With UCAS deadlines looming around the corner (15 January for most, Oxbridge and medicine applicants should have already applied) thousands of students worldwide will be in the process of filling out their UCAS forms. As an IB student, you should realize that you are in a small minority when it comes to applications for UK university spots – the majority being students studying for their A-Levels. I wish to share with you some helpful tips and tricks to make the most of your application and set you apart from the other candidates:
1. Predicted Grades – Unlike A-Level students who have already sat their AS exams and have some grades to back up their academic merit, the UCAS application for IB students requires that teachers submit ‘predicted grades’ for each IB subject. These predicted grades are fundamental to your application. If you are predicted below the standard requirement of a specific university then your chances of securing an offer are slim to none. Unfortunately, a large portion of teachers base their predictions on random homework assignments and quizzes, and pay less attention to things like internal assessment, how well you handle past papers, and any previous mock examinations – things that actually play a much larger role in predicting your final IB score. My advice here is to make sure that your teachers know how much effort you have put into your IB internal assessments (which count for nearly 25% of your total mark in most subjects) and that despite any poor quiz results or homework assignments, you will cram and prepare fully when exams come around. Teachers are not really supposed to reveal their predictions, but that should not stop you from paying each one a visit after hours and having a little chat.
2. References – Another overlooked aspect when it comes to UCAS applications is choosing the correct person to write your academic reference. As a rule of thumb, students tend to choose the teacher of whatever subject they are applying for (e.g. your SL/HL economics teacher if you are applying for mostly economics courses at university). This is advisable, but there are exceptions. First, if you find that that particular teacher does not know you too well, or perhaps is not too fond of you, I would strongly recommend reconsidering. Moreover, that teacher may not be the most ‘literate’ – you want someone who will not only write a reference full of praise, but also something that will be respected from an academic perspective. For example, when I was applying to study economics, my economics teacher at school did not necessarily dislike me, however, I did feel that they would not put all of their efforts into writing a stand-out reference and perhaps it would not be as elegantly written. Instead, I sought the help of my geography teacher (who happened to hold a PhD from LSE and had previously taught economics and business at a high school level). The teacher in question clearly saw a lot of potential in me, so I asked for help and got a wonderfully written reference in return. Whoever you seek for this task, make sure they are not going to write a generic reference but instead something personal and something that will make you stand out.
3. Personal Statement – Last but not least is the personal statement that you must write and submit in your UCAS application. Put yourself into the shoes of a university admissions officer. You must go through thousands of personal statements, the vast majority of which come from A-level students in both private, but mainly public schools in the UK. Admissions officers are looking for something with added spice. Here is where the IB Diploma programme comes into play. You need to use the notion that the IB program is not as well-known as the A-levels to your advantage. Write about how your Extended Essay gave you a good sense of what a university-level paper requires. Explain how CAS enabled you to participate in the community and make a difference. Talk about ToK, and lab reports, and learning a foreign language. Those of you studying in International Schools, make sure to play the ‘culture card’. Talk about how you have friends from all over the world, and how you have learnt about new cultures and religions and this has made you see the world in a different light. You need to realise that your application is unique in the sense that you are studying in an environment that is vastly different from most other applicants. The IB Diploma program is difficult and strenuous, but also highly respectable and rewarding. You need to convey these messages across your personal statement, and then add something extra to make yourself stand out from other IB applicants.
Alexander’s book, ‘The Good University Guide for IB Student’s: UK Edition 2013’ is available from Amazon.