A-levels, BTecs Or An IB: Which Is Right For You?

Jordan Harry decided to pursue a BTec level 3 extended diploma in sports science at West Suffolk College instead of taking A-levels after obtaining eight GCSEs. With a triple distinction*, which is recognized as three A* A-levels equivalent, he is currently getting ready to pursue his degree in sport and social sciences at the University of Bath. Harry chose this path as it is the most feasible route for him to enter sports marketing or sports management career. For him, the level 3 extended diploma is a practical option as it offers coursework that focuses on acquiring practical skills—ranging from performing arts to animal management to engineering. Harry believes that the coursework is a big help in preparing for university as it provides breadth and depth. While College has strong ties with employers, most diploma students, including Harry, opt to pursue higher education. According to West Suffolk Vice-Principal Lindsey Johnson, diplomas are preferred by students who have a specific career goal. That being said, A-level resources may not be the best option for them. For example, Johnson suggests that an extended diploma in computing can offer better vocational skills, such as programming, for a student who prefers games design. The International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma programme is another option for students who do not want to limit themselves to studying three or four subjects. It is a recognized international qualification that requires a highly rigorous approach. One student, Freddie Swan, who recently completed his IB at Bilborough Sixth Form College, describes it as “gruelling”. The programme requires students to take six subjects, three of which are at a higher level, and three at standard level. These subjects must include mathematics, at least one science, one humanities subject, English language and literature—or the student’s own native language—and a foreign language. Students are also required to study theory of knowledge, write a 4,000-word research-based essay, and carry out a series of activities relating to creativity, action, and service. Although Swan found the IB challenging, he is glad that he took it as it allowed him to keep his options open by studying more subjects and to stand out in an application process that is heavily saturated with applicants who have identical qualifications. One of the benefits of the IB is its focus on interdisciplinary learning and research skills. Lucie Korodimou, who recently completed her diploma program at UWC Atlantic College, where the IB originated, agrees that it is a demanding course. In addition, it enables students to use all the elements of each subject and combine them into one. Nigel Stephen, the head of economics, business, and careers at Ipswich High School for Girls, says that interdisciplinary connections are increasingly becoming a requirement for university students. Nonetheless, A-levels are still regarded as the gold standard, enabling students to study three or four subjects extensively.

In order to make a sound decision, it is worthwhile to have a clear idea of your long-term goals, while also considering your passions and interests. Just as Harry attests, "Attaining the triple distinction wasn’t a walk in the park, and it wasn’t a prerequisite for university. However, I approached it as a personal challenge and found it thoroughly enjoyable – truly a gratifying experience."

Note: A minor spelling error in this article has been corrected as of July 27th.

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  • isabelbyrne

    Isabel Byrne is a 32-year-old blogger and student who resides in the United States. Byrne is an advocate for education and has written extensively on the topic of education reform. Byrne is also a proponent of the use of technology in the classroom and has spoken at numerous conferences on the topic.