IB A levels CBSE HSC ICSE ISC - Which Board?

IB A levels CBSE HSC ICSE ISC - Which Board?

Which board should you pursue? Karan Gupta lists out the pros and cons of the Indian CBSE, ISC and HSC boards and the international IB Diploma Program and A level boards

There are around 175 institutes in India that currently offer an IB board and around 350 institutes that prepare you for the CIE exams – IGCSE and A/AS levels. Is it really beneficial spending lacs of rupees on these international boards or should you consider the local HSC, ISC or CBSE boards? There are many types of schools that offer all these boards. There is no doubt that the IB curriculum and IB programme is more relevant and practical than the age old HSC, CBSE or ISC. The IB Board is a 12 years programme and IB schools are modelled on the course curriculum from Geneva, Switzerland. IB students study more challenging subjects and concepts and rote learning is not rewarded. Students who study the IB curriculum land up with better communication skills and turn out to be independent thinkers as compared to their counterparts. They also usually get the opportunity to meet and interact with students and faculty from different countries and cultures – a rarity in schools that teach the local board curriculum.


If you study for the IB board or A level for your 12th grade and then decide to study abroad, you will get college credit, especially at US institutes. For example, the well-known top university Massachusetts Institute of Technology will waive college level Calculus I or Physics for students who achieve a 6 or 7 in their IB Math or Physics subjects. Other institutes such as UCLA will waive courses if you get grades of 5-7 in most HL subjects taken at the IB level. Hence, if you do well in your IB subjects you may just be able to complete a 4 year US Bachelor’s degree in 3.5 years. Similarly, some universities in the US give college credit to students who take 3 or more A levels and score A or B grades in the subjects.


While most institutes in the US and UK admit students from local Indian state boards including CBSE and ICSE, some of them will still give preference to students who have studied the IB or A level curriculum. The reason is obvious – institutes abroad want students who have pursued a more challenging and rigorous academic curriculum.  What does it mean to be a CBSE student or a CBSE and IB student? It means you could be a student who has done the 10th grade in CBSE and then 12th grade in the IB curriculum. Certain universities in the UK will not admit students who have studied at local state boards, but instead will only accept the A level or IB qualification. For example, Oxford University and Cambridge University clearly state that they will not accept students from India who have done local boards but will instead prefer candidates who have A level or IB scores. Similarly, the London School of Economics will not even consider Indian undergraduate students unless they have an IB or A level exam grades. Hence, if you choose the regular state board and wish to apply to these universities, you will have to take an extra year in college and then apply for admissions.


There are many students who pursue their high school (11th and 12th grades) education through international boards and then opt to study in India itself. Almost all the Indian universities will recognize these qualifications and let you join them for the Bachelor’s degree. However, your choice of subjects will be very important because you cannot choose Geography and Economics and then try to join an Engineering college in India. Hence, play it safe and choose subjects which will have value in India as well as abroad. Also keep in mind that some of the exam dates of the IB or A levels will clash with the local national entrance exams and hence in some cases you may have to drop a year and then join institutes in India. If you plan to study at universities in India, it might make more sense for you to consider higher education through boards like CBSE and ICSE as opposed to IB and A levels.

There are roughly 7000 students in India who opt for the international board exams each year. In comparison, there are hundreds of thousands of students who opt for local state boards. If there is a high chance that you will study abroad after your 12th grade, opt for international boards or else a well-known local institute will be a good option.


(The author is an Education Consultant and alumnus of Harvard Business School)

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