All About the Importance of University-Application Building & How to Get Started

Written By: Rashi S.

University-application building is doing various activities for the course that you are interested in majoring in at the university you wish to attend, to increase your chances of being accepted. Setting yourself apart from other students during university application season is crucial to your success. You have to begin working towards this goal from now by application-building. Universities continue to see an increase in the number of applicants each year and acceptance rates remain competitive and selective. I offer actionable advice to IB DP applicants on how to approach the university application process and offer you tips to give you an edge in the admissions process in this guide. 

 University-Application Building and its Importance: 

Universities prefer candidates with a thorough CV and background in which they can see that students have worked hard to apply for the course they wish to study. Their activities clearly illustrate their interests and incentives, implying the skills they have gained and their suitability and experience for that course. 

 Theoretically, and admittedly, this is somewhat linked to already knowing what university you would like to study at and which major. This is because a student who is already aware of this can start relatively earlier with university-application building compared to someone who does not know, for instance, which field they would like to pursue. However, this is often not the case; most students, including me, when I was in the DP, do not have clarity regarding what they would like to pursue in further education. Universities are aware of this as adolescents in this period especially are introduced to a multitude of choices (e.g. place of education, major, type of bachelor’s degree) and have to make several decisions. Thus, they look at the skills that you gained from the activities that you chose to do instead of what the activity entails. For example, were you in the robotics club for five years in your school and now would like to study Political Science at university? Although this may seem incompatible at first and robotics may not have a direct connection to Political Science, it is nevertheless significant. Universities will acknowledge the skills that you possessed through that activity (dedication as you did that course for five years and skills you gained such as problem-solving), demonstrating to them that you are a valuable addition to the university. 

 Therefore, here comes my first advice: take some time to explore your options and do as many activities that you are interested in to figure out what your drive is. If you still find yourself confused, I recommend getting career counseling. Click here to see my discussion on it and its benefits under the section “University Application Deadlines.” Overall, it is crucial to eventually have some clarity about what you would like to pursue in further education so that you can start application-building at the soonest.  

  How to Get Started: 

 Choose Your High School Classes With Intention 

Please visit our blogs on how to select IB DP subjects and all you need to know about changing them. 

 Strive for Good Grades 

Once you have selected your subjects, you need to do the best possible work you can. You do not need to have straight 7’s in all your classes — especially the most demanding ones. However, you should try your best. The most prestigious, well-known, and reputed universities usually require their candidates to have an IB score of 40 or above. Make the most out of each class by focusing during class time, asking the teacher for clarification if you do not understand something, and considering getting a tutor if needed.  

Participate in Extracurricular Activities 

Although getting good grades is crucial, it is not sufficient! Devoting your energy and time to activities that are interesting and enjoyable to you is necessary to have a holistic candidature and a way to demonstrate some of your strengths to the admissions representatives. Do not participate in something you dread simply because you think you must or because it will “look good” on your CV. Furthermore, keep in mind that the admission representatives are experienced and have read hundreds or even thousands of applications. Thus, they will easily be able to tell the difference between an activity that was done out of interest versus one that was done superficially or only for the sake of adding it to your CV.  

Voluntary Work/Internship 

Volunteering is an activity that shows you are willing to share your talents and time in a way that benefits the world at large. Try searching for long-term opportunities that demonstrate a level of commitment and devotion related to what you would like to pursue. Voluntary work will also enable you to do networking which is extremely valuable.  

Alternatively, you can do an internship, which mostly has the same benefits as volunteering. I believe that at this stage, there is not much of a difference between an internship and voluntary work. Although there are some paid internships, it is unlikely for high school or even first-year university students to get an opportunity to be paid interns. This is because we are still in the process of developing our skills and do not yet hold any kind of a degree. Therefore, although you may be labeled as an ‘intern,’ instead of ‘volunteer,’ (one is not better than the other) there is likely not much difference between the tasks that you will be asked to do. 

Paid Work  

Ensure that you mention employment in your application as your commitment to any jobs you have held shows hard work and dedication compared to many of your peers. Showing experience with some paid work — no matter what it is — conveys to them that you possess self-discipline, responsibility, and motivation.  

 Tell the Story of Who you are (Travel/Cultural Experiences) 

Universities value knowing about applicants’ travel and cultural experiences as they can often hugely influence their personality and shape their perspective. Try to join activities such as exchange programs and summer camps to discuss them in your application. Additionally, IB students are often third-culture individuals, and hence you can discuss how having lived in several different countries shaped your personality. Taking the time to reveal who you are succinctly requires effort; however, writing it well can make your application stronger. 

 Keep Accurate Records 

It is essential to document all the activities that you are doing even though it may seem tedious. When it is time to start applying to universities, you will not be able to remember all of your accomplishments. Thus, I highly recommend opening a LinkedIn account; it will enable you to stay in touch with professional connections. Moreover, it will make it easy for organizations that you are interested in or applied to, to reach you easily. Either way, you will eventually have to open a LinkedIn account once you enter university. Hence, opening one now would be beneficial not only for university applications but will also give you a headstart for university once you begin. To see more information on how to open a LinkedIn as a student, click here 

 Manage Your Social Media Presence 

It is becoming increasingly common to use social media as a recruiting tool; thus, your social media activities must be appropriate. If a university is on the fence about accepting you as an applicant, posts that show questionable character and judgment are not going to look favorable. Therefore, take the time to go through each of your social media accounts and clean up any excessive vulgarity, personal drama, and potentially offensive posts.  

 Obtain Some Solid Letters of Recommendation 

Keep good relations with your teachers as you will have to request them to write your recommendation letters as universities often require them. The letters not only offer some personal opinions about your character but also illustrate that someone is willing to vouch for you and believes in your reputation highly enough that they will speak on your behalf. Request the letters several weeks in advance of your deadlines so they can be completed promptly. However, you can also request your networks outside of school to write a recommendation letter for you (e.g. the organization that you volunteered at). If you can connect to the partner organizations of the university that you wish to attend and can associate with them by volunteering for the partner organizations or through other means, and obtain a recommendation letter from them, it would look great on your CV and would leave an excellent impression on the admission representatives.  

Conclusively, there is no one exhaustive path that you need to take for university application building. However, researching your top universities and determining what they value most will help get you closer to acceptance in addition to doing all the activities that are recommended in this blog post. All the best! 

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