Preparing for University: Top 10 Tips
On March 6 Yew Chung International School of Beijing’s University Guidance Counsellor, Jonathan Mellen, hosted a workshop for YCIS Beijing parents on “Preparing My Child for University”. The well attended workshop provided invaluable advice to around 50 of our parents on the key measures that they and their children can take to not only get into university, but get into the “right” university.
Following the workshop we’ve asked Jonathan to share his top tips for students and their parents embarking on the university and college selection and application process.
- Get Involved
Universities are looking for not only great students, but great people. Taking on extracurricular activities at school as well as outside school can really help your child to stand out from the competition by demonstrating their interests beyond academics. Helping your child to find activities that they are both interested in and well suited to and avoiding steering them towards those they are not, can really make a difference when the time comes for them to apply to university. If they can share and demonstrate talents they are visibly passionate about and self-motivated in, admissions officers will take note. Remember, university admissions officers are responsible for selecting students that can contribute to an enjoyable, interesting and diverse environment at their schools to benefit not only the academic, but personal development of their student body.
- Take a Personality Test
Have your child take a personality test and review their results in-line with the stated preferred student profile of your targeted schools (see tips 5 and 7). Check their websites for details of the students they want and don’t hesitate to contact the schools’ offices of admissions to request this information. It can help you determine if your child is a good match for their school’s environment.
Have your child keep a diary / journal to help them document how they are changing and developing as a student and person during their secondary school career. Both an essay about themselves and an in-person interview with an admissions officer are part of many college and university admission screening processes. By keeping a journal or diary your child will be in a better position to discuss how they have positively grown and developed over the past few years and communicate this information in a compelling way to their prospective university. It’s important that they understand and can clearly communicate what makes them interesting and special, as well as where their strengths, interests and even weaknesses lie.
- Prepare a Portfolio / Curriculum Vitae (Resume)
Have your child start to document their achievements and activities in Year nine of school, noting them down in a basic CV / resume format. For some programmes (art for example) a portfolio of your child’s best work may also be required along with details of any awards or competitions they win. As soon as your child’s target schools are selected (even if this is years before you intent to apply) visit their websites with your child to check to see if they mention any requirements for submitting a secondary school CV or portfolio as part of the application process and if so, note any guidelines to ensure you are gathering everything you will need when the time does come to apply.
- Research, Research, Research
Research is key. The most famous universities, names such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cambridge, Oxford and Tsinghua are all excellent schools, but should not be targeted purely on their name recognition. Use tools such as Bloom’s Taxonomy to help your child uncover their genuine interests and hidden talents as a starting point in your research process. Once the best fields of study for your child have been identified use Cialfo (YCIS Beijing makes this tool available to all of our students and parents) to find the universities which have the best ranked and strongest programmes relevant to your child’s intended course of study. The better the match, the better your child’s chance to be accepted and even more importantly prepare for a career that they will both excel in and enjoy.
- Register for the Right Exams
Consider the country, programmes and or universities you are targeting when selecting the qualifying exams for your child to take. For example, if you are targeting a university in the US you will definitely need to take the SAT as it is required by most universities there for both admissions and merit-based scholarship considerations. However, depending on which universities in the US you are targeting, you may also be required to submit ACT scores for the same reasons. Be sure to research which exams are required by the schools your child would like to attend before signing up to sit them. These tests are often expensive and your child may need to take them multiple times to achieve their highest possible score.
- Target & Segment
Once your child has selected a field of study and you’ve together identified a group of universities that best align with this (and any other personal considerations: target countries, extracurricular interests, etc.), it is very useful to create a segmented list of target schools before you begin the application process. This list should have three segments or categories:
- Dream Schools: Colleges and universities your child would love to attend but is less likely to be accepted to due to their grades or test scores being a bit towards the lower range of the school’s standards. These schools might also be prohibitively expensive, so if your child is accepted they may require scholarship or financial aid support from third parties. Many of your more famous schools will likely fit this category.
- Target Schools: Colleges and Universities your child is also very interested in and where their grades, test scores and other credentials put them in a strong position for acceptance. This list should have been shaped heavily by your research (see tip 5).
- Safety Schools: Colleges and universities that your child has some interest in, that have good quality programmes specifically relevant to your child’s interests and where your child’s grades, test scores, etc. are exceed the institutions admission requirements. The schools on this list should be those you’ve identified as extremely likely to accept your child and should serve as a safety net to ensure your child has a university to attend should their preferred choices not accept them.
This list will help you to determine and manage application costs, deadlines and time-tables, while also ensuring your child will have a good school that they want to attend to go to after the application process is all over. One word of advice on making these lists is to try to keep each category to three or fewer schools. The university application process is often complex, time consuming and expensive, applying to too many schools decreases your chances of having the time and focus required to submit the best quality applications possible for your child.
- Ask around
Have your child talk to family, friends and their teachers about how they perceive them. It is important for students to understand the impression they give to the outside world and what others see as their strengths and weaknesses. This knowledge can help them prepare for how potential admissions officers may view them and identify areas to work on in advance, in addition to aiding with self-reflection (see step two).
- Demonstrate Interest
Make a direct connection with staff at your targeted schools. Contact the schools on you target list, set up interviews, visits, SKYPE calls, etc. as your circumstances allow. Learn about your target schools, research their pluses and minuses, learn about their overall ranking and that of the programmes they offer your child is most interested in (maybe the school has a strong business programme, but a poor engineering one, which is most important to your child), and consider looking into their closest competitors if you can identify them. Make sure your child is studying up on these schools and knows the names of department heads and professors in the programmes relevant to them at the schools the intend to apply to, especially in advance of any direct communication between your child and the school (don’t let them go on an admissions interview, SKYPE call or campus visit without this knowledge). Your child needs to be prepared to impress the school contacts they meet with their knowledge of the school, its programmes and genuine, specific answers to any questions regarding why they want to attend the school.
Once you’ve made your list of schools to apply to, try to sit down with your child and pick one from each category (Safety School, Target School, Dream School) that they are most interested in attending and if you can afford it arrange campus visits. If you cannot afford multiple campus visits or perhaps any, see if the schools offer virtual online tours or if they are holding any recruitment events in a more accessible location that you can visit with your child so he/she can speak with the recruitment representatives and gain a feel for the school. Often a visit can completely change a child and or family’s university plans.