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Preparing for University Admissions


When considering what your teen will study and where is a big choice! Different regions around the world will have slightly different application procedures, amounts of student support, and widely varying costs of attendance. The admissions landscape has changed rapidly in the last 10-20 years, so it is important to keep an open mind and be prepared that the process will look and feel very different for your child than it did for you.

Impact of Mathematics Choices on University Admissions


Your student’s choice of mathematics courses can significantly influence your university admissions prospects. Understanding the requirements of different curricula helps align your preparation with the expectations of universities in your target countries.

IB Math Subject Breakdown

Your student’s choice of mathematics courses can significantly influence your university admissions prospects. Understanding the requirements of different curricula helps align your preparation with the expectations of universities in your target countries.

  • AI (Applications and Interpretation) - SL (Standard Level)

    • Suitable for students interested in humanities, applied business, social sciences, and fine arts

  • AI - HL (Higher Level)

    • ​Ideal for students focusing on life sciences, medicine, psychology, law, and business

  • AA (Analysis & Approaches) - SL 

    • Geared towards social sciences, engineering, natural sciences, and business

  • AA - HL

    • ​Best for students planning to study STEM, economics, finance, and theoretical mathematics

Modern University Admissions


With globalization and increased competition, modern university admissions have evolved to include several holistic elements.

Components of a Modern Application

Different regions will all use some combination of the elements listed below. The strengths of your student’s profile might align better with certain regions.

  • Personal Statements: Showcase your personality and ambitions

  • Grades: Adjusted or translated depending on school

  • Extracurriculars: 7-10 activities highlighting various levels of involvement

  • Application Forms: Common App, UCAS, StudieLink, etc.

  • School Profile: used to assess academic rigor and peer comparison

  • Standardized Tests: SAT/ACT, TOEFL, Duolingo

  • Essay Prompts: Vary per school; students typically write 5-10 essays during their entire application process. Elite institutions generally require more writing

  • Letters of Recommendation: Preferably from core subject teachers, sometimes additional recommendations are also considered

  • Interviews: Demonstrate why the university is a good match, or your ability to succeed in the program

Application Elements by Country

  • USA can include: GPA, academic rigor, testing, personal statement (focused on personal qualities of student), recommendations, activities, extra essays, class ranking, and awards.

  • UK focuses on grades, prerequisite courses, recommendations, and personal statement (focused on skills and experience demonstrating anticipated success in course).

  • Netherlands: Direct admission based on pre-university diploma, prerequisite courses, grades, and motivation letters. Exceptions: Numerus Fixus and university colleges

University Student Experiences in Different Countries

Student needs and expectations vary widely. Understanding the cultural context can help narrow down your university choices.

General Patterns of Support Styles in Global Areas

Within these categories, there is a range of support available, so there will be overlap between groups. Use this as a guide to start your search according to how much support your student needs or wants!

Low Support

Public Universities

Italy, Spain, France, Portugal

Public Universities

Nordic, Benelux, Germany, Estonia

High Support

Private Universities

Europe & Asia

Public Universities

Canada, Australia, NZ, UK, Ireland

Public & Private Universities


  • Low Support: Less structured support for learning differences and disabilities; best suited for very independent, intrinsically motivated students and students who are strong self-advocates

  • High Support: More structured and robust support systems; best suited for students who benefit from a highly structured environment, and more accountability

University Experience Factors

  • USA: Residential campuses, university athletics, programming, liberal arts education, 4-year Bachelors, flexibility in switching majors.

  • UK: Some residential campuses, student clubs, in-depth coursework, 3-year Bachelors, must choose course of study upon application. Some courses have concentrations, which offer slightly more flexibility than a course without a concentration.

  • Netherlands: No university housing, student societies unaffiliated with universities, no student athletics, in-depth coursework, 3-year Bachelors, direct application to course.

  • Spain: Private universities have at least some housing, but it is competitive. 4-year Bachelors degrees. Student must apply directly to a course. Standardized test must be included in application process

Financing University

  • USA: Average cost $40,000-60,000 per year; includes tuition, housing, meal plans. Scholarships are available, but full scholarships are rare. Listed price often not equal to actual price. Need-based financial aid is available for qualifying students, sometimes including non-US Citizens/Permanent residents

  • UK: Home fees £9,250; overseas fees £15,000-65,000. Limited scholarships, often only for the first year. International students are there to supplement the cost of educating domestic students, so it defeats the purpose to offer scholarships

  • Netherlands: EU citizen tuition €2,530; institutional (international or 2nd bachelor’s degree) tuition €8,000-15,000. Few scholarships available. Small, specialized programs like university colleges may charge more for their programs, often ranging from €4,000 (tuition only) to €14,000 (tuition & housing, when available)

Budgeting Tips

  • Discuss with students the total expected and maximum affordable costs.

    • Address how much has been saved for college, reasonable and maximum budgets for cash-flow per year (and family compromises required to reach maximum budget)

    • Discuss possibility of grad school, and who will be expected to fund that if needed/wanted

  • Set a budget for full cost-of-attendance and discuss loan options.

    • Discuss how interest rates work, how debt will affect them in early adulthood (mortgages, credit rating, etc.)

    • Avoid private loans and explain why (US bankruptcy policies, predatory interest rates, etc.)

  • Keep an open mind for more affordable options.

    • Outside the top 50 universities in the US, there are many more affordable options.

    • Your teen will follow your lead, so be sure not to be too critical of any school until you have done current research on it

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