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General Information

Please find below some basic information about the main university systems and how they differ plus detailed information by regions such as United Kingdom, United States of America and Europe

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United Kingdom:

  • An undergraduate course lasts 3 years (except for Scotland where it is 4 years).
  • All applications are done through a central online portal UCAS
  • You can only apply to 5 universities but only 4 if you are applying for Medicine/Dentistry/Veterinary Science.
  • You apply to study a specific subject and so you need to know what this is going to be before you apply.
  • You only study the subject or area that you have applied for.
  • Every course has specific entry requirements and offers are conditional upon you obtaining the requisite grades in your final exams. These are the only criteria used.
  • Applicants have to write a personal statement where they show why they wish to study the subject that they are applying for. This same statement goes to all 5 university choices.
  • As counsellor I also write an academic reference, using information from all students’ teachers and put in your teachers’ predictions of your final IB grades.
  • When you have all your offers, you then need to reduce them to 2; one your top choice and a ‘safety’ one where the points required must be significantly below those required for your first choice.

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USA:

  • An undergraduate course lasts 4 years.
  • Applications are made in a number of ways as follows:
  • The online Common Application site which is used by a large number of American universities. It is similar in this respect to the UCAS portal. Your materials on this are sent to all the universities to which you are applying.
  • Application direct to the university concerned.
  • There is (in theory) no limit to the number of universities that you can apply to. It is sound practice to have some that are tough, some that are medium standard and a couple or so ‘safety’ ones where entry is virtually guaranteed.
  • You are applying only to enter the university NOT to study a specific subject. You only do that (‘declare your major’ in USA parlance) towards the end of your second year.
  • You will study a wide range of subjects, some compulsory, some voluntary (‘electives’) during your time there.
  • There is a very wide range of elements that are considered when applying for entry to a USA college. The process is ‘holistic’ which means that as well as your academic achievements from Year 10 onwards, your outside interests, your extra-curricular activities, your standardized test results (qv), and your predicted grades are all considered.
  • While academics are very important (particularly for the top Ivy League universities) these other elements all play a significant role.
  • You will have a range of pieces of writing to do for the application process; some will be common to all, others will be university specific
  • I write the counsellor reference but in addition to academic information, will require a CV so that I can give an appropriately holistic picture of you.
  • You may also be asked for a teacher reference which will focus only on that subject and is provided by the teacher concerned.
  • Sadly, standardized tests (ACT or SAT) are required for the majority of USA colleges. These should be practiced and taken in Year 12, at least once. As you come from an international school/background, you may well be required to take a TOEFL test also.
  • The final decision will be made (c. March/April time) before you have your IB results but the colleges will expect you to be at least near your predicted grades. This is very much the case with the Ivy League universities.

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Europe:

It is not really possible to generalize but the following points can be made:

  • Most European undergraduate courses last 3 years.
  • Holding the full IB Diploma is the essential pre-requisite for entry.
  • There are a range of state universities as well as private ones in Europe. A number of state university systems are free but the private ones always charge.
  • Application is made to the individual university concerned.
  • Some state systems have very specific subject requirements e.g. Germany and you should carefully check these before applying.
  • You may be required to write something for some systems, but this is not the norm. For example, with the Dutch system, a ‘Letter of Motivation’ is usually required.

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