Year 12 guide to the university application process - Bangkok Prep

Year 12 guide to the university application process

By University Guidance Counselor Graeme McNaught

Now that Year 12 have completed their exams and are back at school we are starting to go full throttle into their university application process.

During the next two weeks they will be doing a number of activities that will enable them to plan and research effectively so that on their return in August they will have the first decent draft of their university essay written and a good idea of the universities they might be applying to.

All students have a deadline of December 8th for completing their applications and having them ready to be sent to their universities of choice by their deadlines. Deadlines are not negotiable.

To get them ready we are working with them on how to research, how to write an effective essay and I have also asked some Year 13 students to come into school to speak to Year 12 students about the application process from a students’ perspective. They will be talking to them about how to maximise their chances and what pitfalls to avoid.

Students will also be registered with a new Careers and University Application Platform in which the school has invested. We have recently bought ‘BridgeU’, which not only allows students to keep all of their documentation in one place and for me to track their application but for students the best feature is probably the research section.

Students, once they have inputted a series of data such as their interests, grades, subject choices and countries, will be presented with a series of universities which they are then asked to consider applying to.

They will be given three types: Reach, Match, and Safety, plus percentages showing how successful they are likely to be in their application. ‘Reach’ universities are the ones I want to talk about today (‘Match’ are the ones they are best matched to and ‘Safety’ are universities they should easily get into).

Reach universities are aspirational and prospective places of study if students achieve beyond their potential. BridgeU bases this on their grades but to actually get accepted they need more than excellent grades and that is what the rest of this post is about.

I know that students and parents are interested in how to get into the most highly selective (students call these the “best”) universities, so what follows will be some advice about what to do to maximise those opportunities, though the advice does actually apply to all students no matter what university they apply to. To get into an Ivy League or an Oxbridge University it is a case of doing more of what the advice says and doing it better than anyone else.

Here are some tips for students:

Spend summer wisely. You need a break from studies and you must come back refreshed, but this does not mean you cannot use some of this time to impress universities. Internships are a great way to show a University Admissions Officer that you are passionate about your subject area and that you have the personal skills they are looking for.

The internship can be in your chosen field so that you can write about it in your essay and that you can learn how to put your school theory into practice. However, it does not need to be in your subject. Universities are impressed by initiative, working with disadvantaged groups, dealing with the public and generally organising an internship without the help of your parents.

Read the university websites. Look at what they teach and reference this in essays where possible. Show the university that you have done your homework (over the summer) and that you know what they specialise in, that you are excited about a particular research topic, you know about their graduate employment programme or that they specialise in a particular area and comment on them in your application. They want to know you have chosen them for a reason.

Achieve good grades. You really do need good grades for a place at a highly selective university. By good grades I mean A or A* at A Level and for the US at least 1440 in SAT, which puts you in the top 10 percent of students. However, they will also look at your school grades in previous years to check for consistency and to check that you have not just put on a late spurt.

Maths and English IGCSE grades need to be at least a B. For many of the most competitive courses such as Law or Medicine you may need to take an additional entrance exam and again achieve a high grade, but this grade is not revealed by the university.

However, good grades are not all that is required. Highly selective universities, especially in the US, will accept students with good, but not excellent grades if the rest of your application is excellent. This means an excellent essay, lots of extracurricular activities where you actually showed that you challenged yourself or showed genuine leadership. Going into your parents’ workplace is not seen as challenging or a signifier of leadership. Arrange something away from the easiness of home life.

Having said this, it still makes sense to apply to highly selective universities if you have very good, but not top, grades. Admissions officers read applications bearing in mind the personal context in which you have achieved the grades. They want a well-rounded student who will bring something special to the university. Show them you are unique or outstanding at something such as art, sport, volunteering and so on.

There will be hundreds of students with grades as good as yours so make them remember you as being academic and ‘something else’; someone who will add to student life at their university. In the UK more emphasis is put on grades and academics so Oxford and Cambridge want to see how you have been passionate about your subject outside of the classroom, perhaps in setting up a club, or exploring the subject in your own time.

Be yourself but ‘sell’ who you are as a person. This means do not exaggerate or lie but, at the same time, don’t be too modest. Admissions officers are very experienced and can see through untruths but they also need you to point them to your achievements as long as you show that you have learned from what you have done.

Get someone, a friend or a family member, to help you uncover the real you if you find doing it alone difficult. Get them to describe you and use those words if you are too modest to describe yourself.

Finally, some quick pointers:

  • Proofread and proofread again. A simple error can result in a rejection.
  • Do not plagiarise. They have sophisticated software to catch you out.
  • Write it yourself rather than with a paid tutor. They want your voice, not theirs.
  • If you think you have what it takes do not be afraid to go for the Reach universities, even with slightly lesser grades, as long as you have a great letter of application and you know that the school can confirm everything you say you have done.

Please discuss all of the above as a family and make sure that the universities chosen have been agreed together before they are discussed with me.

Parents and guardians will have some opportunities at coffee chats and presentations in the next academic session to discuss these pointers with me and I look forward to seeing you there. Dates will be issued in due course.

For more information, please contact Graeme McNaught:

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