University Guidance


Welcome to University Counselling at ISL. As you begin the college search and application process, know that we are ready to help you navigate the ins and outs of this sometimes fun and sometimes daunting, task. Though at times labor intensive and frustrating, the college exploration process can also be exciting and rewarding. This is the next big step in your education. ISL is confident that the services provided through our University Counselling programme can effectively assist and advise you along the way.

This page is designed to help you supplement any individual work you have already been putting into your university search and application process. On the links to the right and in the information that follows, you will find outlined guidelines on how to create a timeline, understanding the university entrance exams, how to utilise the centralized application systems, available scholarships and funding, regional differences and advantages, how to write an application essay, how to request recommendations and taking a gap year. Inevitably, you will have questions.

Please do not hesitate to contact the Guidance Counsellor directly via the link to the right or call into the office during school hours to take advantage of additional resources available to ISL students. Lastly, do note that nearly all of the information that you need in order to conduct a thorough investigation is available online. Emailing and/or calling a university representative in order to fill in any missing information can also be tremendously helpful. Click on the + icon to view more information.

Things to Consider

When considering a university or college it is important to consider the following:

Big school versus small school.
Class size.
Lecture based versus discussion based versus experiential.
On-campus housing and other residential options.
Traditional campus setting versus commuter school versus urban campus.
Access to student services and other supports.
Clubs, organizations, sports, and other activities offered/available on campus.
Percentage of international students.
Financial aid and scholarship award money availability.
Job prospects post graduation.
Liberal arts degree versus technical or professional track.


Tasks to be completed by students for their university or college application are as follows:

Mark all deadlines somewhere that makes sense for you.
Complete and submit the student section of each application. This includes any necessary essays, portfolios and background information etc.
Inform counsellor of any necessary documentation that needs to be submitted, such as transcripts or letters of recommendation.
If required, ask teachers at the beginning of the school year for letters of recommendation. Give teachers at least 15 school days to complete the request.
Arrange through testing agencies to have your scores sent directly to the universities to which you are applying. This includes SATs, NBTs, UKCAT, IBDP, IELTS and TOEFL, etc.
Note : Applications for Oxford and Cambridge and most medicine, dentistry and veterinary science courses in the UK have the deadline 15th October.
Note : Early Action and Early Decision applications may have deadlines in early November.
Note : Some scholarship awards have deadlines as early as October or November.
Note : Most schools in the USA and the UK have the deadline 15th January. Many schools in Canada also have deadlines in or around January.


To ensure success in your university search and application process, it is important to follow a timeline as follows:

Year 11Start the conversation with family with regards to what your options are realistically, i.e. what countries you can and may apply to.
Speak to the University Counsellor and the IBDP Coordinator about what IBDP courses most closely align with your future educational and career goals.
IBDP 1Personal reflection time. Think about where you want to live and study, how you want to live and study and what your goals are.
Explore your options. Now is the time to do lots of research. Attend virtual visits, speak to admissions representatives and visit individual universities.
Register and sit for any required standardized tests, e.g. UKCAT, NBT, SAT, IELTS etc.
Develop a list of prospective universities that you will be applying to. Be sure to include 1 or 2 “safe” schools.
Request letters of recommendation from teachers who will not be returning the following school year.
If you plan on applying for medicine, dentistry or veterinary science in the UK, begin working on your personal statement this year.
IBDP 2Finalize the list of schools you will be applying to. Make sure you know exact deadlines for your each university and specific course of study.
Complete the tasks as outlined above for each application.
Inform universities whether or not you will be accepting, deferring, or turning down offers
Apply for a student visa as needed and if necessary.
Apply for housing or residential accommodation as needed and if necessary.
Inform the University Counselor of any or all acceptances, offers and scholarships awarded.

Dos & Don'ts

Below are a few key points to consider throughout your search and application process.

Start researching different options as early as possible. No later than the beginning of Year 12.Wait until the night before a deadline to submit your application.
Take ownership of your entire search and application process.
Just look at rankings. Top 10 does not mean best fit.
Give teachers at least 15 school days to complete recommendations.Limit yourself to places that only other people have gone.
Explore courses of study that balance what you are good at with what you are passionate about.Be overly influenced by unfounded and/or un-researched gossip from friends and family.
Use an appropriate email address when corresponding with schools.Fail to review and edit all essays and other parts of your applications.
Read your emails all the way through.Fail to give teachers at least 15 school days to write letters of recommendation.
Ask for feedback on essays.Feel like you need a team of supporters to help you through every step of the process. You are capable.
Adhere to all internal and external deadlines.Believe that your future happiness and success depends entirely on where you go to university.
Create a timeline for yourself.Make assumptions without doing your research and asking questions.
Prepare for interviews.
Stay focused on your own situation.

Standardised Testing

We provide the following standardised testing at ISL:

SATStandardised test for entry into most higher education institutions in the USA (including American universities with campuses outside the USA). A few Canadian universities also utilise this test as a means of considering applicants for admission. This exam tests critical reading, mathematical reasoning and writing. It is usually taken for the first time in the second semester of DP1.

Visit the SAT Website :
NBT Standardized test for entry into higher education institutions in South Africa. This 6 hour long exam tests quantitative literary and mathematical competency.

Visit the NBT Website :

Taking a Gap Year

Taking a gap year before entering school as a first year student has advantages. You are wiser, more mature and potentially more focused on being successful in your studies. It is a great opportunity to gain valuable experience in something that you love and/or are passionate about and offers a potential career building opportunity. It also allows for you to take a break between the stress of High School and the stress of university.

There are things to consider. You should still search and apply for universities in your IB2 year, accept an offer for your ‘best fit’ university and then defer for a year. This way, if nothing else, you have a solid plan for continuing your studies at some point. Most importantly, have a plan for what you will be doing and what you want to accomplish during your gap year. Sitting on your couch and watching TV does not count as a plan. Do something meaningful. Do not wait until the last minute to make the aforementioned plans.

Offers incredible semester long programs all around the world focusing on service learning, outdoor education and cultural exchange etc.
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Traveling semester on a bus. Expeditionary and experiential education at its finest.
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Semester long wilderness expeditions. Canoeing, kayaking, mountaineering, backpacking, dog sledding, whitewater rafting, cross-country skiing and rock climbing etc.
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World Organisation of Organic Farming. Room and board in exchange for helping out an organic farm located in a variety of locations around the world.
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Many ideas for different types of jobs all around the world. Scroll through and connect with someone offering a great experience.
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The Year Out Groups offers a range of information on experiences and expeditions around the world.
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Another program offering incredible semester long programs all around the world. Cultural immersion, service learning, travel, outdoor activities and hands on experiences.
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15 inspiring gap year ideas for High School students.
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Alternate gap year ideas.
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Top 10 gap year ideas.
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Work at a hostel. Meet people from around the world and travel on the cheap.
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Gap year ideas for around the world travel.
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Connect with locals all around the world. Find a place to stay for free which makes travel a cheaper option.
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Volunteering in the Fiji Islands.
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Why your High School Senior should take a gap year.
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Advice for the College bound. Wait and enjoy the rewards.
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Harvard University's advice on what to consider when taking a gap Year.
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Article on what to consider when taking a gap year.
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