How to Understand Universities’ IB Requirements

Navigating IB requirements isn’t always so easy… and keeping track of them can be even harder! If you’re a counsellor helping IB students prepare their university applications, here’s what you (and they) need to know.

The International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB) is a popular secondary school qualification, widely recognised worldwide.

Many universities (and IB alumni!) praise it as being a rigorous programme, prized for its holistic approach to education.

The IB comes with built-in extracurricular activities, independent research, a multicultural outlook, and the study of a second language (which, in the case of some of your international students, might actually be their third or forth).

No wonder it’s touted for honing students’ personal development alongside challenging them academically!

But as many a counsellor will know, there is one downside to the IB: navigating the daunting world of international entry requirements.

First, you’ve got to understand whether or not a university accepts the IB (pro tip: they probably do). Next, you’ve got to find what their entry requirements are… which can get complicated, since they’re subject to change year to year.

And then there’s the ultimate counsellor’s nightmare: universities who don’t publish their entrance requirements in a familiar language… or worse, those who don’t advertise them on their website at all.

Safe to say, any of the above scenarios can leave counsellors feeling frustrated and confused.

Luckily, we’ve got some good news to share: the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO) are working on an online database promising to centralise universities IB recognition policies, estimated to launch later in 2022.

But if you’ve got students applying to begin their courses in 2023, or younger years keen to make a head start on their university research, you need that information now.

Which brings us to some even better news: in this post, we've summarised everything you need to know to quickly understand IB entry requirements in different countries.

To do so, we’ve drawn on several reputable sources to save you the hassle of diving down an internet rabbit hole: below, you’ll find reliable information we’ve obtained from education organisations (including the IBO), insights from the schools and universities we’ve partnered with over the years, and, in the rare cases that information wasn’t available in English, some of our multilingual colleagues’ very own translations!

So, without further ado, let’s unpack universities’ IB requirements!

Are your students interested in international universities but tired of endless web searches?

Say goodbye to tirelessly sifting through websites in different languages with the free BridgeU platform. Our database of over 28,000 universities is designed to help your students compare courses and international entry requirements with ease. 

Who recognises the IB?

The short answer is that most universities recognise the IB as a valid entry qualification for tertiary education.

The longer answer is that the level of IB recognition depends from country to country. For some countries, the IB is recognised at national level. In this case, all universities in that country recognise the IB as a valid qualification for university entry,

In other cases, recognition is granted by the local governing body. Like national recognition, this simply means that all universities within the jurisdiction of the local governing body recognise it for university entry.

Either way, it’s important to remember that just because a country or university grants the IB full recognition doesn’t mean that international students don’t need to fulfill additional requirements.

Your students will still need to meet each course or university’s unique grade requirements, and any additional subject-based specifications (e.g. the BMAT or UKAT for UK medical degrees).  International students will often also have to take language proficiency tests (like IELTs or TOPIK) which match their chosen course’s main language of instruction.

Some universities also have mandatory entrance exams, which all students have to take, regardless of their secondary school qualification. If this is the case, IB students will have to be prepared to take those, too.

In some countries, however, the IB isn’t granted any official governmental recognition. In this case, it’s up to individual universities to write their own recognition policies.

These range from accepting it as an alternative to a local secondary school qualification/diploma, to asking for additional exams, to reviewing each application on a case-by-case basis.

In the rest of this post, we’ll be looking at each of these scenarios by country. We’ll start with countries who accept the IB before moving on to those who do under specific conditions.

In the last section, you’ll find the countries who haven’t granted the IB official recognition, along with a summary of the most common scenarios and where to look to find out more.

Countries whose governments recognise the IB diploma at national level?

These countries all recognise the IB as an equivalent qualification to their local curriculum (replacing the need for alternative, or local, secondary school diplomas).

In other words, these countries officially recognise the IB as a valid alternative to the national certificate or diploma, and it’s accepted for university entry, too, provided students meet all other mandatory entry requirements.

