IB vs A Level: Where to Study in Vietnam?

Vietnam offers a myriad of curricula for parents who, in their home country have only one national option. A key choice, particularly for those going to UK curriculum based schools is the choice between IB and A Level. There are 12 schools offering the IB Diploma Programme, including four that are full IB schools, and seven schools offering A Levels. The majority of these schools are in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City.
IB vs A Level: Where to Study in Vietnam?
By Carli Allan
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Which schools offer the IBDP in Vietnam?

American International School of Vietnam, Australian International School, (Thu Thiem); British International School, Hanoi; British International School, Ho Chi Minh City (An Phu Secondary); Canadian International School - Vietnam; European International School; Hanoi International School; International School of Vietnam; International School Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC) (Secondary); Renaissance International School Saigon; Saigon South International School; and United Nations International School of Hanoi.

There are four full IB schools, offering all three programmes including the PYP, MYP and IBDP. These are European International School, Hanoi International School (Co., Ltd), International School Ho Chi Minh City (ISHCMC) (Secondary), and United Nations International School of Hanoi.

Fees range from VND 497,200,000 at the Canadian International School Vietnam to VND 703,400,000 at International School Ho Chi Minh City. The International School of Vietnam will introduce the IBDP from September 2018.

Which schools offer A Levels in Vietnam?

Horizon International Bilingual School Hanoi; International School of Vietnam; Singapore International School @ Gamuda Gardens; Singapore International School @ Vung Tau; Singapore International School @ Da Nang; Singapore International School @ Saigon South; and Wellspring International Bilingual School of Hanoi.

The majority of these schools are part of the Singapore International School (SIS) group, where teaching combines Singaporean, Cambridge and Australian curriculums to deliver a well-rounded international education. Fees range from VND 268,000,000 at the smaller and older Horizon International School Hanoi to VND 464,464,000 at the International School of Vietnam.

So, IB vs A Level? Which curriculum is right for you? Here we have compiled a set of frequently asked questions on the two curricula. 

What is the primary difference between the GCE A Level and IB Diploma?

They are both popular terminal qualifications for school-based education and strong attainment indicators for university admission tutors.

The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma (IBDP) continues the broad and balanced learning approach to subjects as usually found in the school curriculum up to the age of 16; whereas, the students taking the General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced Level, tend to become more specialised and focus on three of four subject areas that reflect the direction that they are likely to take at university level.

The IB subjects can be taken as stand-alone ones where an IB Certificate may be awarded. To receive the full award of the IB Diploma (IBDP) students need to successfully complete six subjects, three at higher level and three at standard level, plus core components in the Theory of Knowledge (TOK), an extended essay and Creativity, Action, Service (CAS). However, it must be noted that areas similar to these are offered in good post-sixteen institutions also. The extended essay has become a characteristic of the A level programme and TOK is often addressed through critical studies. A school’s extracurricular programme usually addresses similar activities to the CAS programme, particularly if the International Award (known as the Duke of Edinburgh Award, DofE, in the UK) is offered in the school at this level.

Which is a more credible qualification?

There is no definitive answer to this. The IB Diploma has been around for many years although its popularity has really gained momentum over the past decade. In part, this is due to its continuation of the broad base of study and it being deemed excellent preparation for entry to university. University admissions tutors from top universities around the world continue to go on record with regards to this.

In the UK, there is an interesting situation where Scotland has always maintained the broader approach in the final years of school, whereas the rest of the UK has adopted the narrower approach with the GCE A levels often referred to as the ‘gold standard’. But, even in this, there has been debate over recent years about the ongoing validity of this narrow approach

The IB Diploma has an international focus whereas the GCE A levels can be euro-centric.

Does it make any difference in terms of university entrance?

The key element in a university application, is for the admissions tutor to be able to assess the level of academic attainment that the applicant has achieved to ensure that the university’s minimum criteria are met in the appropriate areas for a particular course of study.


The admissions tutor will also be seeking to understand how the applicant has grown in a wider sense and his or her developing attitudes towards independent learning, social responsibility and so forth. The beauty of the IB Diploma is that it covers all of these aspects and offers credit for them against clearly stated criteria for success in obtaining the diploma. But as mentioned, good schools also offer opportunities for a student to grow through these areas and it is important, therefore, that there is some form of reference to this and/or evidence of it in the college or university application. As too, the student’s developing curriculum vitae (CV), resume as s/he builds an experience and academic profile.


Some would argue that the IB Diploma requires the student to develop a stronger sense of time-management which is also considered good preparation for university study. For more information on the IBDP points awarded visit www.ibo.org and, for how these translate into the UCAS tariffs for entry to UK universities, see www.ucas.com.

The bottom line is that university entrance is competitive, and the top-tier universities will always require the applicant to attain the highest-grade levels to gain entry. In terms of UK university entrance both examinations are well received. Elsewhere in the world, it is the IB Diploma that is more readily understood.

Would you advise switching schools to take the IB diploma/GCE A Level, or is continuity of schooling more important than curriculum?

This is a very personal decision and can only be based on what is best for the student. For able students, success will come through both routes with high grades achieved. These two programmes of study are academic ones and it should be clear that they are not suitable for all students.

Discussion regarding the best routes should take pace with the schools where they have a better understanding of a student’s learning profile. This discussion should take place early in to academic year prior to the post-16 entry. It should be an honest and open discussion, yet, sensitive to the needs of the student so as not to undermine his or her confidence in the examinations at the end of the year.

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