IB vs University: Here’s What You Need to Know

IB and university are distinct education frameworks on completely different levels. They’re so different that, for a moment, it doesn’t even make sense to compare them.

However, when you think of workload and free time link to the two, doing a comparison can help you decide whether to enroll in IB and prepare for what’s to come.

So in this IB vs university guide, we do a front to back comparison to help you understand the difference between the two frameworks, particularly based on complexity.

To be clear, we’ve spent days to determine which one between IB and university requires a lot of work. While our findings are not as absolute, they give you a clear picture of what to expect in the IB program and university education.

Key Takeaways

  • People have varying opinion on whether IB is harder than university or vice versa.
  • While you can skip IB for AP, it’s unlikely you’ll want to skip going to college or university to further your education.
  • It’s senseless to come out and make claims that IB more difficult than college programs or vice versa.

Understanding IB and University

First, we need you to understand that we don’t lay any claim that the IB program is harder than university courses or vice versa. It’s nowhere in our capacity to consider subjective opinion as objective, factual information.

Second, students have varying opinion on which framework is more engaging, better, and easier.

Because these views come from personal experience, we can consider them valid based on personal perspective. However, they’re still subject at best because we all perceive education programs differently.

IB vs University: Are There Differences between These Two? 

The following table is a summary of the differences between the IB program and university education:

AspectInternational Baccalaureate (IB)University
Age range16-19 years old18+ years old
Duration2 years3 to 5+ years
Admission RequirementA student must have a high school diploma and meet IB requirements.A student should have a high school diploma and meet university requirements.
CurriculumIt leans on pre-university level of education.The course offers specialized degree programs.
FocusThe program focuses on broad-based education.University focuses on in-depth knowledge and specialization.
AssessmentExams, coursework, internal assessmentExams, coursework, dissertations
RecognitionRecognized worldwide, often used for university admissionsRecognized worldwide, provides advanced degrees for career advancement
CostVaries by school and countryTuition fees and additional expenses


Students often worry about how much work they’ll handle when comparing educational choices.

To the best of our knowledge, the IB program has more work across the two-year period compared to the workload for a student in the first-year in college.

IB requires you to:

  • Take six subjects, three at standard level (SL) and three at higher level (HL).
  • Write an Extended Essay.
  • Complete Internal Assessments.
  • Do a Theory of Knowledge Exhibition project. 
  • Write a ToK Essay.
  • Complete a 150-hour Creativity, Activity, and Service (CAS) project.

That’s quite a workload. So dedication to the program is key if you seriously want to earn the IB diploma in the end.

In contrast, college coursework, while generally slightly more challenging, offers greater complexity and depth from the second year onwards.


IB’s aim is to nurture students to responsible and caring individuals that can make the world better and peaceful. However, the course is more demanding than most course in college and university.

Save for the difficulty involved in learning, the results of taking the IB program is that you develop into a critical thinker with a high-level of problem-solving skills in college and beyond.

IB vs University Free Time

School demands a lot from you, and therefore managing time for various assignments is crucial.

Free time is scarce in the IB program, especially in the second year. The workload is going to be overwhelming, and some students may end up dropping out of the course.

Despite how demanding IB is, choosing subjects you’re passionate about can maximize your IB experience despite limited free time.

In college, the first year involves review work, so you will have more free time to hang out with friends and do whatever else you want. However, students see more workload from the second year moving forward.

While IB students have less free time, the program readies them for college challenges beyond the first year.

In college, the second year introduces new, more challenging material than the IB program’s two years. However, IB alumni should handle even the most technical subjects in college confidently after graduating high school with a diploma.

Do Universities Even Care About the IB Diploma?

Universities’ attitudes toward the IB diploma program vary in the United States. Some value it in the admissions process while others focus on the specific diploma earned.

Moreover, certain colleges may offer credits for the IB diploma, particularly if the earned score surpasses their set limit, thus showing a willingness to acknowledge and reward IB achievement.

How Well Do IB Graduates Perform in the University?

Enrolling in the IB curriculum nurtures knowledge, compassion, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, so it benefits you beyond the classroom. 

According to research by the National Student Clearinghouse, IB diploma holders demonstrate higher university success, boasting a 38% greater likelihood of graduating with a degree compared to A-level students.

Do Colleges Prefer IB to A-Levels?

Universities generally don’t show a preference for A-levels or IB courses. Instead, they consider both options as academically rigorous qualifications.

The crucial factor lies in the choice of subjects within either curriculum, rather than the specific course itself.

Final Thoughts

Students often try to gauge the comparative challenge of the IB program versus university to determine which one is easier.

What we’ve come note in this respect is that opinions vary and always will.

Some students find IB to be more demanding than college, while others argue that university presents greater challenges than the IB program.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that taking the IB course can be beneficial, as it helps to prepare you for what’s to come in college and later in life.  

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