For Chinese International School alumnus Lawson Wong, the wide variety of subjects he was required to study in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme (DP) encouraged him to become better-rounded.
'I can no longer remember the structure of organic chemical compounds or recall all formulae in optics, but I can still remember many details from modern Chinese history and see China's development in this context,' says Wong, who continued his studies at Stanford University after completing the IBDP in 2005. He is now studying for a PhD in computer science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The IB gave Wong a first glimpse of technical writing, a skill he continues to use professionally. 'My fondest recollections of the subjects I took are the maths portfolio, science experiment reports, the computer science dossier, and my extended essay in maths. These writing experiences are unique and useful. The IB taught me to value technical writing skills early on, and I am grateful for that,' he says.
Many educators consider the IB one of the best university preparatory programmes. John Jalsevac, principal of upper school at Canadian International School (CDNIS), says the rigour of the programme and the focus on higher-level thinking skills equip students with the ability to reflect, analyse, synthesise and apply their knowledge in new situations. That students don't have to specialise too early also means many doors are open to them in university.
'The IB prepares students to be creative-thinking problem-solvers, which in the world of post-secondary education and the workplace is the number one attribute,' he says.
CDNIS is one of four schools in Hong Kong offering all three IB programmes: the Primary Years Programme (PYP) and the Middle Years Programme (MYP), plus DP.
Notwithstanding the IB's strengths, schools play a crucial role in giving the necessary nudge to help students identify the right course in the right university and secure a place on it.
CDNIS students are assigned a guidance counsellor in Grade 9 who stays with them all the way to Grade 12. To help students and parents make plans for university and explore career options, the school organises activities from personal statement workshops, information sessions and alumni talks, to visits from 300 post-secondary institutions a year. An annual fair features over 70 universities and is open to all students in Hong Kong. Last year, 20 students went on a self-financed Ivy League tour. Trips to Californian and Canadian universities are in the pipeline.
CDNIS head of school David McMaster says universities and employers are interested in students who are 'confident, articulate and engaged in the community'.
'We hope that through CAS [creativity, action and service], our students have developed a desire to be involved in the community,' he says. 'At the core of the IB is the aspiration that they will make the world a better place. Your scores are important; but we are more concerned about the person you are going to become.'
Nicholas Forde, head of senior school and IB Diploma Programme coordinator at ISF Academy, says the school, which teaches MYP and DP, offers a 'whole package' to help students build intellectual capacity, hone leadership skills and contemplate future options. IB students develop self-management skills and the motivation that give them an edge in the first year of university, he adds.
The school's career counselling team meets students in Grade 10 about choosing subjects for DP. An interview is arranged with each student in Grade 11 about their university choices, testing plans and possible destinations. When students return for Grade 12 the team meets with their family as well. Those wishing to study in the US also get to practise on pre-university tests such as ACT and PSAT. Meanwhile, members of the school's senior management visit overseas universities regularly to introduce the school and understand different admission systems and subject requirements.
Leslie Tam, the school's Grade 12 level leader and university guidance director, says the IB programmes foster an international mindset that enables students to interact with different people - a crucial trait required in the modern workplace.
Tam has launched the 'careers discovery programme' for Grade 8 to 10 students to meet professionals from different industries and join a one-day job shadowing exercise. She has also begun a volunteer internship initiative to help Grade 11 and 12 students find alternative paths. 'I want them to see there's so much out there to do and the key is to find out what you want and what you're good at, and match them.'