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IB Subject Help for Oxbridge

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Hello, so I'm in my final year of MYP (myp5) or pre-ib and am currently in the process of selecting/confirming our subjects for the IB. Here are my subjects I am planning to pick but I still don't know which option to pick:

HL: Chemistry, Biology, Humanities Subject (thinking about picking Economics)/English Language and Literature

SL: Math AA, German B, Humanities Subject (thinking about picking Economics)/English Language and Literature

I'm very nervous at the moment because I know my subject choices will impact my university application. I'm for sure planning to study science at a uk university but still don't know whether to study medicine or something else such as biotechnology or biochemistry. Right now in my science classes, I am enjoying them a lot, scoring 8's in all my assessment. I've done 2 weeks of work experience in a local pharmacy and loved in there so much! I've also arranged 2-week work experience at a biotechnology company at the beginning of summer to see if biotechnology is the right area in science for me. I've also looked into Oxbridge (Natural Science (prefer at the moment)/Veterinary Medicine for Cambridge and Biomedical Science (prefer at the moment) /Biology/Medicine/Biochemistry). 

 A representative from Cambridge had visited my school and told me I would need to have Chemistry, Biology and Physics/Maths at a higher level to have a competitive application as it is apparently very rare for a student to be accepted with only Chemistry + another science/math (their requirements). I'm not terrible at math. Our school has a low, standard and extended math class system. I'm only in the standard classes for math and I am scoring only 7's (7/8's) in my exams (basically 0-1 mistakes per) and my teacher recommended me to take SL Math AA although she did say I could do HL Math AA but I would need to work super hard. I have friends in year 11 (IB1) who used to score 100% or 8/8 in year 10 maths extended class but are scoring 4-5 right now. Even some of my friends in the extended class, scoring only 8's or 100% in exams (they've told me the teacher in the extended class is teacher them SL math content) are taking SL math. I think only 3 people in my entire grade is taking HL math.

For biomedicine at Oxford, I saw that they only require 2 sciences at a higher level (https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate/courses-listing/biomedical-sciences?wssl=1) which gave me some hope. I briefly scanned through some of the colleges in Oxford and fell in love with Keble College (but it is one of the collages with the lowest acceptance rates at 16% an only accepting a handful of biomedicinal students (I think it was around 5). This makes me feel like I have no shot in getting in only taking Biology and Chemistry, especially after consulting with the Cambridge representative as well. 

I have 7's in all of my classes except for German Phase 3 (I have a 6) and was recommended to take HL English A1 by my English teacher. frankly enjoy Biology and Chemistry WAY more than the rest of my subject choices which is making me confused. I heard that HL Economics is an easy 6-7 if I work hard, which I think I can do, compared to HL English A1 which is said to be one of the hardest subjects to get a 7 in. I don't find English or Economics super interesting compared to Biology and Chemistry but need to fill in my third HL subject. My IB coordinator recommended me to take English at HL as he said 2 HL science subjects will have extreme workload and that I would need a third subject to chill in (still work of course but in a less intensive manner) + I'm thinking about writing my EE in Biology or Chemistry as well. I've talked with the head of the English department at my school and he said scoring a 7 in English is as hard as scoring a 7 in any ib subject.

For Group 1 and 3 my school offers:

Group 1: English A1 (both Literature and Language and Literature) HL/SL and (Japanese and German Literature) HL/SL

Group 3: Business and Management HL/SL, Economics HL/SL, History HL/SL, Geography HL/SL and Environmental Systems SL only

Sorry for the huge paragraphs but here are my questions based on what I've said above:

- I'm not from an English speaking country so would be taking HL English A1 to make me a more competitive candidate?

- Do I need to take HL Math to study science (leaning towards choosing biomedicine) at Oxford? And would choose HL math makes me a more competitive candidate?

- Does my school offer a subject change in the first 4 weeks of IB1 (if there is space in the class)? Should I take HL Biology, Chemistry, English Language and Literature and Economics and drop one of English and Economics before the 4 weeks are up?

- Should I take environmental systems as my group 3 subject at SL to ensure I get good in it, giving me more points? What about geography HL or SL? That would mean my subjects would be:

HL: Biology, Chemistry, English Language and Literature

SL: German B, Environmental Systems, Maths AA


HL: Biology Chemistry, English Language and Literature/Geography

SL: German B, Maths AA and English Language and Literature/Geography

- (for after IB) I loved my pharmacy work experience and am keeping it as a possible option for university. Do I study medicine to then specialise and study pharmacy or directly do into pharmacy school after the IB (pharmacy requirements are the same as medicine at most universities)?

Thank you for answering any of my questions. Let me know if you need more information about anything I said above


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From the universities perspective, they want people who will stay in the program because they enjoy it AND can withstand the workload. And so the main reason that they preferentially take people with Chem/Bio/Math AA at HL is that the combo demonstrates both pretty convincingly. It's really Math AA HL that is somewhat comparable in workload to the upper class courses and these universities would be really happy to see if you take the class along with Tok/EE/CAS/5 other subjects. If you are serious about Oxford/Cambridge then it seems that you almost have to take Chem/Bio/Math AA HL. 

11 hours ago, benjeren said:

I'm not terrible at math.

I really hope that's an understatement out of modesty. Math HL (and expectantly the new Math AA HL) gives 4s and 5s to ones who were top students before entering IB. If you are not already in the extended program, it's really hard to score well in Math HL. 4 people is not a Math HL size big enough to have you guys study with each other, and makes the class extra challenging. With that said, I think it's best that you find some creative/lab research project related to biotech or biochem to work on so you have something others won't have. None of your other courses matter as much admission-wise: only the sum of the final grades (or predicted grades). 

I am not sure about Lang/Lit, but English Lit HL was definitely not easy 6. Taking English Lang/Lit HL simply to show you are good at English is somewhat redundant, because you are already taking IB in English.  

Consider looking at required courses for the university degrees you are interested in. If you see degree courses include a lot of math pre-requisites, or if you have to take 4 or more math classes to graduate, then the degree can be math-heavy and they will want Math AA HL more. In general, biotech and biomolecular engineering tend to have greater math requirements because they are closer to engineering than to physical sciences. 

My main recommendation is

HL: Chemistry, Biology, Economics
SL: German B (I can't believe they allow you to take that at SL), English Lang/Lit, Math AA 
+ a really good biotech/biochem project that noone else would do. Also, stay away from ESS unless everyone at your school get 7s.

At 7/7/6 HL and 41+/45 about 15-20% chance of getting at least one offer from either Oxford or Cambridge. 

A much stronger combination, if you are better than math than you lead on, is

HL: Chemistry, Biology, Math AA (ideally 5+ in Math AA and 41+ overall)

SL: German B, English Lang/Lit, economics, maybe going as far as saying German B HL, for four HLs. 

+ some physics credit from your school or elsewhere, + reasonably good biotech/biochem project or extracurricular. Working at a pharmacy is insufficient as you are not using nearly as much creativity and problem solving skills. 

At 7/7/6 HL and 41+ about 35-40% chance of getting at least one offer from either Oxford or Cambridge.

Add 20% either combo if you do a really really good biotech/biochem project/extracurricular.

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