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Top tip for preparing for university overseas

by Victoria Lidzbarski,Director of University & Careers Counselling, Dulwich College Shanghai of  Dulwich College Shanghai Pudong

Guidance counselor gives her advice on higher education

Top tip for preparing for university overseas

The university research and application process can be a little stressful.  Having worked with hundreds of students, in several countries, there are strategies and guidance available that assists in making the journey less traumatic. Here are my top 5 tips for preparing your children, and yourselves, for universities overseas.


1.  Prioritize academics.  This may seem obvious, but every year I am asked what students could have to do to be admitted to the universities of their choice.  Regardless of the country you are considering to have your child study in, the first admission criteria, and the factor of greatest weight, will be the child’s academic record (their marks and the rigour of their courses).  No perfect admission test score, or extra-curricular achievement will replace that truth.  The final two years of secondary school are especially crucial as are grade trends.

2.  Talk to your teens.  Adolescents are infamous for being withdrawn or failing to share information or feelings with adults.  That said, far too many parents have unrealistic expectations of their children and do not communicate clearly.  In my meetings with students and their parents, realizations and assumptions often come to light where those hidden beliefs are exposed.  Cook a meal with your child, go for a walk, or unplug the headphones in that next flight – you will be surprised and will learn from by your child’s own fears, apprehension, and enthusiasm for what lies ahead.

3.  Choose activities with discernment.  Students typically think that they have to “do it all” and be successful in sports, the arts and community service. Contrary to popular belief, universities do not expect perfection from 17 year olds. Instead, students should engage in a couple of key activities that truly interest them, and demonstrate commitment to those.  It is not about being well-rounded; it is about choosing wisely and participating in those activities that matter most to each individual student and which build his or her skill set for their future goals.  Quality over quantity is key.

4.  Languages learning is imperative.  In overseas/expat lifestyles we tend to take for granted that many of us speak multiple languages.  But in many countries, the US and the UK especially, most people still can only speak English.  Encourage your children to maintain their native tongue fluency and to build on their other language skills.  Simultaneously, do not forget that English communication skills are still paramount as it is the “lingua franca” of the world! 

Get Uncomfortable.  This last piece of advice is not the one most people want to hear.  As parents, we want to shield our children from failure, and push them to the front of the line.  That ambition is natural, but it is not always helpful.  Our children must be allowed to make mistakes!  They have to learn from their errors and re-adjust their behaviours and decisions independently.  Life is hard, and getting an occasional bad grade, or not being picked for a team, or missing out on another tutoring session or expensive test prep class may actually make their university applications stronger in the long run.  Trust me – “helicoptering” over them does not make it easier and overly-coached students are easy to spot in the application process.