It’s that time of year again when students in their last year of the IB are not only grappling with their Extended Essays and have IA deadlines coming out of their ears, but are also starting to look to the future and think about what will come next. Of course, I am talking about the complicated, stressful and time-consuming process that is University Applications! To help you make sure that you’ve got it all under control, here’s a checklist of the key stages you should have on your radar:


Entrance tests

I start with this step, since it can often be the most time consuming and time-sensitive one to consider. Certain courses will require you to sit entrance tests, often many months in advance of actually submitting your application. Often signing up for and taking these tests is your responsibility, so make sure that you do your research early, secure a spot in the right examination, and leave yourself with plenty of time to prepare.

You can be sure that many other applications vying for the same university place as you will be doing their homework and putting in the hours, so don’t get left behind! Get yourself the tools you need (textbooks, online test subscriptions, past papers), and begin your revision in plenty of time. Knowing how the test works, and the proper exam technique is often just as important as the content. Make sure you have the skills you need to show them what you’re made of!

University applications revision


Personal statement

Most universities worldwide require you to write a personal statement explaining why you would like to study your course of choice, and why the university should give you the opportunity to do so. We will be writing an in-depth guide to personal statement writing in a coming blog (so keep your eyes peeled!), but in the meantime, consider this: how can you show the admissions officers that you really love your subject (rather than just telling them)?

How have you gone out of your way to find out more about what you’re proposing to study? Have you read any books, attended any events or talks, or done any work experience that has shaped your love of the subject? These things should be the focus of your statement, because they provide the evidence to convince admissions officers that you really mean it when you say that you are committed to your chosen path.



Application essays

Lots of courses require you to submit written work as part of your application: whether this is essays you have already written and had marked as part of your school work, or original essays on topics prescribed by the university itself. Find out early what these requirements are, and make sure that you leave yourself with plenty of time to prepare. If you are asked to submit school work, speak to your teachers and work with them to select work that fully shows what you are capable of.

If you’re unhappy sending in any of your work to date, put some extra time and effort into some essays that you write in the months before the deadline to produce something that you are happy with. As for original essays, ask teachers who may have expertise in the essay subject area to advise you on good things to read and resources to use, and make sure that you are thorough. Strong application essays will be those where it is clear that a candidate has spent a great deal of time and effort researching, constructing an argument and editing to put forward a polished and thoughtful essay. Make sure that you leave yourself the time to do this properly.


Your referees are another crucial aspect of your application, since they essentially allow your application to say ‘don’t take my word for it, let this other person tell you how great I am!’. A lot of schools organise referees themselves, and you may not even know who is writing on your behalf or see the reference before it is sent off.

If you are organising your own referees, think carefully who is likely to write you a glowing review. Then, balance this with other considerations such as whether they are likely to be able to write with authority about your suitability for the course you are applying to in particular. Your referee should be someone in a position of considerable responsibility, who knows you very well and will be able to write a personally tailored statement.


They key to all of this is starting your application in a good time, doing the proper research, and making sure you’re on top of everything. So, what do you reckon? Have you got it all under control?


Look out for more in our university applications series in the coming weeks!


Learn how to write the perfect personal statement here