Dr. Robin Lister from Malvern College Hong Kong recently sat down with us to teach us, fittingly, a thing or two or ten about the overwhelming topic of university admissions. We talked about trends, admission tips, global differences, how schools prepare young adults for this horrifyingly exciting step and more. Here is what we learned from our conversation. We are enlightened indeed.
Unsatisfied with his own experience in school, Dr. Lister decided at about 16 that he would become the kind of educator he himself wanted to have. After decades of involvement in international education through a seriously impressive variety of positions both in the UK and the US, he bought a dehumidifier for the summer and a jacket for the winter and came to Hong Kong to become the Founding Headmaster of Malvern College Hong Kong, which is opening this August, while the Preschool has been opened since last year. Malvern College Hong Kong culminated Dr. Lister’s lifelong journey of a dedicated educator, and it’s wonderful to listen to him talk about his calling, the history of Malvern College and its unique balance between cherishing tradition and venturing into innovation (one of the first in the UK to implement the IB program, has a “life skills” curriculum alongside the 6 form curriculum!!!). You can read Little Steps’ own coverage of Malvern College Hong Kong here to get more factual info.
The UK's UCAS application system restricts pupils to 5 choices, but Dr. Lister points out that they noted a huge increase in the past 5 years in the number of applicants to American universities. Malvern College yearly has about 30 pupils go to Ivy League and other prestigious universities and colleges in the US. The application process is changing for the US to look more like to UK one - read more on that below.
1. COLLEGES vs UNIVERSITIES
First, let's get a semantic issue out of the way. Not knowing they are not the same thing, many Britons look up American universities, but not American colleges, which leaves great schools completely overlooked. While some colleges are within universities, on their own they normally only teach undergraduate courses and focus on teaching, while universities offer postgraduate courses and invest a lot into research as well.
2. HARD FACTS & SOFT FACTS BALANCE
UK schools are almost exclusively focused on academic results when choosing their candidates, while the US schools take the broader picture into consideration. Therefore, extra-curricular activities mean little in the UK (unless they imply professional work experience, which is necessary when applying for medicine, for example), while activities that require leadership skills, initiative, an entrepreneurial spirit or some other form of non-academic competence could mean a lot when applying to a US university or college. Dr. Lister sums it up by saying that US universities don’t want their pupils in their rooms working all day long. Malvern departs from its fellow UK schools in this regard; they believe that academic and life skills should be interwoven and that real excellence is achieved by developing the person as a whole.
3. APPLICATION PROCESS
The UK has a simple and uniform application process which requires the pupil to fill out a form containing their 5 choices, grades, test results and such and accompany it with a personal statement. The US has a more complicated system, which is why many universities recently joined forces to develop a new one. It is online and works a lot like the UK system, but sadly not all universities use it.
1. TALK TO A COUNSELLOR
Schools should have a good careers/university guidance counsellor and discuss the decision with both the parents and the pupil. Dr. Lister points out that there are online sites that guide pupils towards possible choices too, thus lowering the overwhelmedness of the search to more manageable levels.
2. VISIT UNIVERSITIES & COLLEGES
Dr. Lister insists on the benefits of giving pupils the opportunity to visit different universities to get a real flavor of the life in a particular one. This is why Malvern regularly takes its pupils on tours. He emphasizes that one-to-one visits are way better for feeling the inherent atmosphere of a place than open days as well. So take your kid to the campus they are interested in and maybe it’ll be love at first sight.
3. DON'T SKIP ON EXTRA-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES
Kids should take every opportunity for extra-curricular activities no matter how little or much it means for their university application - these activities make them more rounded and provide invaluable experience that they can’t find in a book and that will help them in their further academic ventures indirectly (by making them more awesome). Schools offer so much more than they used to, so make it count!
1. INVESTING TIME IN FIELDS OTHER THAN THE PRIMARY INTEREST IS INVALUABLE
Dr. Lister suggests considering doing some groundwork before focusing on what the pupil ultimately wants to do - for example, getting a degree that’s indirectly related to the calling, like one in psychology or English before a postgraduate law qualification for future lawyers. This makes the person more rounded, experienced, knowledgeable, you name it. Besides, one career has innumerable different manifestations and additional expertise may prove to be just the thing that sets them apart!
2. PRESTIGE IS NOT MAGIC: BUSTING MYTHS & GIVING TIPS
While going to top-tier universities like Harvard, Oxford or Cambridge will help your career, the fact of you studying at a prestigious university is nothing on its own. Dr. Lister suggests to completely disregard this when it comes to a bachelor's degree, while it is something to consider when it comes to a master's degree. What pupils should do is look for courses that genuinely spark their interest, a location they would enjoy making a part of their life, and think about the career that follows. For those seeking to become real influencers, it is generally no longer considered sufficient to finish university with one degree, so Dr. Lister emphasizes the importance of both BA and MA - ideally on two different continents - to kick-start your post-university days in the best possible way. This is the ideal scenario guaranteed to make a pupil stand out.
3. UNIVERSITY IS NOT FOR EVERYONE - AND THAT'S OKAY
Dr. Lister points out that a growing minority of parents in the UK is considering professional apprenticeships, many of which are considered very prestigious and are quickly filled. People coming out of universities do not necessarily have the skill sets that they require to do the job they want. Professional apprenticeships are increasingly gaining prestige and popularity, so don’t forget to check all the options, but also keep in mind that higher education is neither the ultimate nor the only path towards success in life.