As the new academic year commences right after the summer holidays, a university counselor’s countdown to the entire university application process takes off. From the US to the UK to Asia to Australia, the world is their oyster. Not really! The whole world, however, is their sphere of work. Hence, extreme organization skills and superior self-management skills are key requirements for this job.
Throughout the year, counselors face numerous demands; so an overview of how the academic year will unfold for students, parents, and staff is important. Creating a timeline to guide all stakeholders is a critical first step at the beginning of the academic year. Through a month-by-month breakdown, this countdown will help counselors to navigate the world of university admissions.
The beginning of the year is the most important time for the graduating class in any international school. Even though all of the international schools around the world do not follow the same curriculum, the fall months are the same for all university applicants. This article focuses specifically on an August through October timeline.
Let me unravel the mystery of fall in ten bite-sized chunks:
1. Final year students need to finalize admission essays.
2. Students need all information and support from the university counselor to complete applications.
3. Students will be submitting the first draft of their personal statements for feedback from the counselor.
4. Students will need to write additional essays in supplemental forms required by most US and Canadian universities.
5. This is also the time for many entrance exams like the UCAT for Medicine applicants to the UK, the SAT/ACT tests for mostly the US, and language proficiency tests like the International English Language Testing System(IELTS) and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) for some countries, especially if they are nonnative English speakers.
6. Complete the personal statement for UK universities.
7. Several university systems have early application deadlines that some students need to be prepared for. For example, the 15th of October is the deadline for Oxford and Cambridge applications.
8. Students aspiring to study specialist subjects such as Medicine and Veterinary Science in the UK must submit applications to The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service by 15th October.
9. Early Decision/Early Action in the US has deadlines in early November. The decisions from the Early Decision/Early Action are in by December/January.
10. Students applying to Canadian universities must take the English/French language proficiency tests during October-November.
OTHER ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES:
A counselor’s job kick starts at the beginning of the academic year and intensifies as the weeks roll by. A counselor is managing multiple stakeholders at any given point in time.
Managing students is the core skill a counselor must acquire through training and experience. At the same time, a counselor cannot magically select the best-fit university for the students. A counselor’s role is to provide students with information, discuss procedures and instructions for completing applications, and give feedback on students’ choices and applications. It needs to be made clear at the very beginning of the year that students will drive the university admissions process by taking an active and engaged role in the application process. Make expectations clear about deadlines. “Once missed, this will only be available next year” is a statement I always share with students.
Keeping parents informed is key to establishing a relationship of trust with them. Some parents are understanding but most are ambitious about their child’s future university choice. Everyone wants to apply to Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and MIT, even when their children are scoring much below the required grades. I have had difficult conversations with parents who want to complete the application “just to see if it works.” It never does, and it leads to frustration and stress for both parents and students. The biggest pitfall is that the students take a major hit on their self-esteem and confidence. Some parents are reasonable, focusing on their children’s best interests. But all this needs careful planning to inform parents on time about university choices, requirements, and deadlines. I always organize a parent information evening where, apart from giving out information, I encourage parents to ask questions. This really helps many parents to understand a key point that they are not alone and that a best-fit university is better than a best “ranked” university. Another important point to remember is to ensure you do not send the message that you will help them make the decision. You will help in advising and information sharing; they need to make the final decision.
Set deliverable expectations at the beginning of the academic year. Request a workshop or session with staff during orientation days. Talk about the deadlines, recommendation letters, and predicted grades with the school staff. This is to ensure the school staff is not a victim of unrealistic expectations. Some teaching staff may also need training for writing the recommendations. This can be done at the beginning of the academic year, so they are equipped to write recommendations even in a short time frame. Discuss the significance of predicted grades and how these grades are interpreted by universities in different countries. This way you can earn allies who will not only work with you for completing application requirements but also advise the students effectively.
The next few months are the onset of winter, and the weather continues to get colder. But it is the opposite in a counselor’s world. Come January, the students feel the heat of the first wave of decision letters!
Watch out for the next article in the college counseling countdown series; December and January might be the holiday season for most professions but not for college counselors!
Shwetangna Chakrabarty is the Editor for The International Educator and the Assistant Head of Secondary and University Counselor at Utahloy International School Guangzhou, China. She has been a university counselor for over 10 years, actively advising students and families for university application and selection. She has toured over 60 universities across the world to develop a wealth of experience in college counseling. She serves on the Council of International School’s Global Forum Planning committee 2022 for university guidance and admissions.