Close up of a world map on laptop
Albania Italy Paraguay
Azerbaijan Japan Poland
Bahrain Kazakhstan Singapore
Austria Moldova Sweden
Belgium New Zealand United Kingdom

Countries who recognise the IB at a national level, but with addendums:

The following countries also officially recognise the IB as a secondary school leaving certificate… but with a few additional conditions.

It’s absolutely imperative for counsellors to be familiar with the fine-print in these cases, because meeting these extra requirements is essential for your students’ IB diplomas to be considered valid (alongside meeting entry requirements).

One addendum you’ll see frequently in this list is the need to “legalise” their IB diploma.

Put simply, this means having the official diploma validated by a government body - usually, this means an embassy or consulate, either in Geneva, Switzerland, or the relevant country.

Note: In many cases, results are automatically legalised - but if your students live in a country where this is not the case, it’s up to the IB coordinator at the school to ensure students can send their legalisation request to the appropriate embassy or consulate.

Argentina: Argentina is the first country on our list that requires that students legalise their diploma results document.

On top of that, however, Argentina also has a fairly unusual policy: for a student’s diploma to be recognised in Argentina, the IB must be certified as a secondary school leaving certificate by the country where the IB diploma is being issued to the student.

In other words, it’s up to the country where your students are currently residing, as opposed to the Argentinian government, to decide whether or not the IB is recognised as a valid secondary school certificate.

Bolivia: Like Argentina, the IB diploma is recognised by all universities so long as it has been legalised. However, students will also have to pass examinations in Bolivian Geography, History, and Civics.

Colombia: An IB diploma obtained overseas is recognised so long as it is legalised and students enclose a transcript in Spanish detailing both IB diploma years.

Costa Rica: In Costa Rica, some universities specify that the IB diploma ought to have been taken in Spanish. Regardless, students will need to legalise their diploma.

Denmark: The IB is nationally recognised as a university entrance qualification to all higher education institutions in Denmark, as long as students have also passed a Danish language test (either by taking Danish as part of the IB, or taking another recognised language test).

Whilst it’s not unusual for universities to require an additional language test, Denmark’s case is slightly different, simply because this is a national requirement as opposed to one universities have decided for themselves.

Egypt: In Egypt, IB diploma documents must be legalised regardless of where the student has completed their IB. Students must also have taken Arabic as either their language A or language B.

Finland: The Finnish government recognises the IB diploma alongside the Finnish Matriculation examination (alongside the European Baccalaureate, and a number of other forein diplomas), so it’s unanimously accepted.

However, all Finnish universities hold their own additional entrance examinations, which IB students will have to sit, too.

Germany: The IB is officially recognised by all universities in Germany, however students applying through uni-assist will need to obtain a special certificate called the VPD.

This needs to be sent to uni-assist 8 weeks before the university application deadline. Some universities will require their own certified copies, which will need to be stamped and signed by the student’s school and IB coordinator.

All students will also need to contact uni-assit to inform them of the official release of IB results, using the “contact us” form on the uni-assist website.

Greece: The IB diploma is fully recognised when it comes to employment, however IB students wishing to study at a Greek university will still need to sit the Greek School-leaving Certificate (Apolytirio Eniaiou Lykeiou).

India: The IB has been recognised since 1983 by the Association of Indian Universities and can be used to apply to all universities in India.

However, some universities require that students convert their IB transcript into an Indian one. To do so, the school’s IB Diploma Coordinator will need to submit the request through IBIS, the secure portal for IB coordinators.

Netherlands: The IB is recognised in the Netherlands, however admission requirements are now subject-based, according to “subject clusters”, which each list the required subjects students need to have sufficient proficiency in to qualify for university admission.

If it helps, you can think of these just like the specific subjects or grades a university might request for a specific course - but at a national, as opposed to just an individual university, level.

Of course, individual universities might still have additional requirements layered on top.

Norway: The IB is nationally recognised as a university entrance qualification, so long as students have also passed a Norwegian language test (either by taking Norwegian A or B as part of the IB, or taking another recognised language test) - just like in Denmark.

