Sep 092016

Did you know that the biggest mistake students and families make when planning for university is not starting the process early enough? For students planning  to start university in Fall of 2018, it is time to start the process now.Even students a year younger benefit by starting early on the five tasks listed below. Next summer offers many opportunities to get ahead of the game, but only with advance planning. The final year of gymnase or the IBDP or high school goes by in a flash.

These are five ways to start now:

  1. Understanding university options, requirements, admissions processes, and timelines.
  2. Choosing a subject to study, or deciding to look for programs that are not narrowly focused.
  3. Putting full efforts into schoolwork to achieve the grades (or marks or notes) required.
  4. Preparing for standardized tests when required.
  5. Visiting university campuses.

Students Sitting on StepsResearch options and requirements

Each university sets its own requirements and deadlines, and higher education systems differ from country to country. Start by reading up on the national systems the student is considering using the resources here. Narrow down the countries where the student will apply and verify that the student meets the minimum requirements. For example, Swiss and German universities do not accept IB Math Studies.

Then pick several universities and courses of interest, and investigate the general admissions requirements for the student’s qualification. For example, here are the general IB requirements for The University of Manchester. The easiest way to find the requirements is to search using UCAS. Or Google with all of the following:

  1. The name of the university,
  2. “undergraduate” and “requirements”, and
  3. the name of the course.

Choose a subject to study

Most university systems – outside of the U.S. and University Colleges in the Netherlands – expect students to apply to a specific area of study depending on their interests and future career goals. Choosing a subject can be a challenge for many students but here are some  suggestions:

  • Some schools support this process by holding or attending job fairs to expose students to potential careers, administering interest and skills inventories, or arranging for students to “shadow” professionals on the job.
  • Supercurricular activities are also a great way for students to learn more about subjects and potential careers.
  • Once students think they might be interested in a specific course or major, they should read about it on university websites.

Check the entry requirements for the course. Pay attention to both the subjects the student must have studied and the required marks. More here on UK entry requirements.

Grades or marks 

No matter what curriculum the student is studying or where they plan to go to university, developing strong study skills and doing well in their studies are both critical to future success. Some students don’t worry about their marks as long as they pass, significantly reducing their choices outside of Switzerland. That level of effort might also leave the student inadequately prepared for university-level work at home in Switzerland where many students do not pass the first year.

Once students understand the approximate application requirements for university programs of interest, it is a good idea to set targets for the grades they’ll need. Be reasonable! Students are unlikely to go from being an average or underperforming student to one with a chance at Imperial or Stanford.

If your student is struggling in classes, consider academic tutoring (private tuition) or a revision course before he or she falls far behind and cannot catch up. Be realistic about how much a student’s grades or marks are likely to improve before time to apply.

Standardized testing

Depending on the student’s language of instruction, universities might require even native English speakers to submit scores from English proficiency exams such as the IELTS, TOEFL, or CPE. This requirement varies from university to university and may be a requirement for receiving a student visa.

Most U.S. colleges and universities also require students to submit scores from either the SAT or the ACT, and some of the most well-known universities also want scores from two or three SAT Subject Tests. These exams take place five times a year at local international schools, but many students take the SAT or ACT two or three times before application deadlines. Since test preparation tends to improve scores on these exams, develop your student’s test plan about 2 years before the planned start of university.

Visit universities to understand the options

Take advantage of family trips during school holidays or the summer to visit university campuses. Most have official Open Days or presentations and tours for visitors, typically found on the web by searching on the university name and “visit”. Even if the student is unlikely to apply to that institution, visiting helps students understand written descriptions and gain a better idea of what they want.

Start now to reduce stress

Sound complicated? Don’t stress, but do begin to learn how it all works. Then work with your student to investigate the university systems of interest. If you feel overwhelmed by the learning curve, consider working with a professional university adviser like myself. I already understand the university admission processes and requirements and offer one-on-one strategic coaching for your student. Contact me to discuss your student’s university application process.

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