Ten tips for getting into the best university
Helping to get a daughter or son into the right university should be looked at as a campaign; a series of stages over the last two years in school with a single goal in mind. Year One is the step up from IGCSE and the major goals are excellent marks and the development of a broad and unique CV. It is also a time to make important decisions with school about Higher Education plans so don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Year Two is all about hard work, maximising exam grades and hitting all the targets set. A vital part of the campaign is leaning about the organisations that manage the university admissions process around the world. No one should rely just on the school, other children, those well meaning friends or even parents hoping they know enough based on their own experience. It is abou setting objectives, gathering information, collating facts and making positive but realistic plans. The admissions process is ever changing and always presents new opportunities and challenges.
It is not like it was. Change is everywhere in Higher Education and different institutions offer different things. Also a degree does not necessarily mean a job anymore. Ten per cent of university leavers remained unemployed after graduation and on average nearly 70 graduates are vying for every job. Having said that the vast majority are still getting jobs and graduates earn more than non-graduate in almost every instance. The difference in gross hourly earnings between graduates and those educated to A level or equivalent remained high at 47% and the average lifetime earnings of a graduate is millions of Baht more than those of a non- graduate with two A levels. Getting the best degree from the best university are very important steps to employment and greater security.
Getting to the right university remains a complex matter and there is greater global competition, made even more opaque with the challenges of Covid-19. Universities struggle to find ways to choose candidates and there is a cold hard fact to keep in view: it is getting harder to get in to good universities. Applicants need higher grades and the process is more complicated. In the last 5 years the number of universities requiring students to achieve top grades in their A levels has tripled. A typical Russell Group university in the UK or Ivy League one in the USA may have 1,500 applicants for just 50 places on a course. When you are looking at universities and working out which ones are good, better than others and so on, it isn’t always as simple as it looks. Everyone knows the names of the very top ones but bear in mind that the star rating and league table position of the university is based on the quality of their research, not the undergraduate degrees. A typical undergraduate will have little or no contact with the research side of university as part of their first degree. This means there is a disconnect (in some cases) between the reputation as defined by the league table and the student experience as felt by the undergraduate. In addition to the headline grabbing league table positions there are other useful measures of university performance. These can include student satisfaction and graduate employability. Both of which may feel more pertinent to a youngster aged between 18 and 21 than they quality of research undertaken by MA, Ph.D., postdoctoral students and full time academic staff.
• Everyone benefits from positive but realistic career advice.
• Ambitious, organised and focussed pupils do better in their applications.
• Results are objective, predictions are subjective. Don’t hang everything on estimates.
• Universities want facts; every grade counts.
• The workload in the last two years at school is considerable and the jump from GCSE greater than some anticipate.
• Independent learning is essential for higher grades. Students cannot be spoon fed high grades.
• The CV needs to be active and meaningful. It cannot be done last minute. It also needs to be loaded with the right elements.
• Schools can help in all aspects of Higher Education preparation.
• The social life has to fit around the work, not the other way around.
• Personal statements matter – if there is an interview this is the only chance to shine.