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The Right Fit! Applying to Uni

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In order to piece together the university application jigsaw puzzle and make the right choices, Year 13 students need to balance advice from parents and teachers with their own hopes and dreams.
Report By Barbara Cooper
PHOTOS COURTESY OF Pexels

It’s the time of year when parents and teachers discuss university applications with children who are graduating in 2023. Deadlines vary according to the country students are applying to study in, and individual schools set their own internal application deadlines.

For the UK, in order to be competitive, both A-level and International Baccalaureate Diploma students apply from September through to Christmas. US and Australian application deadlines tend to be a little later.

For practical advice, there’s no better place for students to start than school – whether applicants consult a favourite teacher who knows them well, or a dedicated counsellor. Careers and higher education counsellors are there to provide advice and organise workshops about further studies, university applications and promoting a student’s personal profile. It’s likely that most local Year 13 students planning on heading to university next year will attend one of the university fairs, held annually in Hong Kong.

However, due to COVID quarantine regulations these events have been restricted in the past three years and university websites are now a major source of up-to-date information and chat-line opportunities.

WHAT ADMISSIONS TUTORS SEEK
With the vast choice of universities worldwide, deciding where to apply can be stressful. Outcomes rely not only on knowing what a university offers and what it is looking for, but also how to interpret our children’s abilities and passions.

Let’s take the perspective of an admissions tutor from a well-known UK university, looking to fill thirty spots on an undergraduate Business Management course. What factors influence the tutor’s choice of applicant and whether a conditional offer is made? Demand for the course is obviously important as popular subjects generate more competition for places. A brand name university means more competition too. Within Business Management, some courses are quantitatively focused, others are not. In the case of the former, a tutor can be more selective about an applicant’s predicted final exam grades, math ability, level of English and International English Language Testing System (IELTS) scores for second language speakers.

Since COVID has restricted some specific aspects of a student’s development – for example work placement opportunities – universities are also looking to see how students have developed during lockdowns and school closures. Grades and scores outline an applicant’s academic abilities, but the personal information they provide to back up their application, for instance the Personal Statement (for UK applications) and the College Essay (for US applications), fills in their human side. What have applicants done with their first 17 years of life?

How committed have they been to their interests during home learning? Do their passions line up with their academic profile?

Admissions tutors read hundreds of Personal Statements and College Essays, so it’s easy for them to spot young people with a unique ‘edge’. These students have intangible skills to offer universities. Admissions tutors are tasked with seeking them out and building a class of confident, bright young talents, who provide creative perspectives at discussion seminars and enliven university life. What is an applicant going to bring to the university campus?

PARENTAL PRIORITIES
Parents’ perspectives, however, can sometimes be at odds with tutors’ priorities. We all want our children to join top classes at highly ranked universities and go on to get well-paid jobs. Our natural focus is to ensure our children’s future security. The discussion points are not always the same as an admissions tutor’s, who is building an inspired class of critical thinkers who will generate ideas.

As parents, how much do we invest in matching our children’s abilities, skills, passion and personalities with three years of study in a particular subject area? Is Law or Accountancy really in a child’s best interest? Or, are we biased because we want them to be employed in a secure occupation? Given the amount of change in the world today, can we reliably predict the job market in a decade? How does one do a cost-benefit analysis of supporting a passionate student through a college course that shows poor employability? What about the opposite scenario? These are questions a family must consider.

Our experiences as parents and employees show that the international employment market thrives on innovative, critical thinkers, who nurture positive work relationships and contribute individual efforts towards collective results. We know that university degrees provide us with knowledge and skills, and the ability to acquire them. Yet, these can often receive less priority than softer, more intangible skills as one moves towards top leadership roles. Where is the ‘natural fit’ for our child in the work world?

STUDENT PERSPECTIVE
We need to have meaningful discussions with our children in order to better understand their potential. Where do they see themselves in five, 10 years? Year 13 students in particular, are under pressure to ‘tick boxes’ and earn high exam results. The task is immense and it can be difficult for them to envisage life beyond it. Sometimes their university discussions can be very random: “My friend is applying to the same college.” “Someone, last year said it was a great course.” They may not be looking at university choices thoroughly enough.

Listening to applicants as young adults is important. Some children may lack world experience, but their self-understanding can be quite realistic if they’ve done the proper research.

For the jigsaw puzzle pieces to fit together easily, parents and students need to have a realistic discussion about ability and the eventuality of success early on. Talking as a family before the university application process starts raises understanding, clarifies choices and better ensures that a school can effectively support a child’s university application with more meaningful written recommendations.

This is a partnership, where keeping to deadlines is highly important, eases stress and aids progress. Schedule time for redrafting essays, and for on going discussions. Be ahead of the game, it pays off!

Portrait website photo

A former international school teacher in Hong Kong, DB resident Barbara Cooper now works independently in supporting families making university selections and applications. She provides specialised 1:1 mentoring to build ongoing student confidence, motivation and maturity, both supporting school curriculum and university guidance.
Contact her at 9754 2244, [email protected].

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