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United World Colleges - A Profile

Choosing the right subjects can set up a student for life. Make sure your child starts the IB on the right foot by speaking with an EIB Consultant to pick the perfect subjects.

Tiger is a UWCSEA graduate and a current student at the University of Oxford. She’s here to tell you more about the United World College movement and why it made her IB Diploma a unique and invigorating experience.

So, what is this UWC thing?

UWC (United World Colleges) is a collection of schools and colleges which unite in their mission to “make education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future”. The movement brings students from different socio-economic and cultural background together to study, encouraging young people to develop an understanding of shared humanity and fostering an atmosphere of social fluidity change. The movement aims to develop a generation of young globally-minded leaders through an emphasis on intercultural understanding, respect for the environment, and personal responsibility.

The UWC movement and its first school, Atlantic College, were founded in 1962 in the wake of the socio-cultural divides engendered by the Cold War. Educational philosopher Kurt Hahn founded the movement in the hope that the bringing together and co-education of young people from different nations would create bridges for peace through shared experience, collaboration and understanding. Since then, the UWC movement has grown into a global initiative and the movement is now made up of 17 schools (on four continents), several short educational programmes and national committees in 159 countries and territories worldwide.

Nice words. But what’s really so special about UWC?

It can be easy to hear about the UWC movement and think of it as some kind of marketing ploy to get students into a fairly standard international school. However, UWC is truly a completely different style and brand of education which delivers on its mission and inspires its students. There are many reasons why a UWC education is so special, quite a few of which are difficult to put into words, but here are some key reasons why the movement works:

Emphasis on holistic education

The UWC mission is about so much more than just getting the grades for university entrance, and going to school at a UWC gives you so much more than just the IB diploma. United World Colleges are famed for their emphasis on outdoor education — UWC USA has a dedicated wilderness programme — and on their dedication to situating their education in the world around them. Pearson College on Vancouver Island is situated on an ecological reserve and students can choose to study marine science, go diving and take part in conserving the area!  UWC has a huge emphasis on teaching students that “plus est en vous” – there is more in you than you think – and does this through a commitment to CAS and through providing additional unique courses.

Truly international

Because of the way the scholarship and application process to join a UWC works, every UWC is hugely diverse with people from all over the world joining the UWC mission every year. UWC has educated more than 60,000 students from over 180 countries and joining a UWC means you become part of this international community. There are often strong links between different UWC schools which means that you might even get to travel the world to visit another UWC while you are at school! For example, I went to the UWC in Singapore and was sent by my school to a short course at Pearson College all the way in Canada!!

Social responsibility

Right. Let’s get real. Sometimes it’s just not that cool to know that the school you are going to is also a company — I mean someone making money out of your education, it doesn’t quite fit right. UWC is a really interesting and valuable experience almost exactly because they are not looking to extort you; the schools are all not-for-profit and they give out scholarships to students who can’t afford to attend. They are socially, ethically and environmentally responsible and promote a sustainable lifestyle.

Academic track record

Though UWC teaches much more than just how to get into university and how to succeed in the IB, UWC schools are also very academically strong. United World College is one of the largest providers of IB education worldwide and has been teaching the IB since its inception in 1962. UWC has strong connections with the IB, sharing a mission to create peace through education, and UWC Mahindra College is known to be on the edge of the mission,  exploring new courses which have fed into the IB over the years.

Strong alumni network
The world is your oyster. No really. There are so many ex-UWC students, all of whom end up all over the world! It’s likely that whatever university or job you end up at you will see people you know from school — or even people you don’t know from other UWCs! The UWC experience is so unique that whenever you meet another ex-UWC student you immediately connect through the shared experience, no matter if one of you was in Japan and the other in Costa Rica!  

Sounds like my kind of thing! What are my options?

Most UWC colleges exclusively teach the IB in a 2-year residential programme for those between 16-19 years old, however some offer a non-residential option and are open to students from a much younger age. The graphic above will give you some idea of the different places and schools that come under the UWC umbrella.

Each United World College is a distinct experience and they have different specialities. Be sure to research each school in turn and compare their strengths. UWCs differ according to average student age, number of students on scholarship/not on scholarships, where in the world they are located and the subjects and additional courses they offer.

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So do I have to pick one? How do I apply?

The selection process for most UWCs is based on ‘personal motivation and potential’, and applicants are considered regardless of social, economic or cultural factors. However, there is a very active scholarship programme that facilitates the recruitment of young people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. 70% of students in the IB Diploma years receive either full or partial financial assistance! Students are selected through UWC’s system of national committees, which operate in nearly 160 countries and territories as of early 2018.

To apply you normally go through one of two routes:

National committees

You can apply through the NC in your country of residence or citizenship. These are teams of volunteers, often UWC alumni, parents or teachers, who promote the UWC movement and seek out applicants in their countries. Here, your application is normally addressed to the UWC movement meaning that while you can usually list your preferred schools or colleges, the individual UWC national committees reserve the right to nominate a candidate for any UWC college or school at their discretion so you could end up anywhere! This is actually really exciting and can often mean you end up somewhere completely unexpected and different to your home country!

Direct application

In some cases when it is not possible for an applicant to apply to UWC via their country’s national committee, for example, when there is no UWC national committee in either an applicant’s country of residence or in their country of citizenship, applicants may be able to apply directly to one of the seventeen UWC schools and colleges to study the IB Diploma Programme. Not all UWC schools and colleges accept direct applications, and usually, scholarship funding is not available to direct applicants.

If neither of these routes works for you, it is still worth getting in contact with the movement and explaining your situation! They are looking for the best possible candidates regardless of their backgrounds and so will point you in the right direction. There are also short course and alternative education options at some UWC schools so it is worth researching the individual courses they offer and which could work for you!

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Timothy Hoffmann