What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)
Varun Srinivasan
4 IB Guides

How to Choose Your HL Subjects For IB

What’s Covered:


The International Baccalaureate Diploma Program is a highschool program with equivalence in credit value to the AP system. It’s considered to be challenging, engaging and intense in comparison to other alternatives for highschool education, but it’s equally as rewarding! The following blog is going to be about the flagship courses in IB, higher level (HL) and standard level (SL).


Overview of HL vs SL


 HL and SL are the two options for each course available in IB. They’re separated based on differences in difficulty and amount of coursework taught to the student, and you get to pick three for each. You’re also more likely to get college/university credits with HL courses when you apply for further education.


As said earlier, HL courses can be difficult. Some classes are notoriously hard such as Mathematics HL and Physics HL, so making sure to pick the right HL subjects is important for your overall success in IB. Just as importantly, SL classes need to be “easy” points and shouldn’t create as much of a burden as HL classes. Make sure to pick SL classes that don’t give you more unnecessary workloads. 


How to Choose Your Six Subjects


All the subject selections in IB are split into subject groups. There are 6 groups as listed:


  • Group 1: Language and Literature
  • Group 2: Language Acquisition 
  • Group 3: Individuals and Societies
  • Group 4: Experimental Sciences
  • Group 5: Mathematics
  • Group 6: The Arts


All 6 groups cover ranges of classes and material, but it’s important to note that students can omit group 6 classes and just take an extra group 4 class if required. 


During subject selection, which takes place in the first few weeks of the program, you’ll tell your school which subject from each group you wish to enroll in. For example, for Group 5, you can choose from Mathematics HL, Mathematics SL and Further Mathematics (an even harder class). Say you did take Mathematics HL, that leaves you with 2 HL slots left to choose from in your other groups. 


How to Choose Your HL Subjects


Considering the purpose of IBDP’s intensive nature and style of learning is preparing students for further education, it’s important to pick HL subjects that favor your chances of admission into a university/college. Considering HL classes can earn credit, this is even more true. For example, a student applying as a computer science major would want to take Computer Science HL, Mathematics HL, and perhaps another Group 4 subject in HL. This STEM-centered selection of classes is more likely to make you an appealing candidate in your applications! If you could also pick SL classes that relate to this future major, then even better! 


If you find that you’re unsure of what your major might be or even if college isn’t a consideration at the moment, instead find HL subjects that you find interesting and engaging! If you’ve always found math to be an easy subject, try Mathematics HL. Perhaps you enjoy analyzing text and literature? Then English (A) HL would be a good fit for you! IB can be as difficult as it is rewarding, so make sure to thoroughly enjoy whatever HL class you pick!


How to Swap or Drop an HL Class


Let’s say you’ve chosen your subjects and decide sometime during the two-year long course that you’d like to change your selections. This is possible and very common, especially for students looking to swap their HLs and SLs. Just tell your IB Coordinator at least 6 months before examination season just to make sure you have time for the required change to be submitted to the IB Board.  You can’t outright drop any classes though because you need to have a total of six subjects in order to apply for examinations.


It’s important to note some HL subjects are a lot harder to swap into halfway through the coursework, so please be careful before making a decision to swap selections. 


Final Tips


All HL Subjects Are Hard at First


Swapping and dropping an HL can seem like an attractive choice when classes get hard, but take a step back before making any hasty decisions! It’s much harder to get a previous HL subject choice after dropping it once, so swapping and dropping should be your last option! Try sticking through with the class and more often than not, the coursework will begin to click with enough practice and determination!


Spend the First Week Effectively


Many IB schools don’t let students finalize subject selections during the first week of classes. Instead, students are free to drop into classes and see the syllabus, coursework and teachers of offered subjects at the school. By doing this, students can really make sure they’re confident in the selections they have in mind, before making any real commitment! Put yourself out there and try as many classes as you’re interested in before making any finalizations about your classes, and this saves you the worry about swapping later on!


How Does My IB Subject Selection Affect My College Chances?


Unlike IB scores and the grading system, subject selection does matter for your chances of admission in college. Admission offices are looking for students that show perseverance and determination through taking harder classes that most students would shy away from, and IB is perfect for showing this attitude in an application! 


Taking HL subjects shows your dedication to hard work, and your intention to learn difficult concepts. There are also many other factors that get considered into your application process, and keeping a track of everything can be hard! To streamline your college admissions process, try using CollegeVine’s admissions calculator. This amazing tool uses numerous factors like GPA, standardized test scores, extracurriculars, classes, and more to generate your chances of admission into your dream school!

Short Bio
Varun is a recent graduate from Arizona State University, Tempe, with a degree in Computer Science. He aims to share his knowledge of computer science, the IB Diploma Program, and all things college-related with high school students. In his free time, he can be found performing DJ sets or cooking!