national average. In the UK, they have a significantly greater likelihood of achieving positive outcomes in higher education when compared to their peers following the A Level curriculum. Across the Asia-Pacific region, IBDP alumni, on average, reported elevated proficiency in a diverse range of 21st-century skills compared to those who selected other curricula. 

Martina Ghinetti-IBDP graduate, Cambridge, says, “The breadth of subjects within the IBDP gave me opportunities to discover my academic passions, especially because I didn’t have to focus and restrict my future opportunities at just 16. I studied seven subjects, including Italian, English literature, science, maths, geography, economics and human rights. Having such a huge variety of subjects to study meant I experienced a wider range of courses when I applied to university. I learnt time management skills and how to prioritise my workload, as well as other key competencies, which will help me at university and in the world of work”.

Components of the IBDP

The IBDP comprises six fundamental pillars: Language and Literature, Language Acquisition, Individuals and Societies, Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Arts. Students must select at least one course from each group, three courses at the Higher Level (HL) and three courses at the Standard Level (SL) across the six subject groups (Group 6 – Arts, can be substituted with a course from another group)

Additionally, all IBDP students must complete the diploma programme’s core curriculum, which includes the following: 

  • Theory of knowledge (TOK): It fosters inquisitiveness in learners, urging them to study the origins of knowledge and challenge the notions of “what and how we know.” It forms an integral part of their evaluation, involving student presentations and essay writing.
  • The Extended Essay (EE): It empowers students to pick a topic of personal interest and delve into it by crafting a 4,000-word research paper.
  • Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS): Students get opportunities to lead, participate in, and contribute to activities that hold genuine value across all three facets of the programme. This experience nurtures their self-esteem and commitment to their academic pursuits.

What is the IBCP? 

Similar to the IBDP, the IBCP is a two-year curriculum tailored for grades 11 and 12.  It combines academic and career-focused courses to bridge the gap between education and the professional world, preparing students for further education and future employment. As of September 2023, 370 schools across 52 countries

The IBCP empowers students to specialise in specific career fields while completing globally recognised academic courses. This approach equips students with necessary theoretical knowledge and essential practical skills. Students typically develop personal and professional qualities like communication, critical thinking, and time management, which employers highly value. 

Independent research projects closely tied to career paths are fundamental to the programme. They empower students to apply their academic knowledge in real-world situations, gaining practical experience and a deeper understanding of their field of interest. Additionally, students must actively participate in community service. Doing so instils empathy and social responsibility in students and fosters a strong sense of civic engagement.

The IBCP’s universal recognition by universities and employers makes it particularly valuable. The recognition positions students on a versatile path towards further education, vocational training, or employment. The programme equips them with the skills and knowledge needed to excel in their chosen pursuits and ensures they are well-prepared for future opportunities.

Ms Sian Carr, Principal of Skinners’ Kent Academy, says, “The IB Career-related Programme is a successful and flexible programme of study designed to be both interesting and accessible to students, allowing them to develop and prepare skills and knowledge to take them forward in their future career paths. It has enabled students to access a broad and aspirational curriculum that gives them several pathways to follow upon completion.” 

Components of the IBCP

The International Baccalaureate Career-related Programme (IBCP) comprises several vital elements that provide students with a well-rounded and practical education. These components include the following: 

  • Academic courses: IBCP students must take at least two IBDP courses. This approach establishes a theoretical foundation, offering a solid grounding in the IB’s core academic subjects, such as sciences, mathematics, arts, and more. IBCP allows you to select more than two courses according to your preferences, strengths, and goals.
  • Career-focused courses: Students must enrol in one or more specialised career-focused courses that delve into specific fields such as business, information technology, hospitality, health sciences, or engineering, equipping them with the expertise and skills relevant to their chosen career paths. To facilitate this, the IB collaborates with various career-related studies providers, including ACCA, Microsoft Corporation, Pearson, SCAD, SUMAS, UPAEP, and WAoS, to offer students diverse and enriching pathways. The career-related programme offers immense flexibility. For example, At the Haut-Lac International School in Switzerland, students may choose to follow the IBCP with a sustainable management or hospitality management focus in collaboration with SUMAS University, an art and design focus in partnership with the Savannah College of Art and Design, or an international sport management focus in collaboration with Federation University. 
  • Personal and Professional Skills (PPS): This vital component nurtures essential competencies for career success, encompassing effective communication, critical thinking, time management, and collaborative teamwork, which are indispensable qualities for thriving in selected professions.
  • Service learning: Within this segment, students are encouraged to actively participate in community service or practical work experiences related to their careers, fostering empathy, social responsibility, and a deep sense of civic engagement.
  • Reflective project: As a cornerstone of the program, the Reflective Project tasks students with conducting independent research projects directly linked to their chosen career fields, enabling them to apply their academic knowledge in real-world contexts and reinforcing the practicality of their learning.

IBCP vs. IBDP: The differences in a nutshell 

While the IBDP and IBCP are pre-university curricula offered at the high school level, they differ significantly in their academic focus and structure. Here are some of the differences at a glance: 

RequirementsSix subject groups, three core requirements + Core: TOK, EE, CAS).At least two IBDP courses, a career-related study, and a personal and professional skills course.
FocusPrimarily academic, preparing for higher education.Career-related, combining academics with vocational learning for higher education and the workforce.
AssessmentStandardised and marked by external IB examiners and the schoolThe school assesses the components
LengthTwo yearsTwo years, depending on career-related study requirements.
SubjectsMinimum 1 course(including 3 HL and 3 SL) from each group below: – Language and Literature- Language Acquisition- Individuals and Societies – Natural Sciences- Mathematics – Arts (optional)At least 2 IBDP course Career-focused course
Educational ApproachFixed Flexible options for career-related studies. 

IBCP vs. IBDP: What’s better for college admissions?

Universities worldwide hold both the IBCP and IBDP in high regard. The choice between these two programmes hinges on a student’s specific goals, interests, and strengths. The IBDP is well-established globally and offers a comprehensive, academically-oriented education suitable for various higher education fields. In contrast, the IBCP is gaining popularity, offering further education opportunities. It is tailored for students with a clear career path, integrating academic studies with practical skills and experience, equipping them for higher education and the workforce.

Stefanie Leong, Head of Development and Recognition, Asia Pacific, International Baccalaureate, highlights that prestigious international institutions like Stanford University, Harvard University, MIT, and others accept IB qualifications for admissions, including the IBCP. In 2021, The Association of Indian Universities (AIU) also recognised the IBCP.

At The Red Pen, we assist students in identifying and choosing a curriculum for grades 11 and 12 after assessing their goals, interests and potential. You may read our blogs on frequently asked questions about curriculum selection and  5 factors to consider before changing your child’s curriculum in grades 11 and 12. If you need help with undergraduate applications, please contact us. Our experts look forward to assisting you.