University counsellor, Rosalind Stewart, explains why US colleges value the IB

23 Nov 2023

University counsellor Rosalind Stewart explains why US colleges value the IB

– Do US universities know what the IB is?
More schools offer the IB in the US than anywhere else in the world. There’s no question – US colleges know it well, rate it highly and welcome applicants. Typically a third of our students apply to US colleges every year. At Southbank we’ve been particularly good at getting students into really selective universities in the US, and we are good at finding the right fit for individuals.
It’s the IB’s extracurricular activities that US colleges – especially the most selective – really value. If you take the IB diploma, you are in good shape to study anywhere in the world.

– Do US universities treat IB applicants differently?
Remember there’s no national curriculum in the US. Colleges there are used to dealing with many different qualifications. Each college has its own application system, and we support students through these.

– What are the benefits of the IB over the AP programmes?
The IB is considered extremely rigorous. Rather than studying a subject for one or two semesters as you might with the US advanced programme (AP), students take a course for a full two years. This allows teachers to get to know them better and to go into a subject in greater depth. They still have a broad education, but the IB programme gives them more space to develop. The US education system emphasises the whole idea of breadth and flexibility, a well-rounded education – which links well with the IB.

– Does applying to a US college limit their choices elsewhere?
No – they can apply to universities elsewhere – we advise students to have ten university applications in total – but remember that if you apply in the UK, the process is streamlined. With a single UCAS application, you can apply to five universities. So aside from a UK application, a student will still have nine options.

– What help do students need?
Each college has its own requirements and applications can be complex – the US doesn’t have the same level of coordination as the UK. We advise students on which standardised admissions test a US college requires (at Southbank we’re the only open test centre in central London). Students might have to write essays – sometimes three or more, and fill out lengthy forms, and we guide them through the process.

– What mistakes do students most commonly make when applying to the US?
Our students like to focus on the more selective US universities which are among the most competitive in the world. To put it in context, the University of Cambridge has about 17,000 applicants for 3,000 places. Harvard has about 38,000 applicants for 1800 places, so it’s on a different scale. Last year UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) received 110,000 applications while the very popular NYU had 85,000.
Some get in, some don’t but we also guide them to look further afield. We advise student to split their college application choice – three target choices, three regional choices and three “safety” choices. We have had students apply to 20 colleges each – but that’s so much work for them.

– What are the benefits of studying in the US?
Whatever a student wants to study, there will be a US college for him or her. Unless you are studying at MIT, say, or a specialist engineering or arts courses, colleges offer liberal arts degrees. And IB students are beautifully prepared for this, because they’ve studied a range of maths, science and humanities. The IB fits well with the US ethos which is more versatile. US colleges offer the broadest choice – you can end up majoring in chemistry and minoring in dance – you just don’t get that in the UK.

And beyond university, why does the IB matter?
I think it sets students up to think critically and confidently, in an open minded way. Learning is a lifelong process. Students who go through the IB emerge with a broader more flexible mindset, and they’re more able to deal with change (a changing job market).

– Any success stories?
A European student who graduated from Southbank in 2016 and studied in the US is now working for the IMF in Washington – and I believe the IB really expanded his outlook. Another Southbank graduate was the only student from the UK to receive a prestigious scholarship to the University of Toronto (the Lester B Pearson International Scholarship Program) for exceptional students. Many of our students receive merit-based awards. For all of them wanting to study in the US, there will be the right course – and we can guide them there.