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Successful IB graduates leave the program with a host of advantages when it comes to navigating the post-secondary education climate and taking on their first professional appointments. In addition to the fact that IB graduates are much more likely to be enrolled at one of the top 20 higher education institutions than entrants holding other qualifications, they are also better equipped to benefit from the opportunities these schools offer.  

Studying six subjects means students are not forced to narrow their choices while still in high school, allowing them to enter university with an exploratory mindset and utilize the critical thinking skills, curiosity, and propensity of interpretation cultivated throughout the IB journey. 

All that being said, when you are faced with the demands and rigor of the IB program itself, it can be challenging to look at the bigger picture and how the many responsibilities and activities fit into your future goals. Taking the time to reflect on your current experience and plan for the coming years, though, will not only help keep you motivated—it will ensure you can take advantage of the many opportunities baked into the IB program. 

To outline some strategies for how best to do this, we spoke with our CAS Trips intern Hannah Tabor. Hannah is a former IB student and current Ph.D. student in Higher Education Administration at the University of Florida. She shared how her IB experience helped shape where she is today and offered some tips for current students looking to get the most out of their IB DP while keeping an eye towards the future. 

Realize that the community service you are doing now could turn into a career

As an IB student, you will be encouraged to become involved in serving your community. The program and its Service Learning component foster a community service mindset that supports finding ways to take action both on and off-campus. Many young people enjoy this aspect of their high school experience but struggle to see how they could incorporate it into their future career plans. 

As Hannah explained, “When I started my freshman year, the only certainty I had was that I was going to go to college—I had no idea what I would study, though. It was not until my senior year that I honed in on political science, and it all stemmed from attending an IB conference.

Before that, I had always seen my career and my desire to help people as two different things. The conference let me see people in positions that combined career ambition and community service. I realized that by studying politics and governance, I could learn to help people on a larger scale.”

Embrace the chance to cultivate your critical thinking skills 

The intention behind some of the tasks or assignments you receive in the IBDP might be hard to pin down at first, but remember that a big part of what you are being asked to do is challenge your assumptions and look at things from a different perspective. Hannah recalls one assignment from her environmental science class that had a significant impact on her: 

“We were asked to carry a trash bag around with us for an entire week, and then provide a physical illustration of the amount of garbage we produced over the seven days. It was a simple but compelling exercise that helped me look at my own impact on the world around me through a lens of critical thinking. 

It is experiences like these that have shaped my approach to tackling broader societal problems and issues throughout my post-secondary education and work.”

Remember that all writing will pay off

Analytical writing is one of the most valued skills for those entering the job market. Nevertheless, it can be a challenge to see how all the writing you are being asked to do will fit into the bigger picture—especially when you do not have career ambitions that involve writing. Keep in mind that it is all about learning to organize your thoughts and present your ideas confidently. As Hannah explains, “one of the biggest advantages I felt I had going into university was the ability to produce quality writing quickly. The IB taught me how to organize my thoughts efficiently and feel confident presenting them.”

Take every challenge as a positive experience 

Speaking of confidence, the IBDP offers many chances to cultivate the speaking and presenting skills you will need to make an impact later in your education and career. Having a presentation in every class can be stressful, but it also means you have a lot of space to refine your abilities in a safe and supportive environment. Hannah remembers presenting her TOK topic and feeling a bit bewildered when the subject was opened to the room, and she received questions from her teacher and classmate that she had not yet thought of herself. 

“I was a bit embarrassed that I had not thought of some of the questions myself. Looking back on it, though, I realize how valuable those experiences were. You will face situations like that in the real world, and the IB gives you a chance to practice for them in a context where everyone is there offering support. The micro speaking skills you develop through these efforts will translate to every aspect of your life—whether in interviewers, at work, speaking with potential mentors, and just ensuring that your voice is heard out in the world.”

Bonus tips for success

Now well into her post-secondary career, Hannah has been served well by two tactics she adopted early in her IB DP: keeping a running list of her school, service, and extracurricular activities and being strategic about how she overlaps topics and research across her classes. 

By the time you enter university, you will have completed so many different CAS and school-related activities that it will be impossible to remember everything when customizing resumes or writing letters of interest or intent. According to Hannah, “you do not have to have everything in a polished resume format, but just keep track of your activities and accomplishments in a basic document. Different activities may become relevant for opportunities that present themselves in the future, and you want to be able to make the most of what you have already accomplished. You never know where you are going to end up, and if you do not write things down, you will not be able to account for all your time.”

Likewise, make the most of your efforts by doubling up on research. Hannah praises the IB program for sharpening her time management skills and says that a big part of what has allowed her to thrive is a smart approach to research, “overlap your work—if you are working on a paper in TOK, relate it to your CAS project. If you can apply your research to other areas, always try to connect them.”

And finally, Hannah wants to remind you to make the most of the resources at your disposal. “When studying the IBDP, people are at an age where they can already identify issues and think up solutions, but it is easy to feel limited by a lack of resources. Remember that, even on a small scale, you do have access to things through your school and the programs you are involved in. Never underestimate how a small action you take now can be further developed in the future.” 

Photo credits: Nik via