The college application season is upon us and thousands of high school students everywhere are gearing up for the process. But many of them, including Keystone Grade 12 student Baron Guo, find sifting through the tons of information on college websites taxing.
“One problem that I and my friends face is when we visit the official websites of universities, we cannot see any differences between them because what they show is too general and what they say is, ‘We have this, we have that.’ This makes it hard for us to know what programs fit us best.”
For another high school senior, Aurora Yu, who already has a list of her dream schools, she has to find the time to understand the process.
“I haven’t spent time researching how to apply to those schools and what other options I can consider,” she explained.
High school seniors and their families may find the college admissions process abroad confusing, frustrating, or contradictory. And so, getting guidance straight from college counselors themselves will help students get better insights into the admissions process and ideas on how they can stand out amongst other applicants.
The Office of College Counseling (OCC) at Keystone Academy held a week of counseling and public information sessions together with visiting senior admissions officers from a range of universities and colleges in the United States. These gatherings were aimed at helping these students and parents better understand the college admissions process abroad.
Representatives from the University of California-Berkeley, Stanford University, Lehigh University, Bard College, and Boston University held info sessions with students between August 27 and September 1. Meanwhile, Amherst College and Williams College hosted a joint public information session on September 2, and discussed the structure and merits of a liberal arts education, admission requirements, and the types of financial aid generally offered at liberal arts colleges in the United States. Amherst’s Associate Dean of Admission, Xiaofeng Wan, also ran through the various components of the Common Application and the importance of personal essays.
The Role of Parents
On September 3 during the “Back to School Night” college counseling session for parents of Grades 11 and 12 students, OCC Directors Percy Jiang and Amanda Yan told parents about the various ways that they can support their children in the application process.
“Encourage your child to take full responsibility for the college process, but help them understand the importance of this responsibility,” Yan said.
“Be realistic about your child’s chances and disappointments such as rejection letters that are part of the process. Don’t dwell on them, and instead, enjoy the successes and the journey as a whole with your child,” Jiang added.
Martha Lyman, an expert on US college admissions and a college counseling consultant who has worked with Keystone since its founding, returned in August to help support Grade 12 students with their application. She has previously given pointers on how parents can prepare themselves in the run-up to college admissions.
On September 4, Keystone hosted the Council of International Schools (CIS) Fair, a gathering of admissions representatives from 24 universities who conducted information sessions for teachers, students, and parents. The entire CIS community is composed of more than 1,300 schools and universities from 116 countries committed to exposing students to a wider range of high-quality educational institutions around the world.
CIS representatives held workshops with Keystone teachers to give them a view of the crucial factors in the college admissions processes abroad, as well as tips on how to support students in various ways.
Science teacher Katarina Gram said she learned better how universities are looking for students who know deeply about themselves. “I got an understanding of how to tell students to stay authentic and express their passions in their applications. Admissions officers are not looking for this process to be stressful but one that will make students understand where they are going and know which university is the right fit for them.”
Jenna Zwiller, Assistant Director of International Admission at Saint Mary's College and a CIS representative, said college counseling sessions offer teachers and families a perspective from the college admissions’ side. “Ultimately, we want to find the right fit for the student, of course. But it’s important that the family agrees, especially when parents are paying the fees or if they are going far away from home, to make that decision together.”
Mary Adams, Associate Director at Penn State University and a CIS representative, added that parents have a great influence on students’ decisions, and that they should support their children throughout the process. Adams also pointed out that admissions officers appreciate interactions with student applicants.
“We’re finding that more students are being proactive in reaching out to us and using their own voice in the process. It is always remarkable when you get a phone call that comes from a student and not a parent. I find that more students are reaching out and asking their own questions,” Adams added.
At the CIS Fair, Baron Guo, his Grade 12 peer Aurora Yu, and 100 more students took advantage of the chance to talk to officers directly.
“It’s a good opportunity to ask officers directly what requirements universities have, and also to find out who actually cares about you during the application process,” Guo said.
“Surfing on college websites doesn’t give me enough knowledge of the application process,” Yu said, “But the college visits here at Keystone have allowed us to talk to them face to face, feel the atmosphere of the university, and understand student life on campus through their stories.
Jiang also reminded students and parents that the whole application process is a journey and that admissions decisions, test scores, or predicted scores do not determine their worth. “College applications are one of the best ways to uncover your best qualities. And what is important is that you should follow your curiosity, be confident, work hard, and of course, enjoy learning!” he said.