In this issue:
- Researching US colleges
- US equivalents to Russell Group universities
- Parental support for students applying to university
- Last chance to apply to Sutton Trust US Programme 2021
Researching US Colleges
To those Year 13 students who have now submitted applications to US colleges by the Regular Action deadline, we wish you every success. You will receive the results of your applications at the end of March, and will have until 1st May to accept or reject any offers that you receive.
Year 12 students who are applying next year should by now have got into a weekly practice routine for the SAT or ACT tests. But don’t forget the other essential task during this academic year: researching the US college system so that by the summer, you will have identified a shortlist of colleges to which you would like to apply. To help you, Vicky Leung (Harvard Class of 1991) has written an article on Tips for Researching US Colleges, which includes comments on her own experiences when she was faced with the same task. The main criteria that may influence your college choices are:
- Admissions requirements – how do your achievements compare with typical students who gain admission?
- Courses – what is your most likely major, and your desired balance between optional and required courses?
- Cost – which colleges provide financial aid for international students?
- Location – which part of the US do you wish to be based, and do you want to be in a city, suburban or rural environment?
- Size – do you prefer to be in a setting with just a few hundred students or a large campus with many thousands?
- Diversity – What is the proportion of women to men? International to American students? Black and minority ethnic students to white students?
- Extracurricular interests – do you have an extracurricular interest that you cannot possibly do without?
Click here to read the full article, which includes links to some of the main search engines you can use to find colleges which fit your particular preferences.
The COVID pandemic has no doubt changed the college admissions landscape. The criteria described above must be interpreted in the current context and mitigating factors must be taken into account. If you feel that you have missed out or are still missing out on education as a result of school closures and do not feel as well-prepared for college education, please bear in mind that everyone is in the same boat. With the cancellation of GCSEs and A levels*, some of you may find it more challenging to develop strategies for applying to both British and US universities. Again, remember that all your peers are similarly affected. Families may have to reassess their financial situation, with implications on college choices. Some young people may become more reluctant to travel far from home for university education because of the risk of campus evacuations and migration to online learning. Others may find that they are in a better position to cast their nets more widely if US colleges continue their test-optional or test-blind policies.
It is not easy to predict how COVID would impact the next application cycle for US colleges. E.g. Harvard had expected COVID to cause a decline in the number of their Early Action applications (as stated in a special section for the Class of 2025 on their website). The reality was a huge increase in the number of applicants for both Early Action and Regular Action cycles from the UK and globally.
Over the next months, as college faculty members and admissions officers navigate the uncertainties, they may need to adapt the use of campus facilities, accommodation logistics, application requirements, academic and extracurricular offerings etc. You should take into account such changes when selecting your colleges. Please check regularly for updates on the schools’ own websites and take advantage of virtual events (e.g. college fairs) to further acquaint yourself with colleges under consideration.
* At the time of writing, the IBs are slated to go ahead in May 2021, but the situation is being reviewed regularly.
Is there a US equivalent to the Russell Group universities in the UK?
The short answer is ‘no’, but if you want a rough comparison between the Russell Group (the top 24 UK research universities) and other world universities, then you should find out where they sit in the world university rankings. Universities that appear in the same area of the tables are likely to be of a similar calibre – but you should be cautious about reading too much into this, because (1) the organisations that produce world rankings use different assessment criteria, so the ranking of a particular university can vary wildly between different tables; and (2) there are many other criteria besides world ranking (see above) that you should use to determine where you apply. If a particular college satisfies all your requirements then you should still apply regardless of its world ranking. Nevertheless, if you want to check where your US college shortlist sits in comparison to other universities both within and outside the UK, the main ranking sites are:
Academic Ranking of World Universities 2020 (2021 rankings not yet published)
Most, but not all, Russell Group universities come within the top 150 in the world rankings, so a very rough rule of thumb is that any university that comes within that range will be on a par with the Russell Group. But do bear in mind that there are still many excellent colleges outside the top 150.
Parental support for students applying to university
Parents of students in Year 12 who will be applying to American universities next autumn will no doubt be wondering what kind of support they should be offering their offspring. Students who make successful applications to top US colleges are nearly always self-starters – they are highly motivated individuals who undertake all the necessary research and preparation to put themselves in the best possible position to put together a high quality application. Parental support is an important part of this endeavour – but you must be careful not to take over control of the process. Admissions Officers (AOs) will expect applicants to take the lead when researching different colleges and preparing their applications, as students who are unable or unwilling to take the initiative in this respect are unlikely to have the personal qualities the AOs are looking for. So what exactly is the best role for parents to take in the application process?
In 2017, Richard Weissbourd, Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), published a report entitled Turning the Tide as part of the HGSE’s Make Caring Common project. In the report’s Executive Summary, he states that “…today’s culture sends young people messages that emphasize personal success rather than concern for others and the common good….and too often the college admissions process – a process that involves admissions offices, guidance counselors, parents and many other stakeholders – contributes to this problem.”
The report’s recommendations (which over 175 US college admissions deans have signed up to) are summarised in the Usable Knowledge section of HGSE’s website, where senior editor Bari Walsh focuses particularly on ‘how to parent’ through the college application process. Some particular tips she highlights are:
- Listen to your child. Find out what he or she hopes for and expects from college.
- Be a guide and facilitator, connecting your child to information and big-picture thinking about the purpose of college.
- Focus on finding the right college for your child, not applying or getting in to the ‘best’ college.
- Unclutter your own anxieties: don’t filter your child’s best interests through your own hopes, peer-driven status worries, or your own unmet college expectations.
- Prioritize quality, not quantity, when it comes to extracurricular activity. Students should feel under no pressure to report more than two or three substantive extracurricular activities. Submitting lengthy ‘brag sheets’ will not increase students’ chances of admission.
- Prioritize service opportunities that your child finds meaningful. For example, a student’s family contributions, such as caring for younger siblings, taking on major household duties or working outside the home to provide needed income, can be a more valuable demonstration of your child’s commitment to helping others than short term, high profile service placements.
- Make sure your kids are eating and sleeping well.
- Encourage your child to be authentic, truthful and reflective in the application process.
- Make the process meaningful for you and your child: use these conversation starters.
In March 2019, Richard Weissbourd published a follow-up report entitled Turning the Tide II: How Parents and High Schools Can Cultivate Ethical Character and Reduce Distress in the College Admissions Process. This sequel offers guidelines to teachers and parents on promoting ethical character. The report observes that colleges and schools are starting to encourage ethical engagement among students and this trend could level the playing fields for young people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. The message to parents is clear – there is much more than academic and extracurricular achievements to a child. US universities on the whole are deeply committed to recruiting those who could do the most good for society and those who care most about their communities.
Last chance to apply for the Sutton Trust US Programme 2021
If you are in Year 12 and have gained 8 or more GCSEs at grade A or grade 7 and above (or near this level), are from a low or middle income family, or would be the first in your family to attend university, then you should definitely apply for this excellent programme. If you are accepted, you will receive (among other things) a week-long summer school in the US and UK-based residentials to receive comprehensive admissions advice. This year, two virtual UK-based residentials are planned for April and June. The week in the US is still scheduled to go ahead in July / August but the Sutton Trust may need to adjust their plans and deliver the experience virtually should the pandemic situation require. All costs are covered by the Sutton Trust. But hurry! There are only a few days left. The deadline is 11.59pm, Sunday 17 January 2021, so apply online now on the Sutton Trust website.
If you have already submitted your application, please remind your Head of Sixth Form that the school reference deadline is 11.59pm, Thursday 21 January 2021.