Cultivating Excellence in Preparation for University

By Lynn Yen 2022-08-04 18:00:10

Many families expend a lot of care and energy into the university admissions process. The big task can be confusing and with target schools located around the world, a knowledgeable support system at school is essential.


Kyndra Douglass is the University Guidance Counsellor at YCIS Pudong. Alongside administrators like Andy Clapperton, Assistant Co-Principal, the multi-campus YCIS community guides students through this important phase.


“I spend a lot of time educating myself, making sure that I have connections with universities around the world, that I’m a part of international admissions organizations, just to make sure I’ve got my finger on the pulse of what’s going on. It’s about making sure students and parents feel informed through class, special workshops, or webinars, ” said Douglass.


New lingo such as university rankings, test optional admissions, and personal statements fill the world of university admissions, and YCIS is there to lead students through it all.


Myths of University Rankings

Although rankings have come to be a major influence in university choice, Douglass advises her students and families to research and understand the metrics used in determining ranks. The popular US News and World Report Rankings and QS World University Rankings evaluate metrics that do not directly affect the undergraduate experience. For example Douglass points to the focus on professors’ research, rather than student learning outcomes and support.

Instead rankings are best used as a starting point to explore different school options.


Navigating Test Optional Admissions

One of the biggest changes to admissions in recent years has been a move to test optional admissions.

According to Douglass, “any university using those tests is also looking at different things like the personal essay, academic reports, teacher recommendation, and co- curricular activities. So one exam, is not going to get a student into university and is also not going to keep a student out.”

Deemphasizing the once hallmark standardized test has led to a more strategic approach to admissions.

“Students can strategize about the best way they can represent themselves,” said Douglass. “It’s important for families to work with guidance counselors to look at what students need and also what they don’t need for certain universities.”

Universities, especially in North America, are looking at long term academic results as opposed to one time academic tests.

According to Clapperton, students should build a portfolio of evidence that includes academic performance and distinction outside of school.

The Personal Statement

The personal statement essay allows the university to hear directly from a student and imagine them on campus. Because most universities don’t conduct interviews, these essays may be the only moment for students to speak for themselves.

Douglass adds, “I work individually to help students find their story and voice. Universities expect students to sound like teenagers. They aren’t expecting a 50-year-old academic that uses thesaurus words. The important piece is to be authentic. Just talk how you would talk to someone who you want to tell a little more about yourself.”


Co-Curricular Activities

North American schools place emphasis on co-curricular activities, while UK schools look for dedication to a chosen field of study.

There is a common idea that you have to be well rounded, and have done everything. But actually, Clapperton encourages the concept of being pointy, rather than being rounded. Instead of doing a bit of everything, he asks students to find different ways to apply their interest and talent in a specific field.

“Universities are like an orchestra, they need so many different people. They don’t need 100 violinists. So that’s why a pointy stand out factor will allow them to stand out,” adds Douglass.


Asking for Letters of Recommendation

When deciding whom to ask for a letter of recommendation, Douglass notes that universities really want to hear from teachers. First and foremost they are looking to recruit students to their university, so teachers are essential to understanding how the applicant is in the classroom.

“At YCIS I’m always telling the kids, ‘you’ve got to build those relationships with teachers.’ You want people on your team, because eventually a reference may be needed. A supervisor or coach can also be a good recommendation as long as they are really familiar with that kid,” said Douglass. “Our goal is for every recommendation, if you covered the name, one can recognize who is being talked about.”

YCIS holds workshops with teachers to make sure their letters of recommendation can highlight students’ strengths and outstanding moments.

The university guidance program at YCIS is in-depth and intensive. With a scheduled class every week starting in Year 10, the first year of high school, YCIS makes sure their students are fully prepared.


YCIS Shanghai

Phone: +86 (21) 2226 7666

Official WeChat: YCISShanghai

Admissions WeChat: YCIS-SH