Three Keys to Success for International University Applications

Three Keys to Success for International University Applications


At this moment in time, high school students in China who are applying to study abroad are undergoing a challenging period of study.


Education institutions throughout China have been impacted by recent campus closures, with most schools moving to online learning programmes instead. Many foreign embassies have suspended the issuing of new visas, and some international education institutes have cancelled their exams – this crisis is hitting pupils hard, especially sixth-formers with international education aspirations.


In light of this, we spoke to Stephen Tippen, Director of Higher Education and Careers at Wellington College International Shanghai, and his team, to hear more about international universities’ responses to this crisis, and how pupils can react to these changes with calmness and ease.


Three Keys to Success for International University Applications






In higher education, Chinese students represent a huge proportion of all international students studying at foreign universities; in the United Kingdom (UK) Chinese students number over 120,000 and account for around a third of all non-EU students, and in the United States (US) there are more than 350,000 Chinese students who represent about 30% of all foreign students.


These figures alone make it clear that the current situation is a matter of great concern to universities around the world. Many international institutions have recognised the severity of this crisis and are making some concessions to their application procedures as a result.


If you have not yet submitted your university applications:


Some top universities are making certain changes and ‘allowances’ to their admissions processes. Due to the difficulties of the current situation, many universities have been amenable if pupils are unable to send parts of their application on time or school documents are submitted in a slightly different format. It is still advisable to meet any set deadlines and pupils are encouraged to check the online guidance provided by universities or contact the admissions team directly if they are facing any difficulties. 


If you have submitted your university applications, and are still waiting to hear back:


The university guidance team have been supporting pupils in this situation by talking directly to institutions about how the disruption and extra stress is impacting pupils’ learning and how this could affect their final results.


Many universities have procedures in place to ensure ‘extenuating circumstances’ are taken into consideration when final admissions decisions are made. The university guidance team is preparing to ensure that these factors are ‘flagged-up’ in advance of pupils taking exams.


Thus far, the university guidance team have received overwhelmingly supportive and positive responses from universities. Admissions representatives and academics from top universities such as MIT and Harvard in the US, and Cambridge, Imperial, and UCL in the UK have been happy to listen to our concerns and have attempted to reassure us that any disruption pupils face will not disadvantage them in the admissions process.


Most of the 2020 leavers from Wellington College Shanghai and Tianjin have received offers from all of their university choices. A few universities are yet to release their offers and some destinations, such as Australia, have a later application cycle.


The key instruction for all pupils in this situation is ‘don’t panic’. International universities are very aware of the current crisis and they, along with the university guidance teams at Wellington College China, are doing their best to ensure that no pupil application is unfairly affected by the current disruption.


Three Keys to Success for International University Applications






Sixth-formers at Wellington College China have been able to react to recent events with relative calmness due to the strong foundation of pupil support and university guidance offered by the school. The College has been guided by three ‘keys’ that ensure success when providing support to its pupils during this time:

Our highly organised university guidance team


University guidance is always a highly complex and meticulous process.


The current cohort of Year 13 pupils at Wellington College International Shanghai are applying to universities in more than 13 different countries, with most pupils applying to more than one destination. 


Each country, and often each different university within that country, will have their own application system, their own set of admissions priorities and their own set of deadlines that are strict and need to be met. Thus, the College has complex systems in place to track each pupil’s application to ensure that they are meeting these deadlines and requirements. This process makes sure that pupils not only complete their applications on time – but also ensures that they allow enough time for the College, and their teachers, to complete our parts of the application, such as references and recommendation letters, to the highest possible standard.


The entire university guidance team need to be highly organised at the best of times, so they are perfectly suited to face this new and peculiar set of challenges.


Our 'Higher Education Pathway'


In addition to achieving the practical goal of getting university offers, the university guidance team also aims to cultivate pupils' independence.


Independence is one the five characteristics that describes the Wellington Identity. In this context, independence is cultivated by encouraging pupils in younger years to start thinking about their options and what they may wish to do in the future.  Getting pupils to consider these matters early on helps them plan for the future and ensures they make clear, considered choices when applying to university.


Three Keys to Success for International University Applications


Wellington College China’s ‘Higher Education Pathway’ is a specific programme of information, advice, and guidance that supports pupils from Year 9 through to Year 13 to make decisions about their future education. Pupils are informed of all their options through specific sessions and university talks, but they are also encouraged to be independent and develop their own individual research.  This begins with pupils in younger years assessing their own strengths and interests, understanding how they relate to their IGCSE options and future careers, and gradually culminating in year 13 with pupils building up a picture of what and where they wish to study when they leave Wellington College China.


Our continued guidance for pupils during these special circumstances


In response to recent events, our teachers have been providing alternative content and supporting pupils through online classrooms, and the university guidance team have been continuing to provide sessions as part of the ‘Higher Education Pathway’. The university guidance team are well-equipped to support pupils during this time; aside from setting up specific replacement sessions, they are also providing tailored individual advice and guidance to pupils and parents about university admissions.






Even with the 'three keys' detailed above, the past few weeks of disrupted schooling have not been easy for anyone. We asked the university guidance team for some specific advice for sixth-formers who are dealing with, or preparing for, university applications.


For pupils who will be leaving high school in 2020, although they have completed most of the application work, they still need to do the following:


  • Based on previous years of research and preparation, pupils should finalise and submit their university applications.
  • Pupils will have to decide which of their outstanding university offers to accept. This is not always a straightforward decision, particularly when many will be ‘conditional’ upon them achieving certain grades in their upcoming IB/A-Level exams.
  • Pupils in Year 13 should focus on their final exam. This is still the most important part of any university application – ultimately, their final grades will stay with them for life!


  For pupils who will be leaving high school in 2021, this is a critical year:


  • Pupils should be researching their options in greater depth and making some final decisions about where and what they wish to study.
  • Pupils should undertake in-depth research into the admission requirements of each of their preferred universities so that they can start tailoring their application appropriately.
  • Top tip: Undertaking targeted extra-curricular activities and/or super-curricular study (further academic research) into a pupil’s chosen subject will impress a university admissions team and could prove the vital ingredient to produce a successful application.
  • By the end of the 2020 school year all pupils should be finalising their test strategy, taking US admissions tests and preparing for potential post-admissions tests at the beginning of Year.


One positive aspect of the current crisis is that pupils are increasingly having to work independently and take responsibility for their own learning. These are precisely the kind of skills that are valued by admissions tutors and will serve our pupils well when studying at top international universities. Although the current situation is not ideal, this experience may help convince a potential university that a pupil is ready to rise to the challenges posed by higher level study.


The 2020 school year brings challenges and opportunities to us all. Wellington College China wishes all pupils who are pursuing overseas education the best of luck with their university applications.

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