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Picking the perfect university

We invited IB diploma graduates to reflect on post-IB life and offer perspectives on topics of their choosing. This is the third article in a series by alumna Jasmine Jackson-Irwin.

By Jasmine Jackson

If you are like me, your last year of high school will be divided into two distinct periods: the time leading up to university and college applications, and the time spent waiting to hear back. The anticipation of the future looms bright and exciting, but the application and decision making process can quickly devolve into a whirlwind of glossy brochures, informational interviews, and all too similar campus tours.

Jasmine Jackson-Irwin is a proud North Carolina native and recipient of the IB Diploma from Parkland Magnet High School.

Jasmine Jackson-Irwin is a recipient of the IB Diploma from Parkland Magnet High School.

As you continue your senior year, the combination of regular school responsibilities and the university or college application process will almost certainly cause stress. Just remember, however, that at the end of all that stress, you will find yourself with an incredible new opportunity: a place where you find an academic, social, and personal home.

Despite the seeming craziness of applying to universities, the process affords students, like you, an unparalleled opportunity for self-reflection and consideration of your future path. While you are waiting for a reply, begin to think about these four themes to ensure you find that right fit for your future 4-year home.

1. Academics

College, of course, exists to further the academic foundation you have spent years already building. As you begin evaluating schools, consider the elements of your IB education that resonated most: environmental science and biology? Music and theory? History of the Americas and psychology? Take time to consider programs and schools that not only reflect your current interests, but areas for potential growth. College is one of the greatest opportunities to explore new subjects — take that underwater basket weaving class while you can!

2. Social life

IB, particularly the Diploma Program, is known for its academic rigour. What many discount, however, is the immense sense of community established amongst students and teachers throughout the program. For many it can seem daunting to leave the tight-knit framework of high school for a much larger college ecosystem. In picking a college, take into consideration the social elements of school that are important to you. Check out the Student Union on a tour, or a list of student organizations online, if extracurriculars dotted your high school experience. Were you known for leading pep rallies or the spirit section at sporting matches? Consider a school with exciting athletic programs and active student fan groups. Academics should take priority, but an active and varied social life in college can help manage stress and build lifelong friendships.

3. Professional development

While college exists to expand your mind from an academic perspective, managing a transition into a successful career or a top-notch graduate program serves as the next step in that process for most students. As you begin to evaluate your college options, take into account employment or graduate acceptance rates for graduates in the years following graduation. Many colleges also offer Career Services to guide students towards internships or long-term public service opportunities, both in undergrad and post-grad. Even if you are far from knowing what your professional path may look like, it is of the utmost importance that you ensure you enter an environment prepared to invest in your future.

4. Impact

Student activism and public service sits at the cornerstone of the US university experience. Throughout history, colleges have been a hotbed of social growth, creative organizing, and philanthropy. For many IB students, the college environment allows for an expansion of service interests often developed through completion of creativity, activity, service (CAS) projects. If activities like organizing fundraising drives for local charities or volunteering at a community non-profit excite you, look for colleges with deep connections to local and global impact work.

Many universities have student organizations committed to service work, or even work-study opportunities that invest directly back into the university ecosystem. Similarly, new academic tracks such as social entrepreneurship and nonprofit management can also afford you an opportunity to turn your interest in service work into a fruitful, impactful career. Consider your options and remember that creativity, activity, and service are at the core of all of us as IB students.


Jasmine Jackson-Irwin is a proud North Carolina native and recipient of the IB Diploma from Parkland Magnet High School. As an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, Jasmine paired her academic pursuits in Political Science and German Literature with extracurricular advocacy work, addressing issues in state and local politics, criminal justice reform, and international education. After graduating from Carolina, Jasmine made a professional jump into the tech industry and hopscotched across the United States, most recently landing in San Francisco. She can generally be found reading voraciously about the music industry, ranting about the superiority of Southern cuisine, and dancing in the corner of concert venues across the Bay Area.

Are you an IB graduate? Join the IB Alumni Network by visiting ibo.org/alumni.