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Preparing Your Child for Entry to University

16 October 2017

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As educators, we are often asked how students can secure entry to the best universities in the world. We are interrogated about the value of learning in school compared to the skills required to be successful in the workplace. The answer to all these questions lies in the decision by schools to offer the right courses to prepare for the next step in the child’s educational adventure right from the start in Early Years, making sure that doors are kept open for different opportunities and ensuring that important life and study skills are picked up along the way.

In British Curriculum schools, the favoured approach is to study the narrow A levels (normally 3 or 4 subjects) whilst American Schools prepare selected students to study the Advanced Placement programme.  There is no national curriculum in the USA but you will find common courses in most of the major subjects including Science, English, Maths, PE, and Social Sciences (a combination of History, Geography and US Government studies). 

Whilst each country programme has its own merits, for our globalised world, many parents are choosing an international programme that covers all the basics of a well-rounded, in-depth education.  Specialist international programmes have been well established and are closely linked to the English National Curriculum such as the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) or more closely linked to an American-style education through the Primary Years Programme (PYP).  However, it is at the senior end of schooling that real differences in approach appear.  This leaves many confused about which is the best for their child - the British A level system, the American AP programme or the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme.

There was a time when the A Level route was considered the “Gold Standard” with universities in the UK looking at top grades in these courses to secure entry into the world of Higher Education. This is no longer the case following significant debate about the quality of A level courses and the way these are no longer a guarantee for success at university.  The AP programme can work well for entry to US universities who are familiar with that system, although entry to US universities still relies mainly on SAT scores.

However, the top universities in the UK, the USA and many other parts of the world prefer to see students following an internationally recognised programme of study that has a proven track record of success for its students. The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) is a rigorous, pre-university course of study that meets the requirements for entry to the best universities in the world.  The IBDP provides a holistic learning experience that builds academic and social skills to prepare students for their place in our global society. This comprehensive, two-year course allows its graduates to fulfil the requirements of a wide range of educational systems across the world.  This is because it was designed to be a world-wide course that incorporates the best elements of several national curricula.  In this sense, it provides the perfect, balanced model of education to all its students:


“The IB Diploma is a timeless classic, an icon of educational sense and high standards in a world where educational fashion shifts like hemlines…Practical, instructive and aspirational, it is the best possible preparation for university, for the workplace, and more importantly, for life”.

(The Independent, 20 February 2013)


The main objective of the IB Diploma Programme is to help young people master proficiency in ten essential attributes, which constitute the IB Learner Profile. Students should be inquiring and knowledgeable thinkers who communicate well and are principled, open-minded and caring risk-takers. They should be well-balanced and have the ability to reflect on their action:


“The IB develops students that top universities want: students with expert subject knowledge; with the skills good students require – research, essay writing, footnoting; but above all, with the spirit of intellectual inquiry and critical thinking, the ability to challenge, argue and ask questions.”

(The Independent, 20 February 2013)


Each of the six subjects is graded on a scale of 1 (minimum) to 7 (maximum). Grades reflect attainment of knowledge and skills relative to set standards applied equally to all schools.  Assessment of work is both internal and external.  In addition to the six subjects (offering a maximum of 42 points), an additional 3 points can be gained in Theory of Knowledge (TOK) and an Extended Essay, an individual, subject-based research paper (4000 words).  Exceptional students can achieve a maximum total of 45 points.  Only a very small proportion of students manage full marks (0.2% globally) and the best schools achieve an average point score in excess of the 29 point global average.  Performance beyond the global averages only comes about through careful planning, high quality teaching, developing confidence and self-belief amongst students and a total commitment to high level learning. 

As well as academic study, every Diploma student is required to complete a programme of community service and personal development through following a personalized journey of Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS). 

It is this rounded, balanced programme that allows IB Diploma holders to gain admission to top universities throughout the world.  Some colleges and universities even offer advanced standing or course credits to students with good IB examination results.

IB is well known to us for its excellent preparations. Success in an IB program correlates well with success at Harvard.  We are always pleased to see the credentials of the IB Diploma Programme on the transcript.

                        (Director of Undergraduate Admission, Harvard University, USA)


“When it comes to tutors making decisions on applicants, students taking the IB stand a better chance.”

                       (Dr Geoff Parks, Cambridge University, The Telegraph, 3 August 2013)


IB Diploma Programme schools are proud of their dedicated and experienced teachers, highly committed to the success of their students.  Many of the teachers in these top-performing schools are also IB trainers and examiners, sharing their expertise with other teachers in other schools. It follows that without a doubt, the International Baccalaureate offers the best chance for students to gain access the world’s best universities.


Dr Terry Creissen OBE is the Executive Principal at Compass International School Doha, an IBO World School. If you’d like to know more about  Dr Creissen and Compass International School Doha, please visit our website at


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