What DP Subjects Should You Take? The Ultimate Guide

With the deadline for MYP 5 students to pick their subjects for DP, last week’s subject fair introduced 10th grade students to the myriad of subjects that Woodstock’s DP program offers. As seniors might be guiding you one way and your teachers recommend other choices, it can be confusing to figure out which subjects are right for you and your future. So, after almost a year in IBDP, I’m here to provide you with the ultimate guide on how to pick your DP subjects. Although “easy” is never a word to describe the IB program, I have never regretted the subjects I chose, and this is definitely due to my reasoning when making subject choices. For reference, I take biology, chemistry and math AA at Higher Level, along with psychology, English literature, and Spanish Ab Initio at Standard Level. 

1. Take a look at university requirements

Far too many students reach the end of the first semester of DP realizing that their dream university requires math at HL, or that taking business is not actually necessary if they want to study business. This ends in switching subjects or levels weeks or months into the DP program, and the game of catch-up that follows. Before committing to your subjects, take a look at university websites to see what they recommend. UK universities in particular will list out the subjects requirements for you to even apply, so it’s crucial to check the university websites before finalizing your choices.

2. Don’t just pick “easy” subjects

What is the easiest IB subject? Some of your seniors might be telling you it’s business, or ESS, or English HL. (Note: that last answer is definitely wrong. I’ve been told English HL is one of the most difficult subjects, statistically speaking, to get a 7 in.) Speaking of the numbers, students taking Math Analysis and Approaches HL almost always score higher than those in Applications and Interpretations SL – which means AA HL must be easier, right? Not quite. The real answer: there’s no “easiest” IB subject. One student might struggle in ESS, while another finds physics HL a breeze – it depends on your skills and interests. Additionally, universities are aware of the rigor of varying courses, so opting for subjects that are all considered “easy” might not look the best on your transcript, even if you get straight 7s. In the words of a DP 1 student, “every subject requires effort, so don’t take subjects just because you think you won’t have to put in time.”

3. Be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses

If you want to get into college and make money, you have to take physics, econ, math AA HL, and chem SL, right? Well, if you aren’t any good at those subjects and don’t like them, this just might not be your best option. Failing in subjects you’re only taking to get into college will actually be worse for your future than higher grades in a niche subject that fascinates you. Scroll through your current ManageBac grades, and think about which subjects you are currently doing well in. Even if you love sciences, taking two at higher level is a commitment to being studious and focused for the rest of the DP program, so make sure you’re prepared and capable for what the next two years will look like, based on your subjects. For some STEM students (myself included), the idea of taking global politics is terrifying, while those in the humanities might struggle in ESS. Your subjects have to be personalized to your own strengths.

4. Choose your math wisely

Picking which math to take was undoubtedly the most challenging decision of all my subjects. It’s a delicate balance between the realities of university requirements, the effort you are willing to put into a single subject, and your own personal interests. First, return to step 1, and see what the minimum requirement is for the college or country you might be applying to. For example, many universities in Australia do not accept AI SL, while many humanities programs in the US and the UK will have no issue with it. If you know you want to study physics or engineering, you probably have no choice but AA HL; however, taking this math is a serious time commitment that you need to make sure you’re ready for. Keep in mind that Mr. Roy, HoD for mathematics, will be introducing a placement test for math HL, so your current math skills will play a major role in which math you end up in.

5. Do what you love

Hopefully, this article hasn’t stressed you out too much, but if you still aren’t sure about which subjects are right for you, the one piece of advice I would give is to pick the subjects you love. That’s the only guaranteed path to success. I was advised against taking psychology at SL, as it’s a relatively “difficult” subject to add onto challenging HLs, but I have always been genuinely fascinated by the field and as a result, I look forward to every psych class. Ms. Aradhana, we’ll miss you.

Don’t be afraid to take an art instead of a second science or humanities if it’s what you love, because that’s what you’ll end up enjoying and doing well in. Similarly, no matter how often HL students make fun of those in math AA SL, it genuinely might be the best option if you have other interests to explore at higher level. (This is the closest that I’ll come to an apology to the SL students in my math class).

To conclude, in the words of English HoD Mr. Farnham, the easiest IB subject is the one you love. The DP program is already incredibly rigorous and comprehensive, in terms of the content and skills involved in success, so don’t make it any harder on yourself by planning to spend the next two years in classes that you don’t enjoy.

Asha is editor-in-chief.

Edited by Eliza and Aryaman.

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