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Preparing pupils for university success under any circumstances

20 March 2020
Steve Tippen Director of Higher Education and Careers   The outbreak of Covid-19 and the ensuing disruption caused to everyday life undoubtedly means that we are living through extraordinary times. This is particularly true of those pupils and parents who are attempting to navigate the murky waters of international university admissions. As we have been supporting pupils over the past number of weeks, we have gained insight into how universities view the current situation and how they will consider and account for disruptions. We thought it would be useful to share the following information with all pupils and parents as well as giving some general guidance about how pupils in all years can help prepare for a future university application regardless of the circumstances.   Understanding the impact of Covid-19 on global education and international university admissions As the current situation develops, we are increasingly seeing that the consequences are truly international in nature. This is just as true in the world of international university admissions. The closer we get to exam time with schools’ learning online, pupils and their parents will understandably become more anxious about the impact it may have on university applications. Many university offers are conditional and require a pupil to achieve certain grades in their final exams. Universities themselves are also concerned about how they are going to handle admissions during this time. This focuses not only on potential health concerns, but also how they will account for the disruption that has resulted from school closures in their admissions decisions. I have been privy to certain discussions that have occurred in university admissions teams around the world and there is a genuine concern the longer the current situation continues and expands beyond China. The positive side to this story is that universities around the world are very aware of the current situation and are genuinely attempting to take these circumstances into consideration when assessing applications. Over the past few weeks, I have been in touch with my admissions contacts in a range of different countries where our current year 13 pupils have applied. The responses I have had have been overwhelmingly supportive and positive. Admissions representatives and academics, even those from top universities such as MIT and Harvard in the United States and Cambridge, Imperial and UCL in the UK have listened to our concerns and attempted to reassure us that any disruption pupils face will not disadvantage them in the admissions process. They have also been eager to learn more about the exact situation in schools; how we are attempting to cope with the loss in teaching time and how it is impacting upon pupils’ learning.   Taking into account changes to the application procedures followed by the world’s top universities We have noticed that some top universities are making certain changes and ‘allowances’ to their admissions processes, and this is likely to increase the longer the current situation continues and expands. Some universities, who are still accepting applications, are extending their deadlines for applicants and most are being understanding if pupils send in documentation late or school documents are submitted in a slightly different format. For example, many US universities require a mid-term transcript which usually requires authorisation via a special school stamp as well as my signature. Unfortunately, that school stamp is in Shanghai whilst I am currently working from the UK. Nonetheless, given the circumstances, all the universities have been happy to accept the transcripts as they are. Many universities, particularly, in popular destinations such as the US and UK, had already closed their applications when the current crisis developed. In this case we have been talking to them about how we can account for how the disruption and extra stress may impact upon pupils’ final results and applications. Many universities have procedures in place to ensure ‘extenuating circumstances’ such as this get taken into consideration when final admissions decisions are made. We are preparing to ensure that these factors are ‘flagged-up’ well in advance of the pupils taking exams.   Insights into general concerns and anxieties held by pupils and parents Wellington’s response to the current situation is that we have attempted, as far as possible, to continue with what we would normally be doing. This has involved our teachers providing alternative content and supporting pupils through online lessons and it has involved us continuing to provide sessions as part of Wellington’s Higher Education Pathway. Aside from setting up specific replacement sessions, we have been providing individual advice and guidance to pupils and parents about university admissions. Some of this is in relation to the current situation – but much of it is related to normal concerns or questions that they would have at this time of year. I have been communicating with specific pupils and parents regarding IGCSE and IB choices and have provided some pupils with insight into what specific universities to consider. On a more logistical level, we have also been continuing to support our year 13 applicants with their admissions requirements. The most apprehensive communications, of course, have come from year 13 pupils and parents who have been concerned about how the current situation may impact on their chances of making successful applications. It is clear in these conversations that pupils and parents are under considerable stress.  I have largely been able to reassure them and have been able to speak directly to the universities, on their behalf, about their concerns. At our current stage in the year, applications to the most popular destinations such as the US and UK, will have already closed with only a few applications to destinations like Australia still to be completed. Our current cohort of 27 year 13 pupils already have a wealth of outstanding options with 9 offers from universities within the global top 10 QS rankings and with some decisions still to be made. The main task they will have in the coming weeks and months will be to decide which of their outstanding university offers to accept. This is not always a straightforward decision – particularly when many will be conditional on their upcoming IB exams. This is also a time when pupils should be starting to make plans for university life. Most importantly, they should focus on their final exams as they are the key part of any university application – and ultimately, their final grades will stay with them for life!   Broader recommendations for university application preparations Although, given the current situation our primary concern is with our year 13 pupils, it is important to remember that preparation for university applications should begin earlier. Through Wellington’s Higher Education Pathway, pupils in the Senior School are provided with guidance to help them prepare for their future while continuing focus on their academic studies. Years 9 and 10 are about the basic preparations which will help provide the foundations for a future successful university application. Rather than focusing on particular universities or courses, pupils are encouraged to think broadly about what their interests and strengths are and what particular career paths appeal to them. This helps them to ensure that they are taking the right subjects at IGCSE and gets them to start to think productively about their future options without creating unnecessary anxiety. Pupils are also encouraged to engage in a variety of extra-curricular activities. Year 11 essentially focuses around the IGCSE exams which occur at the end of the year. These exams can act as a benchmark that universities use to assess a pupil’s potential. As pupils will be applying for their university places with only predicted IB scores the IGCSEs provide an external judgement which universities will use as evidence alongside the school’s predictions. Pupils will need to think ahead to what IB options they wish to take, and these should broadly match their intended course of study. Year 12, in many ways is the keystone year in the university admissions cycle. This is when pupils should be researching their options in greater depth and making some final decisions about where and what they wish to study. Pupils should be formulating a ‘long-list’ of potential university destinations, which they can narrow down further to a final application list in year 13. Pupils should undertake research into the particular demands of each of these universities so that they can start tailoring their application to meet these admission requirements. It is also a time to research into the financial aspect of university study and the availability of scholarships. When we get to the end of year 12, pupils should be finalising their test strategy, taking US admissions exams and preparing for potential post-admissions tests at the beginning of year 13. Before they go away for the summer, pupils have begun their university applications and have submitted a draft of their personal statement and/or admissions essay. This ensures that they are in a position to do further work over the summer in preparation for their final year.   Some final words of encouragement and reassurance I would like to reassure pupils and parents that the higher education team is doing everything we can to minimise any negative impact that the current events might have on their future university plans. Wherever we are around the world, we continue to make ourselves available to provide advice and guidance to all age groups, whenever they need it. So, if you need any advice or guidance please do contact us. Application to Wellington’s Academic Scholarship Programme is open until 17 April. Find out more Although our campus is physically closed – you can still take a look round via our new virtual tours. Our admissions team is readily available to answer any questions you might have and to guide you through the application process.  Please do get in touch.