Preparing international students for success at university

Preparing international students for success at university

An academic qualification is only part of what is necessary for university study. To ensure students are fully prepared for the rigour and demands of degree study and equipped with all the skills needed for success at university, the ultimate aim of educators and parents...


An academic qualification is only part of what is necessary for university study. To ensure students are fully prepared for the rigour and demands of degree study and equipped with all the skills needed for success at university, the ultimate aim of educators and parents is to develop ‘well-rounded students’, which of course, goes beyond the achievement of A and A* results.

University is more than academic achievement

For many students studying international curricula around the world, their ambition is to progress to a world-renowned, highly-ranked university, often outside of their own country. This journey often begins when students start their International GCSEs with the intention of developing the knowledge and skills they will need to successfully progress onto International A levels and higher education study.

Transferable skills, such as problem-solving, initiative (e.g. independent research), critical thinking, self-monitoring (e.g. time management) and team-working skills will help students cope with the different demands of their degree studies and provide a solid skills base that enables them to adapt and thrive in different environments across educational stages; and ultimately into employment.

International students need ‘more’ for university success

Despite international students being high-achievers and getting great results, getting the right grade profile to enter a university course is not always enough to ensure they will be successful when they start. Many higher education institutions report the difficulties that all students experience in making the transition from A level study to the more independent study demands required for a degree. This problem can be exacerbated for international students when also dealing with the added pressures of different cultural styles, potential language barriers and the realities of studying far away from home and their support network.

Many of the academic qualifications that are required to enter onto degree courses do provide inherent opportunities for wider transferable skills development. However, we know that students are often not drawing on these or able to demonstrate them. This shows that without early support to identify where they are using cognitive, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills and how these are transferable, they are not able to identify and therefore use these skills to their advantage at the next level of study.

Starting early gives students the best support to develop the transferable skills they need

A good international education should enable students to start developing transferable skills as early as possible. Developing these all-important transferable skills where they naturally occur as part of the International GCSE curriculum can help build learner confidence and embed the importance of this well-rounded development. This builds the foundations to ensure students are ready for A level and higher education.

It is important to support teachers with effective classroom delivery strategies to make students aware of their acquisition of transferable skills as part of the subjects they are studying. Ensuring cognitive, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills opportunities are explicitly drawn out through teaching and learning alongside subject knowledge helps show students what skills and attributes they are developing. It is also  important that learners are supported in understanding how these can apply to different contexts outside the subject they were acquired in, for them to become ‘transferable’ skills.

An International GCSE curriculum can help equip teachers to utilise different approaches through the training and support offer that surrounds them, including print and digital resources that signpost transferable skills development. It can also build a broad framework for learners to experience a different learning approach, one that can build opportunities for more independent learning in a supported and structured way through GCSE and into A level study.

Our approach to enhancing transferable skills in our International GCSEs ensures that it is not only the academic and cognitive skills that are developed, but those broader elements that universities highlight as being essential for success. Skills such as self-directed study, independent research, self-awareness of own strengths and weaknesses and time-management are skills that students cannot learn from a textbook but have to be developed through the teaching and learning experience that can be provided through an international curriculum.

Further reading

The transferable skills students will need – and employers will love

Why transferable skills are good for you – not just at school or university

Bringing transferable skills out of the vacuum and into the open

Why is it important for young people to develop transferable skills? The view from from St Christopher’s School, Bahrain


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