HSC vs International Baccalaureate: What is International Baccalaureate?

hsc vs international baccalaureate. studying. university.

The HSC has been the main option for NSW students for years. The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme is slowly growing in Australian secondary schools as a credible alternative.

HSC vs International Baccalaureate: What is the difference?

HSC students aim for an ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) as the standard measure of achievement. The HSC program is unique to NSW and each state has a different variation of the program (In Victoria, this is known as the VCE).

The main difference is that the HSC is designed to meet the needs of all NSW students whereas the IB pushes students to prepare for university. This is embedded in the diverse curriculum structure.

Features of the International Baccalaureate

  • Both years of the IB count.
  • IB students are required to study one subject from: the arts, sciences, humanities, mathematics, English and a foreign language.
  • The diploma is accepted by almost all universities and colleges.
  • Most IB subjects can be taken at “standard level” (SL) or “higher level” (HL).

HL courses are recommended to have at least 240 instructional hours and allow students to explore specific areas of personal interest in depth in addition to the core SL curriculum.

SL courses are recommended to have at least 150 instructional hours and allow students to experience a range of disciplines.

The assessment criteria are equally demanding for both levels which are integral to the Diploma Programme.

Curriculum Structure

  • Students are required to take at least 3 subjects at a HL and at least 3 subjects at a SL.
  • Therefore students must choose six subjects.
  • Students take 12 points from HL subjects and a minimum of 9 points from their SL subjects.

In addition to the 6 subjects, students must complete the following compulsory core elements:

  • Students must complete a 100-hour subject on the theory of knowledge and a 4000 word extended essay on a topic of their choice.
  • Students must participate in creative, sporting and service activities.

Features of the HSC

  • Preliminary (year 11) courses do not form part of the HSC ATAR.
  • The HSC offers a range of subjects from agriculture to extension physics with the only compulsory subject being English.
  • The subjects are scaled based on their varying levels of difficulty.
  • Students final marks in each subject are compared with other students to produce their final ATAR.

Curriculum Structure

  • Students must complete a minimum of 12 ‘units of study’ in year 11 and at least 10 units in year 12.
  • HSC students may choose from 27,000 course combinations and are required to take 2 units of English. This may include Standard English, Advanced English or ESL.

How does the International Baccalaureate apply to tertiary education?

Australia’s leading research universities (The Group of Eight), has collectively expressed its support for IB students.

Most tertiary institutions in Australia accept the International Baccalaureate diploma as an equivalent to an Australian Year 12 qualification. However, students are not guaranteed entry into courses and may have to meet additional requirements.

Most Australian higher education institutions have a scale in place to convert IB results to ATAR.

For students applying for university in 2023, the new IB/UAC conversion schedule will be published in May 2022.

Some universities even offer advanced placement, credit and bonus schemes for IB Diploma students.

Providing your IB Diploma results to UAC

Year 12 students must ensure UAC receives their IB diploma results. Students should:

  • Ask their school’s IB Diploma coordinator to authorise the International Baccalaureate to release their results directly to UAC. This must take place despite any other request for results to be sent to an institution; or
  • Alternatively, students must provide a copy of their official Results and Diploma Certificates when they become available.

Why would students choose to do an International Baccalaureate?

The International Baccalaureate Diploma is a suitable option for students looking to pursue international study.

Many universities and colleges overseas accept an IB. Each year over 5,000 universities in more than 100 countries receive IB students’ transcripts.

The degree of recognition of IB programmes vary from country to country.

hsc vs international baccalaureate. harvard university.
Photo by Somesh Kesarla Suresh on Unsplash

Students should reach out to post-secondary institutions they are interested in and learn about how they recognise IB programmes.

For example, in the United States, there is no national ministry which controls university admission. Universities and colleges set their own policies. Students should explore the specific college’s requirements.

Generally, colleges require students to submit the written application for admission, a transcript of secondary school grades and a Scholastic Aptitude Test or American College test.

Is International Baccalaureate harder?

The IB and HSC provide different opportunities and experiences for different students.

Your child may find it more ‘difficult’ to begin focusing from Year 11. Alternatively, your child may find that accounting for both years of study in the final results removes the stress of Year 12.

The current IB conversions are quite generous. UAC data reveals approximately 5% of IB students last year received scores converting to an ATAR of 99.95, compared to 0.1% of HSC students.

The IB is academically vigorous and encourages independent learning.

However, if your child is considering undertaking the IB they must be academically well rounded due to the course curriculum structure. In the HSC, if your child is not as strong in maths or science, they would not be required to complete these subjects.

Schools in New South Wales that offer International Baccalaureate:

  • Al Zahra College
  • Aurora Southern Highlands Steiner School
  • Australian International Academy of Education, Kellyville Campus
  • Australian International Academy, Strathfield Campus
  • Central West Leadership Academy
  • Cranbrook School
  • Elonera Montessori School
  • German International School, Sydney
  • Kambala
  • Lycée Condorcet: The International French School of Sydney
  • MLC School
  • Monte Sant’ Angelo Mercy College
  • Newington College
  • Queenwood
  • Ravenswood School for Girls
  • Redlands
  • Santa Sabina College
  • St Andrew’s Cathedral School
  • St Paul’s Grammar School, Penrith
  • St Ursula’s College Kinsgrove
  • The Riverina Anglican College
  • Trinity Grammar School – Summer Hill Campus
  • Westbourne College Sydney

Schools in Victoria that offer International Baccalaureate:

  • Albert Park College
  • Auburn High School
  • Australian International Academy, Melbourne Senior Campus
  • Carey Baptist Grammar School
  • Creek Street Christian College
  • Geelong Grammar School
  • Grace Christian College Wodonga
  • Islamic College of Melbourne
  • Ivanhoe Grammar School
  • Kardinia International College
  • Lauriston Girls’ School
  • Mansfield Steiner School
  • Melbourne Montessori School
  • Methodist Ladies’ College
  • Presbyterian Ladies’ College – Melbourne
  • Preshil – the Margaret Lyttle Memorial School
  • Rivercrest Christian College
  • Sophia Mundi Steiner School
  • St Leonard’s College
  • Suzanne Cory High School
  • The Kilmore International School
  • The Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School
  • Werribee Secondary College
  • Wesley College Melbourne – Glen Waverley Campus
  • Wesley College Melbourne – St Kilda Road Campus

Choosing a school for your child can be difficult, if you wish to receive further information please see Choosing a School NSW 37 or Choosing a School VIC 34.


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