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Are 4 HL Subjects Worth It?

If you are planning on doing the IB, or if you have already started, you have heard of the possibility of having 4 HL subjects. Normally, the IB requires that you take at least three subjects each at the SL and HL. However, you are allowed to have four subjects at HL, and you need a minimum of 12 points in your HL subjects to receive your diploma.

It will definitely be challenging, so here are some points to remember if you are considering to take 4 subjects at HL. Before making the decision to take 4 HL subjects, its pros and cons:

Advantages of taking 4 HL subjects:

1. More options when choosing your major:

Having four HL subjects gives you more options regarding the programs you can apply to. For example, if you want to go into engineering, you may have to take Math and Physics HL to fulfill the requirements of a university; similarly, if you are planning on pursuing  Psychology, you may need Psychology HL. So, if you are currently unsure of what you want to pursue in university, taking four HLs will expose you to several pathways from which you can choose one to pursue later. Micaela has explained more about university requirements in her blog post on the IBlieve website. 

2. Exploring interests:

Having four HL subjects will expand your perspective and will allow you to further your knowledge about areas you are really interested in. If you have a voracious appetite for learning a wide variety of disciplines, then four HL subjects may be for you.

3. Developing skills:

Taking 4 HLs will allow you to exercise and develop various skills including learning to properly plan and manage your time. While these are skills you could learn with three HL’s, having four would allow you to truly challenge yourself. Furthermore, having four HL subjects (such as French B as my fourth in my case) may help you develop additional skills required for your further education. I may be going to France for university and having French B at HL would help me develop my knowledge and capability in written and conversational French.

Challenges of taking 4 HL subjects:

  1. Having four HLs will certainly be more challenging. You will need to put in extra study time (around 3-4 more hours per week). The extent of material you will cover will be more and subsequently, exam preparation will be harder. 

Other points to consider:

  • If you want to take 4 HLs to challenge yourself, try to choose subjects that you are truly passionate about or subjects that have come relatively easy for you. Having previous knowledge will undoubtedly be a bonus (especially if you choose to have a second language as your fourth HL subject; being adept in that language will definitely be a plus). 
  • Even if you choose to take 4 HLs, your maximum score will be from 45. However, the requirements for your HLs can vary and you will have more flexibility. If you find that four HL subjects are not for you in the beginning, you can drop one down to SL later. Do not feel discouraged if you decide to drop one of your HLs. Remember that the IB is a program to help you grow, and you will overcome all challenges! 

Keep in mind that having 4 HL subjects is an important choice that you should make with consideration. If you are contemplating on having 4 HL subjects, you should make your own pros and cons list to assess the benefits and challenges of this choice regarding your own unique situation! Also, the things that I mentioned are my own personal reflections and not a restrictive list. There can be endless reasons why having four HL subjects is or isn’t for you. No matter what you choose to do-three or four HL subjects- remember that the IB program is about learning and exploring. You should enjoy the process and try to make the best of every situation. Don’t forget that all problems will pass and that the IB will become a memorable experience!

Good Luck!


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