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College Counseling Countdown: Part Two

By Shwetangna Chakrabarty
College Counseling Countdown: Part Two

In the last edition of College Counseling Countdown, I introduced the counseling calendar for the months of August to October and discussed the key roles and responsibilities of a counselor. In this edition, I will focus on the most important purpose of our job, guiding students to the right university.

At the beginning of fall, some students will complete their early applications but the majority of the students are getting ready to start their applications at the beginning of November. They need the college counselor’s time and guidance to meet all admission requirements. Every year I am surprised by the utter reliance of students and parents on the college counselor. This adds to the unspoken role of a college counselor, the expectation that they know everything about every student. I have drafted a list of questions that I ask all my students to reflect upon before starting the applications. These key questions help to lighten the burden of knowing it all.

Which country?

International students have the privilege and opportunity to study anywhere in the world. This is a boon and a bane! While there are unlimited options, there is also no clear guidance for students to select a specific country. Some students end up applying to as many countries as possible. This is dangerous as they compromise the quality due to the quantity of university applications. I advise my students to select a country after pondering these questions:

  1. Have you ever been to the country? Do you know the language, cuisine, and climate?
  2. Can you fit into the culture and lifestyle of the country?
  3. Do you have family or friends in the country?
  4. What are the visa requirements for the country? Will you get a work visa as a student in the country?
  5. Have you researched the cost of living: food, lodging, clothing, shopping, movies, etc. in the country?

Getting an idea of the environment and lifestyle is key to adapting to a new country. Most college dropouts are due to culture shock or reverse culture shock, not due to the rigor of the program of study! Hence, selecting a country or a maximum of two by answering yes to most of the questions above really helps the student narrow down the choices.

Which course?

Surprisingly, most students decide on their course based on something their parents want them to do, the higher possibility of getting a job, or the college ranking. All of these are just a notion for students who have not done the research suggested by the college counselor. Matching skills to interests is the first step in selecting college courses/programs/majors. Ask students to answer the following questions in case they are undecided or still deliberating about university courses/programs/majors:

  1. What classes in school do you enjoy the most? Does it relate to the course/program/major you want to study in university?
  2. What are the subjects you need to take when studying the course/program/major at university? Can you study it for three to four years?
  3. What are the possible careers linked to the course/program/major?
  4. How much does it cost to study the course/program/major for three to four years?
  5. Does the university offer internship/work placement/research opportunities within the course/program/major?

If the student has most of the questions answered convincingly then they are moving towards the right direction. Remember a counselor’s role is to guide not to guess. Collecting evidence from students or creating student portfolios really helps in guiding the students.

What to expect?

Counselors have a critical role in delivering the good news and the not-so-good news. Breaking the news to a student that they do not meet admission requirements is harsh but necessary. Making expectations clear from the beginning of the admissions process can avoid unnecessary and uncomfortable conversations with parents and students. Do students know what to expect when they commence university? Ask students to answer a few questions to find out if they are university ready:

  1. Do you know how to make and follow a budget: food, transportation, extracurricular activities, and basic necessities? 
  2. Do you have these life skills: cook basic meals, make your bed, clean toilets, take out the trash, go grocery shopping, and do the dishes?
  3. Have you taken public transport?
  4. Have you checked the campus facilities: library, gym, commute, laundry?
  5. Have you thought of a backup if none of the offers come through?

Having clear expectations helps students gain confidence in their choices. They know exactly what to expect when they arrive at their chosen destinations. Life skills are survival buoys to smoothly ride the big wave of university life, extreme but expected!

Once these questions have been answered, most students will know where they want to apply and for what course/program/major. The next step is to guide them to the application portals that open at the end of fall.

November and December:

  1. Many early decision and early action deadlines are in this period, usually in early November.
  2. For those who are not applying for specialized courses or early action/decision, regular admission applications will open during this time.
  3. This is the time to prepare for applications to universities in Canada, Europe, Hongkong, and Singapore.
  4. Canada has a centralized application portal for Ontario, Ontario Universities' Application Centre. Other provinces will require students to apply through each individual university website.
  5. For the Netherlands, students need to go through the centralized application portal, Studielink.
  6. Similarly in Australia, students need to register through the University Admissions Centre, though students must check to see if they meet the specific requirements for international students.
  7. For Hongkong and Singapore, applications open during this time and each university has its own registration website. Students will need to spend a good amount of time applying to universities in these countries.
  8. Those applying to Korea can register through the Study in Korea application website. Korea has the flexibility of two admission cycles, spring and fall. Students can select which cycle suits them.
  9. For other popular destinations like Germany, this is a good time to start applying. Students can directly apply through the university website or register through the centralized admissions portal for international students at uni-assist.
  10. A minimum of 10-12 hours is required to complete three to four applications to one country. Advise students to choose carefully in order to focus on the quality of applications over the quantity of applications.

Take the time to process and reflect on this approach. Winter is coming! Gear up to ensure students navigate these months with research and guidance from the counselor. This will decide how the upcoming spring months unfold.

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 in the Council of International School’s Global Forum Planning Committee 2022 for university guidance and admissions.

Twitter and LinkedIn: @shwetangna



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