Important tips for university applications

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Final year students at international schools are preparing exams. It is also the time for Year 12 students to think about commencing their university application process at YCIS.
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As spring is upon us, final year students at international schools across Shanghai are preparing for their final exams before they graduate and move on to university and their tertiary education begins. It is also the time for Year 12 students to begin thinking about commencing their university application process.

In the past, it was commonly thought by parents that preparation for university applications didn’t really need to begin until their child was in at least Year 11 or 12. But now, many parents are getting a jump start on learning about this important process much earlier, and, according to University Guidance Counsellor John Liu from Yew Chung International School of Shanghai, Puxi, that’s a good sign.

“We are thrilled that our parents are so engaged and want to understand more about the timing and process, and we welcome parents to speak with our university guidance counsellors so they can get good advice and accurate information,” said Liu. “We hear from parents now who have children in Primary, or even Kindergarten, and who come and ask questions. I always encourage parents to not be embarrassed about asking questions or worrying that it’s too soon. We think about retirement 20 years before we retire, so there is no ‘wrong’ time to start thinking about university options.”

At YCIS, the preparation for university for Secondary students begins very early on. For all students in Years 10 and above, the university guidance office teaches classes within the curriculum to help students learn not only about various careers and university options, but also to help establish important skills such as note-taking and organization. In addition, the guidance counsellors help advise students on key milestones.

For example, starting in Year 12, aside from researching information about universities early on, Liu advises students to start thinking in detail about their applications in the spring, so they are already well prepared before starting their final year of school.

“Year 12 students should start collating everything they will need for the foundations of their applications now. This could include drafting ideas for personal statements, putting together a list of people whom they might ask for recommendations, and for art students, building up their portfolio,” advised Liu. “Planning ahead like this also is a benefit in the long run because it gives students time to focus on really developing and crafting their essays using critical thinking skills, and it allows for more than enough time to refine and perfect their applications.”

Applications vary from country-to-country, and even from university-to-university. For example, college application in the US is very complex due to stringent requirements, but at the same time, the process is more streamlined. A lot of students use what is called The Common Application System. In contrast, in countries like Japan, every university has its own unique application system, some even requiring applicants to physically mail in applications. For students and parents, a great deal of research is needed to plan ahead for these different processes, especially for students applying to universities in multiple countries.

According to Liu, three top tips for students just beginning the application process are to “organize, research and reflect.” Throughout the year, YCIS offers a vast number of workshops and university fairs where students and parents can learn more about the application process and speak with representatives from different institutions. Students are also encouraged to talk with YCIS alumni who are now studying at the universities they are applying to. Finally, says Liu, “this is a great time to reflect on themselves, their morals, and what they are looking for. When they sit down to do their applications, many students try to think about giving the ‘right’ answer as opposed to the honest answer, but the honest answer is more powerful in my opinion, and the admissions officers are savvy enough to know when a student is speaking from the heart.”

To all parents of Secondary students in Shanghai, you are warmly welcomed to join the YCIS University Guidance Team for a very interactive session on tips to standout in the university application process at the American Chamber of Commerce on April 18. 

What can students and parents be doing at different year levels?

Years 7-9: Attending summer camps can offer great experiences to help formulate an understanding of university cultures and campus lifestyles.

Year 10: Parents can help support their children as they try different academic and co-curricular activities at school, and families should have conversations about why these activities are enjoyable. Students can begin SAT preparation in the summer between Years 10 and 11.

Year 11: Summer jobs can be an important experience to help students understand what they like and don’t like in the world of work. They also help the students develop greater autonomy and responsibility.

Years 12–13: It’s game time! Students should be focused on researching and writing applications and, if at all possible, visiting the schools to which they will apply.

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