Pakistan: The IB diploma is recognised, however, like in the Netherlands, equivalencies are granted according to subject families.

Panama: The IB diploma is recognised, but it must be legalised, and unless students are studying at an International University, they may have to sit additional exams in subjects like Panamanian history and political geography.

South Africa: The IB is recognised, however IB students will have to apply for an exemption certificate (from South Africa’s own school leaving certificate) for their IB diploma to be recognised as a full equivalent.

Spain: The IB is officially recognised as being equivalent to the Selectividad, so students needn’t sit both.

However, only around half of Spanish universities have official admissions pathways for IB students listed on their website, so students are still advised to directly contact their chosen institution(s).

Switzerland: The International Baccalaureate diploma is recognized as an upper secondary school leaving certificate.

However, when it comes to university entry, some universities may require additional documentation, so students are advised to thoroughly check university websites.

Thailand: The IB Diploma is equivalent to the Thai Higher Secondary School Certificate (Mathayom Suksa 6). However, students applying for a public higher education institution will need to obtain their certificate of equivalency directly from the Thai Ministry for Education.

Students will also need to have their IB diploma legalised.

UAE: A completed IB diploma is considered equivalent to the Ministry’s Secondary School Certificate, however the ways to request official recognition of this equivalency are changing in between 2022 and 2023 - so you’ll want to keep an eye on these!

Countries where each university sets its own IB recognition policy

These countries' governments may not have passed decrees nationalising the recognition of the IB diploma, but that doesn’t mean that they’re unwelcoming to IB students.

Many of the countries on this list have a long history of championing IB students. Some, like Canada and the US even have institutions where students can trade IB credits in for university ones, shortening the length (or even the cost) of their degrees.

In other words, this in no way suggests that IB students stand less of a chance - quite the contrary. What it does mean, however, is that some additional research will be required.

These also tend to be countries where university applications aren’t centralised through any national body (sensing a theme?), so it’s even more important for students to research each university’s policy.

However, we recognise that that’s sometimes easier said than done.

In some cases, official university statements about recognising foreign diplomas are only published in that country’s main language of instruction… which isn’t likely to provide you, or your students, with many answers if it’s not a language you speak!

Photo of student packing and working on laptop

Australia: There is no national centralised admistinatrion that oversees university admissions in Australia. Instead, this is done at local (state) level, with each state’s Tertiary Admissions Centre (TAC).

However, since each major tertiary institution recognises the IB Diploma, as far as students are concerned, it’s as if the IB was granted national recognition.

Canada: Each of Canada's universities sets its own admissions standards, and each candidate for admission is evaluated individually.

As a result, neither we nor the IBO can guarantee that the IB will be accepted by all Canadian universities. That being said, almost every university has accepted the IB as an appropriate qualification for university admissions for well over a decade.

If in doubt, students should check with individual universities. The majority of universities publish IB admissions requirements online.

China: Whilst the IB Diploma is recognised by post-secondary institutions in China, admissions will depend on each university.

As a general rule of thumb, International universities in China (those who are predominantly based abroad but have satellite campuses in China, e.g. Nottingham University), recognise the IB.

Local universities may accept the IB on a case-by-case basis, whilst others also may require the Gaokao (China’s National Higher Education Entrance Examination).

France: The IB in France is recognised as a private school leaving certificate (diplôme de fin d’études secondaires de nature privée). As such, students who have the IB don’t need to take the French Baccalaureate, but they’re not automatically qualified for university study, either.

Thankfully, this sounds more complicated in theory than it is in practice. Despite no national recognition, many French universities (including the famous 2-year prep classes for the Grandes Écoles) recognise the IB and students can use it to apply.

However, not all of them publish admissions policies specific to IB students, so it’s imperative that students contact their universities of interest to confirm their unique application process, as the extent of IB recognition will vary from one institution to the next.

