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Five Key Steps Along the Admissions Journey

By Shwetangna Chakrabarty

Council of International Schools (CIS) organizes a university tour once every year during the summer, this tour typically lasts a week and stops at around 15 colleges and universities. Counselors gain a first-hand understanding not only of the admission process and requirements but also about the culture and environment of each institution. Having the chance to meet students and faculty helps build a good relationship with each site, which is in turn useful when advising students. From these insights, I distilled five main tips for students as they embark on the university admissions process. 5. Essential skills and life skills In order to complete the university application, students must demonstrate research, communication, and organization skills. Completing an application is a time-consuming process. As such, students need to start their research early in their high school years, have identified their target country and university in Grade 11, and begin applying as soon as they start Grade 12. One of the many gems shared by highly respected universities is the persuasive power of well-completed applications. An application should highlight every achievement—academic and non-academic—in a way that it paints a perfect picture of the student and makes his or her application stand out. This requires commitment and diligence in answering all questions, including the supplemental ones. A well-rendered application should demonstrate mastery in communication, evidence of critical thinking, and rigorous research ability—provided it is completed on time! Other life skills, such as cooking, doing laundry, socializing, and knowing how to survive on pocket money will help students complete the journey and reach their destination successfully. 4. International Mindedness While universities around the world are recruiting international students and actively seeking to enrich diversity on campus, students must similarly be prepared to live in a diverse or starkly different environment from the one they are accustomed to. Having respect for other cultures, communities, and values is key in helping students adapt to an environment outside their comfort zone. Those who have exposure to multicultural, multiracial, and multinational environments not only cope better in university but also are likely to write a more persuasive college essay. Open-minded, well-travelled, urbane, well-read, and cosmopolitan students will always have an edge. Hence, students need to broaden their horizons to embody international mindedness. For International Baccalaureate students, this attribute should come naturally, as the IB integrates international mindedness into the curriculum. 3. Community service and involvement “What are you looking for when reading an application?” This is one of the most commonly asked questions by us counsellors when we meet university officers. Surprisingly, the most common responses are: “a holistic view of the student,” “a wholesome person,” “the personality of the student,” “a view of the student outside his/her school.” The most sought-after profile is one with a longstanding commitment to community. Has the student demonstrated active service towards the community? Has the student exhibited interest in solving global issues? Is the student intrinsically motivated? All these attributes will bring the applicant closer to securing a place. While most curricula facilitate student engagement with community service, the IB has made it mandatory for students to complete the CAS (Creativity, Activity, and Service) in order to complete the Diploma Programme. This helps students to build on their college essay by highlighting their CAS achievements, and it helps universities to get to know the student before they come on board. 2. Good grades Of course! Who doesn’t know that good grades are paramount for university admissions? Good grades reflect the student’s ability and skill set, but also their interest in and mastery of a particular subject area. Good grades are not a measure of the students IQ; rather, they are a measure of the student’s ability to work hard, focus, and achieve a goal. That’s why the final deciding factor in securing acceptance is a student’s ability to excel academically, in entrance exams, high school exams, or standardized tests. Students need to demonstrate that they value their high school education, as it is the foundation on which they will build once in university. Sometimes students ignore this aspect of their profile, thinking that their extracurriculars will make up for their grades—this is not the case at all! Time and again, all universities have reminded us about the power of solid grades, and this should not be ignored. 1. Access to an experienced university counselor Students need a good tour guide through this rocky terrain, from beginning to end! Between planning for the journey, the endless list of essential requirements, researching the optimal route, finding the right match, deciding the pace—all this navigation represents a tremendous amount of work, requiring knowledge and experience. Without a committed university counsellor, students can easily flail or lose their way. Counsellors have the expertise to help even the most undecided student find a career path. Whether or not a school has invested in a full-time university counsellor should be a deciding factor when shopping for secondary schools. Without this trusted guide, the journey is meaningless. Shwetangna Chakrabarty is IBDP Coordinator at Dar es Salaam International Academy, Tanzania.

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