IB course selection

For full IB diploma candidates, do colleges prefer certain courses over others? I am particularly wondering if either of the SL math courses would (a) be preferred by colleges and (b) be better for ACT/SAT preparation. My son does not yet know what he wants to study in college, but most likely will chose a subject in the humanities or social sciences.

The A&A courses are more for students who will take more math in college, while the A&I courses are more for students who are unlikely to need more math in college.

Because colleges and their social science majors vary in math requirements, A&A is generally a safer option for undecided (on college or major) students, whether SL or HL, although most non-economics social science majors will not need more math than an introductory level statistics (or major-specific version of statistics and quantitative methods) course that does not require calculus. Those going on to graduate school in social sciences may want to consider the possibility of needing a more math intensive (with calculus) version of statistics.

Humanities majors will generally not need any math beyond the college’s general education requirements, but philosophy majors and pre-law students will need to do logical thinking that is math adjacent.

Strictly speaking it depends on the course itself:
A&I SL is for students who will need no or little math and is most similar to the former “Math Studies” class, but A&I HL as well as AA HL require a hefty dose of calculus and prepare for Engineering, CS, etc (although AA HL is the better choice for Math and CS majors, the content of AI HL doesn’t preclude these majors, and would be very rigorous math preparation for Econ, Geography, or Data Science majors.)
AA SL (both years) is most similar to AP Calc AB with Statistics and extra math fields thrown in. It’s the most flexible class for students who don’t know what they want to study in college, especially if they can register&take the Calc AB and/or AP Stats exam to get college credit and not continue with math OR will require Business Calc or Stats for Social Science for their major.
AI SL will NOT get credit and will thus lead to one or two math classes (probably “Math for citizens”, “statistics”… type of classes) in college.
A good math student who intends to take the SL level and the SAT/ACT would likely take AA Math SL.

College adcoms know the IBD is as rigorous as can be. As a result, whatever classes the student chooses their curriculum is considered “most rigorous”, with 3 classes equivalent to AP level (SL) and 3 classes beyond AP level (HL) in a variety of fields. That gives a lot of flexibility for someone interested in the Humanities or Social Sciences.

For a future major in the Humanities or social sciences, the expectation would be English HL, History or Social Science HL, Foreign Language SL not ab initio (or 1 ab initio 1 HL if the student can handle that level and is interested), Math (AI or AA SL) and Science SL (probably Environmental Systems&Society but could be anything else from the group) + depending on interest Art, Theater, Philosophy, an extra History/Social Science…

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A&A is better preparation for more advanced math. For example, High School Exam Credits | Department of Mathematics at University of California Berkeley lists the following for IB math HL scores:

  • A&A 5-7 = Math 1A or 16A
  • A&A 7 = Math 1A and 1B
  • A&I 5-7 = Math 16A
  • A&I 6-7 = Math 16A or 10A
  • Math 1A, 1B = calculus for math, physics, engineering, etc. majors, and more-math economics majors
  • Math 16A, 16B = calculus for business and less-math economics majors
  • Math 10A, 10B = calculus, statistics, etc. for biology majors
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But that doesn’t actually tell you about the content, just UCB’s estimation, keeping in mind neither HL class is just calculus and both HL classes have a lot of it, with the rest of the content and the way it’s taught differentiated.

MIT treats both HL’s the same way: a 7 gives you credit for 18.1 but no SL& no other score does.
UMD gives the same credits for both HL’s, zero credit for eithe SL’s (which is why AA SL students ought to take the Calc AB and/or Stats AP exams if they want credit).

Imperial College, which admits on specific advanced subject tests, has this for

for Geophysics
for Math
I’m sure UF or SUNY Bing have other policies still.

Anyway, OP is asking about the 2 SL choices, and that choice will largely depend on whether OP plans on just taking gen ed math in college (=>AI SL) or whether they will continue with some math as part of a social science major such as Economics, Business, Geography…major (=> AA SL).

In addition to ESS, “Humanities” students can take “Sports&Health Science” o “Design Technology” for their Group 4 subject SL. “Individuals&Societies” is a great category to get one’s 6th subject from for a Humanities&Social Science future major, since it offers so many interesting choices. The “Arts” category is extremely rigorous even at the SL level, or there’s always the option of taking another foreign language ab initio/SL.

Thank you for these helpful responses. Would A&I SL or A&A SL be better preparation for a psychology major in college? For the IB HL psychology course?

Psychology majors vary in math and statistics requirements. A&A is a safer choice if there is a possibility of needing more math or statistics in college.

Compare the statistics content in both. Perhaps ask the teacher in charge of Psych HL what SL math is best and ask the current math teacher whether they think your child can handle A&A.
A&I SL is going to be very applied, A&A will have more mathematical content, including calculus (though much lighter than HL, it’d be like spreading Calc AB through 2 years with AP Stats thrown in as well as some other mathematical topics).
A&A SL allows for Calc 1 or Calc-based stats in college, A&I SL doesn’t.
However if your child is struggling in Math A&I is a good solution so he can focus on his strengths while getting some rigorous overview (including a bit of analysis) that typical “math light” HS classes don’t offer.