David Hawkins is Director & Founder of The University Guys, a team of specialist international university advisers who support students and schools with university applications to universities in the USA, Canada, Europe and more.
As the international school market develops and global challenges impact the affordability and practicality of different university destination countries, the challenges for those tasked with advising students on university applications get ever more complicated. Faced with these situations, what can you do to better serve your communities? Here are five suggestions.
1. Join professional associations
The world of higher education advising is one with a range of wonderful professional associations which exist to support advisers (and often also admissions officers) to do their job well. Some of these link to the wider professional accreditations of a school (such as the Council of International Schools, who host an annual Global Forum on International Admission & Guidance) and others such as the International Association for College Admission Counseling which are open to all who agree to a code of ethics and standards of professional behaviour.
These associations provide resources, training (both virtual and through in-person events) to allow you to build your knowledge based, keep up-to-date with key developments, and connect with others who can support you and your school.
In particular, the in-person conferences allow you to raise the profile of your school and community to admissions and recruitment teams. At both the CIS Forum and the International ACAC Conference, ‘reverse fairs’ take place – where each high school has a stand in a hall and the university staff circulate to ask questions, instead of the other way around. Added to this are a wealth of informational sessions and opportunities to build powerful connections from schools and institutions all over the world.
2. Use social media
Social media in both a passive and active sense is a great way to ensure that you are up to date with current trends and to find answers to the more difficult questions. Platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn allow you to follow key influencers in different university systems or accounts that provide important information. For example, the UCAT Twitter account will notify you of key dates and deadlines, while education journalists such as Jeff Selingo share fascinating insights on LinkedIn. Many schools and universities run Twitter accounts that share highly relevant information, with some of these also now moving into Instagram: LeavingCertGuidance on Instagram is one such account which offers incredible content to support students applying to universities in Ireland.
Social media groups also offer communities that can allow advisers to reach out to peers for questions, particularly though Facebook groups. As well as those curated by the aforementioned professional associations, there are a range of destination-themed groups that allow you to ask questions and have solutions offered to the questions that crop up day-to-day. Groups exist to support students applying to universities in the UK, Netherlands, Japan, Germany, Spain, Canada and the USA, with expert members willing to share their expertise.
3. Audit your student body
As trends change, it’s important to stay ahead of the needs of your community. Though international school communities are often highly transient, you still have a body of students and families lower down the school who may intend to graduate from your institution. So, to prepare for what comes ahead, why not audit their needs? What subjects are those students thinking of studying at university? Which countries are they targeting? What passports do they hold that might open up destinations they have not yet considered?
By finding out this information, an advisor can get an early warning of what may be coming. Do you have a sudden spike of engineers? Maybe then you want to run a session on the different ways engineering is taught around the world, or to help students delve into the different branches of engineering? Is Ireland suddenly really popular? Perhaps a virtual session with three Irish universities might be worth planning for.
4. Invite groups to your school, virtually or in person
With this information, and through the connections you will have made via social media and professional associations, how about now inviting universities to interact with your students directly? You may be in a location where you already get visits, but if not you can use the data on student interest to encourage university representatives to visit – if they can convince their managers that this new city or new school has students keen to apply to their university, it’s an easier sell to make.
If in-person is not possible, virtual is very achievable. Zoom or Teams sessions (either live or pre-recorded) can be a great way to connect students to universities. Sessions don’t need to just be promoting one university, and indeed university representatives may be keener to talk on a broader topic (how about ‘paying for college in the USA’?) if they know they’ll get exposure to a bigger audience as a result.
5. Foster local community
As you build a counselling office and a profile within the global profession, you can then look to connect with others nearby. If you have other international schools nearby, why not get everyone together for an afternoon or for dinner? Share ideas, problems, and use social media – perhaps a WhatsApp group? – to foster that community. Not only does this create a network to help each other out with common questions, it can also serve to promote your city, region or country to university representatives.
All of these are relatively simple steps, which take two things to move forward: time and commitment. By stepping beyond the confines of one school and into the wider world of college counselling, a school community and its students can be served well as they embark on life beyond the school gates.
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