AIS Career & University Counseling

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You began applying for college, and your parents began preparing you, when you were very young. Were you the six-year-old who randomly mixed ingredients from the kitchen cupboard and left your concoction in the freezer to transform into the next super epoxy? Were you the nine-year-old who read each successive Harry Potter book before allowing yourself to watch the movie? Who helped you with the words you didn't know, did you want to know the words you did not know? Were you the twelve-year-old who registered for a free online physics class at ‘mit,’ wrestling your way through a few lessons before you realized what MIT stood for? Are you the teen who independently attends new exhibits in the city?

'If you learned how to think, read, and question before high school, you are ready to prepare your college applications. If you studied math from flash cards, learned exactly one definition for each word and that one is the Google definition. If you read only the assigned books for each grade, you might be ready -- maybe.'

Notice that all of the above examples of being college ready do not include the conventional wisdom of ‘having a specialty’ or ‘being unique.' Being really good at one thing is being good at one thing. Being ready for university is something else all together. The question is, do you know how to think?

You need not have been a child prodigy to convince universities of your ability to think. Today university expectations of student performance embrace the broader composition of a person, one that is more suited to a future requiring strengths like working in groups, cognitive flexibility to handle new situations, creativity and community involvement. These skills (or Attitudes to Learning as the IB calls them) are becoming increasingly present in university applications. It’s important to clarify that neither the International Baccalaureate nor University Admissions created the priority for these skills. Evidence beyond test scores, for resilience and survival have been a priority for your parents since the day you arrived. Regardless of where-you-are-from or where-you-are-going, universities and colleges in the past have been primarily concerned with the traditional academic aptitudes. Universities are now concerning themselves with student persistence.

Taking care of academics is always the first pillar of university preparation. In general reading, writing and math are the academic aptitudes that people think of, but computer skills, language skills and research skills are also examples of academic skills. Developing ‘knowledge areas’ is the business of universities. Not all students are sure what their area of expertise will be yet. Possibly, students know what course or major they would like to pursue but have not yet had the opportunity to experience the content in an academic context. Universities are patient with this reality. Universities are quite good at finding the common denominators between a student's high school academic experience and specific university courses and programs.

With a solid academic foundation, universities will turn to the question of persistence. In practice university applications now include questions illuminating a student’s ability to engage, explore and energize the content of their formal and informal curriculums. These criteria are considered to be the common denominators of resilience, grit or success. Engagement or exploration might be referred to as soft skills, but this is ironic. Identifying a student’s ability to push through challenges at the point of admissions can be predictive of a successful university experience. Universities, traditionally measured only by their admissions statistics, are now measure by outcome, namely who graduates, gets a job or goes to graduate school. Persistence combined with economic support (the family’s ability to pay) and academic ability (GPA plus test scores) are the most significant data points for student success, a metric which contributes significantly to the rankings methodologies. Rankings are the principal force in the university marketplace. The trend for universities world wide has been to embrace the concept of “holistic” evaluation in order to manage their rankings and selectivity. Each institution has their own unique sliding scale that considers persistence aptitude, ability to finance, academic indexes and sometimes specific institutional interests(athletics, legacy, development etc). This is the world of enrollment management and modern university admissions.

University admissions is actually a very scientific enterprise. The business, however, often has the power to make teenagers and families feel insignificant and insecure. Conversely, university acceptance is often revered as the holy grail, a one-stop shop for affirmation, vindication and so on. The best university process is neither. The university process is an extraordinary research project, an exercise of self awareness and decision making. It is sometimes the first and possibly last time that children and parents come together to engage a process this full. Some piece of this decision, like all life decisions will be emotional. Hopefully, the AIS Career and University office can be a place where parents and students can come for information, reason and reflection for steady navigation through a process that sometimes feels a bit stormy an overwhelming.

Casey Nolen Jackson, Director of University Counseling & Career Guidance

Upcoming events


University Fair


April 24, 2016
From 13:00 till 16:00

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