Hong Kong: Most public and private universities in Hong Kong accept the IB, but IB students (who don’t also hold the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education) can no longer apply through JUPAS (Hong Kong’s centralised admissions platform).

Instead, IB students will need to apply to public universities through the Direct Admission Scheme (also called Non-Jupas). For private universities, students will have to apply directly to the university itself.

Students will need to have their results officially released to HK universities, a request which has to be made by the schools IB Diploma Coordinator.

Ireland: Each university in Ireland is granted the status of validating authority. Put simply, this means that each university has the authority to decide how to recognise the IB, and that each application is considered on a case-by-case basis.

That might sound worrying, but there’s no need for concern. Universities across Ireland specify that the IB is widely regarded as being equivalent to the Irish Leaving Certificate.

Israel: Each university in Israel can determine it’s university entrance criteria, including whether or not the IB is recognised as an alternative university entry qualification. However, many tertiary education providers do accept it, including The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Bar Ilan University, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Haifa University, and Tel-Aviv University.

Korea: Whilst the IB diploma is recognised, most universities still require the CSAT. However, there are some university pathways which allow IB students to apply without the CSAT.

Information on entrance requirements can be tricky to come by in English, so unless you or your students are fluent Korean speakers, it’s recommended to contact the universities directly to enquire about admissions pathways for IB students.

Lebanon: The IB Diploma is recognised, but non-Lebanese students will need to obtain permission from the Ministry of Education to follow a foreign programme.

Mexico: The IB is fully recognised but must be legalised, and students need to prove they’ve certain subjects to an equivalent level as they would have cone in the Mexican system.

Philippines: The IB is recognised by most major universities in the Philippines, so long as students have their diploma legalised. However, with no centralised administration, each university determines to what extent it is recognised. Some, for instance, may still require SATs. Students are advised to contact universities directly.

Portugal: Though widely recognised, recognition of the IB as a suitable equivalent is determined on a case by case basis. IB diplomas must also be legalised.

USA: There is no national ministry or centralised bureaucracy in the United States that controls university admission: each college or university is responsible for setting its own policies.

The majority of universities recognise the IB. Some will still require national exams, like SATs, whereas others might request official grade conversions in accordance with their own policies.

Once again, this doesn’t mean that it’s harder to attend a US university for IB students. Like in Canada, many value the IB so much that students can trade IB credits in for university ones… in some cases, they can even skip their freshman year of university.

Vietnam: The IB is recognised by international universities in Vietnam, however, universities generally require applicants to pass the High School Graduate Examination and the National University Entrance Examination Certificate.

Want more advice on researching & understanding admissions requirements?

The BridgeU platform isn't just for students. With built-in support for counsellors and teachers alike, you'll discover tools to help you simplify your workload, keep track of your students' applications, and conquer document sending and reference writing. 

Conclusion:

Though we’ve attempted to give you a comprehensive overview of each country’s IB recognition policy - and what that means for your IB students - we’ve saved our two best pieces of advice for last.

The first one is that whenever a university’s IB recognition policy seems opaque or unclear, it’s always worth contacting a university directly.

Universities are the experts on their own admissions policies, after all. And most universities aren’t in the business of turning brilliant students away simply because their educational history isn’t covered in a one-size-fits-all manual.

The second is to never underestimate the power of personalised support for you, your students, and your entire school.

Whether it’s help contacting a university, meeting with admissions reps at exclusive events, or any other hiccups you or your students stumble across along the way, with BridgeU you’ll benefit from your own dedicated Customer Success Manager.

“BridgeU always responds with enthusiasm, and always comes back with more information than I asked for. I feel completely supported.”

Erin Hawken: Head of University Guidance, American International School of Budapest

To learn more about how BridgeU can help support your schools’ university application programme, why not book a demo with a member of our team?

Throughout the demo, you’ll have our undivided attention as we talk with you about your school’s individual needs and concerns. You’ll also get a full walkthrough of the latest version of the free BridgeU platform, and learn about our free onboarding process.

Subscribe to Our Blog

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *