Preparation University

Key Differences Between IB and University Academics

The transition from IB to university can be daunting, so it’s always best to prepare ahead of time. Although the harder content and elevated competitiveness can be intimidating and stressful, the IB thoroughly ensures that its students are ready to tackle the pressure that comes with being in university. There are some differences between IB and university academics that rising college freshmen should know. You may even find some that you will be relieved to hear. 

The Stakes

Surprisingly, the academic stakes in college are much lower than in the IB. Your college entrances, therefore by extension the future of your academic career, depend heavily on your IB predicted and actual grades. However, unless the student plans to attend graduate school, the academic stakes in college are not that high. With appropriate work experience, it is not that difficult to get a job even if you graduate with an average GPA. Moreover, there are no board examinations that determine whether or not you earn your college diploma. Your graduation depends on whether you have completed the university requirements, which are usually spread out within four years. 

The Content

Unsurprisingly, the content of your college classes will be more advanced and complicated than your IB classes. Besides that, you will get much less time to learn the content before you get tested during your midterms and finals. For example, in my university, the average biology class teaches at least half the amount of the entirety of the IB Biology content in a semester of university, i.e., a couple of months. Therefore, your learning retention rate has to be much quicker.

The Teachers

Because the IB is not the dominant board of education in most countries, the classes tend to be smaller. This means that teachers can focus on each student. And due to this they tend to give much more thorough and specific feedback on your work. In university, some classes are so big that the professor might not even know your name. Nor will they care about whether or not you attend their class. However, you can always reach out to them after class or during office hours. Another option is that you may contact teaching assistants. Help is usually always given to those that ask for it. 

The Structure of your Timetable

The IB, and high school in general, follow a highly structured timetable. This timetable involves around six or seven back-to-back classes and little filler time. However, university is the opposite. You will have one to three classes with plenty of time in the middle to go about your day. This routine might lead to procrastination and time wastage, so it is up to you to organize your schedule beforehand to prevent spending precious hours loitering about the campus without getting any productive work done. 


High school usually keeps a track of your attendance and does its best to ensure that students attend class. They do so because they think it’s the best way for students to learn the content and perform well in their exams. In university, the attendance requirement usually depends entirely on the professor. Some dedicate a significant percentage of a student’s grade to attendance, and some do not find it necessary. From personal experience, this may result in students losing motivation to attend class. Some classes may not even be that productive. So, contrary to popular belief, you do not need to attend every class. For example, some professors just read from their presentations, which you can do on your own time and at a faster pace. You need to use your judgment to determine what is worth your time.

Your Academic Performance

If you plan on attending an academically rigorous university, chances are that you are among the top students at your high school. Although, the problem with an academically rigorous university is that everyone was probably among the top students at their high school too. You will likely feel less academically capable in university than you did in high school because of the competitive environment. Remember that even if the content seems doable, the exam will be difficult, and you may perform worse than you had initially expected. The key is to try not to feel discouraged because nearly everyone is going through the same thing that you are. Always try your best and do not take any assignment, assessment, or application lightly.  

Although this article has taken a general approach to this topic, some elements are slightly specific to my experiences. However, every university in each country is different. For example, in India, universities still tend to follow a structured schedule and take attendance. It is always a good idea to research your university of interest and see whether its style of education fits with what you prefer. 

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