Monday 30 January 2012

How to choose a university Part Two

In  Part One of this post   I relate the experiences of a number of students known to me who, for one reason or another, decided to take a year to repeat their university applications.
I would like to recommend students considering this option to keep in touch with their school. This can be a bit disconcerting: it can be embarrassing to admit that you did not get that cherished place at your dream university; maybe the school adviser/counselor gave certain pieces of advice that you did not follow; maybe you think the adviser/counselor did not provide all the help you think they could have; perhaps you think you have grown out of school now.
Whatever the case, it is important that you are in contact with the school, and I suggest you keep in touch with more than one person in case the person who processed your first application changes job or leaves the school.
Why is this important?
Firstly, because of the timing of your applications. If you start a new activity or project after you leave school, it is likely to start in September or later. Bearing in mind the applications need to be written and ready before the end of December, and even in October in the case of certain UK and US institutions, your supervisor in your new project is not going to have much time to make an evaluation. The last thing you need is a reference or recommendation that is so lukewarm, vague and noncommittal that it is worthless as support for your application.
Secondly, because it is possible that the requirements of the application process are not going to be very well known by your supervisor in your new project. If it is a long time since this person made their own university application, or if they made it in a different country, or never applied to university, it will be difficult for them to appreciate the importance of what they write and the need to keep to deadlines in the application procedure.
Thirdly, the project/activity you devise for yourself in July with great enthusiasm and youthful optimism might not work out in the cold light of day, and you will be left having to justify the way you are spending your time when you complete your application.
Imagine how much easier all this will be if you discuss it fully with your school adviser/counselor in advance. I suggest you ask them to agree to be your referee for your repeat application, and they can make clear on the application form that this is the case. You need to ask them to make contact with your new project supervisor: if the project works out, your school adviser/counselor can write the recommendation by describing what you are doing and where, and including comments which they garner from your new supervisor. That way, your adviser/counselor will make sure the procedure is followed correctly and on time.
If your planned project does not work out, your adviser/counselor can confirm that you had explored your plans with him/her earlier in the year, and can help explain the reasons why things did not work out.
Finally, you never know if there will be a moment in the application process when the selectors arrive at a decisive point and they need to clarify something at short notice. I know of a case where an international student had a message from his first choice institution, where he was applying for the second time. The message asked him for proof of his level of English. The candidate had studied in English medium schools and had passed all his IGCSE’s and AS levels and A levels all in English. He had not thought it necessary to take any of the English language exams. In the event, he contacted his old headteacher, who immediately phoned the university and, on top of confirming the candidate’s excellent level of English, took the opportunity to reaffirm all the reasons why the candidate should be offered a place. Thanks to this intervention the story ended happily and the candidate is now studying at the university of his choice. I am convinced the headteacher’s call was decisive in this case, and it would have been much more difficult if the student had not involved the headteacher in his plans from the beginning.
While we are talking about level of proficiency in English, I suggest you take a recognized exam to prove you level of English. For many universities, just knowing that you have studied at an international school is not sufficient, they need evidence of your standard in use of English. So, get organized and take an exam. One of the very worthwhile alternatives is TOEFL
This is what their web site says:
"The TOEFL test is the most widely respected English-language test in the world, recognized by more than 8,000 colleges, universities and agencies in more than 130 countries. Wherever you want to study, the TOEFL test can help you get there."

Another very worthwhile resource for online guidance is i-student, which I have written about in an earlier post: 

I hope you find these suggestions useful. I know that at the grand old age of 18 the last thing you want is to rely on your old school, but when it comes to the complex and competitive process of university applications, the more help you get, the better, and especially when that help comes from persons who have known you for years, and whom you know and trust.

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