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Opportunity Awaits! How the IB Diploma Programme Sets Students Up for Success in College Applications

Opportunity Awaits! How the IB Diploma Programme Sets Students Up for Success in College Applications

Every year of school brings the promise of the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” closer and closer to reality. By high school, students are ready to start thinking about how they will get there, usually in the form of college, university, and beyond. The step from high school to higher education is the biggest one yet in any family’s life, and consistent and personalized college counseling is key to making it a smooth transition. 

collegeAt INTL*, students start Grade 9 with a 4-year plan and an introduction to the world of college applications. It will seem far off, but time flies in high school! By Grade 10, they meet consistently with the college counselor to plan for SATs and ACTs, summer experiences, and the ideal course sequence for the IB Diploma Programme (IB DP). In Grades 11-12, family meetings with the college counselor become frequent. Every family takes a different approach, and the college counselor is able to adapt the timeline and nature of the process to meet every individual student’s needs and pathway. Invariably, the student is now in the driver’s seat for this important next step. From November to January, students submit their polished personal statements, shorter writing pieces specific to each college’s application, lists of experiences and awards, test scores, and more. The college counseling process ends with acceptance letters in March and April and commitment to colleges from May onwards. The true test of success in this process is the student’s own pride in the applications submitted and satisfaction with the end result. 

Being a student in the IB Diploma Programme makes the college application process so much easier to handle. Let’s take a look at the key components of a successful college application and see how the IB DP sets students up for success.

College essays

There are two major types of writing required for college applications: the personal statement and the optional shorter essays. The Common App, home to over 900 college applications, sets essay prompts annually for applicants to choose from. The questions seem nearly tailor-made for IB students to answer with ease. In the DP, writing is the centerpiece. From narrative, analytical, discursive, to reflective writing, from a 100-word to 4000-word responses, there is no writing task a DP student shies away from. 

3-1A question from the Common App’s 2021 application asks, “Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?” This question is perfect for a student who has been challenged by the Theory of Knowledge course. In exploring how we know what we know, students find their beliefs and ideas about knowledge challenged daily. 

In addition to the longer personal statement essay, many colleges ask students to answer a range of shorter prompts as well. The University of California calls these the Personal Insight Questions (PIQs). A PIQ from the 2021 application reads, “Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom.” This question provides the perfect frame for a student to write about their Extended Essay or an Internal Assessment (IA) research investigation they are particularly proud of. The IB DP’s focus on inquiry-based learning and critical thinking, DP students’ answers to the PIQs are easily more robust and authentic than a student whose academic curriculum didn’t afford them these opportunities.


collegeColleges are looking for students who set themselves apart as a whole student, which includes a wide-ranging portfolio of extracurricular involvement. Through Service as Action in the MYP and Creativity, Activity, Service in the DP, students are set up for success. Both programs not only encourage students to excel in the extracurriculars they love but also to try a range of new experiences. DP students don’t count hours or titles in their CAS portfolios; instead, they set goals for themselves, aim to reach them, and reflect on their challenges and successes. It is second nature, then, for a DP student to present herself and her involvements in her college applications. The nature of the CAS portfolio makes meeting the requirements of a sought-after college like Harvard’s much more streamlined. 

Teacher recommendations

Most colleges will require one or two teacher recommendations. At a small school like INTL, teachers and students work together closely, and teachers are well-equipped to write meaningful recommendation letters based on close teacher-student relationships. Because the IB focuses on the approaches to learning, it is easy for DP teachers to enhance their recommendation letters by discussing the hows and whys of a student’s success in a particular subject, not just the what. Letters outlining the in-depth research and high-quality writing students produce in DP, in addition to a nuanced assessment of students’ thinking skills and communication skills, are well received by college admissions officers.

In short, not only does the IB DP provide the most well-recognized high school curriculum in the world, its unique components fit seamlessly into the college application process, too. Students with their sights set high for college admission process will be happy to know their applications will stand out in myriad ways when they apply as IB DP students.

*In 2020, the International School of the Peninsula (ISTP) formally changed its name to Silicon Valley International School (INTL) to better reflect its bilingual programs, location, and international values.

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