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The UWCSEA High School admissions process: aligned with the mission

Molly Fassbender, Communications and Marketing Executive, UWCSEA Foundation
20 April 2017

United World Colleges are unique educational institutions, standing apart from other schools with their singular mission: to make education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future. In pursuit of that mission and corresponding values, UWCs are thus obligated to select prospective students with not only excellent approaches to learning, but the highest potential to embrace and embody the mission.

Starting in 2015, Jonathan Carter, Director of Admissions for UWCSEA, began transforming the High School Admissions process; moving away from a series of four lengthy academic tests and a brief interview with the leadership team, to incorporate a new Assessment Day—an interactive and immersive experience designed to give prospective students a real feel for the College and an opportunity to show their true potential to live the mission. Jonathan explains, “We recognised that we were receiving accurate information about academic proficiency from the applicants’ schools, so there was no reason to test them again. We looked to create an Assessment Day that would be an invaluable experience and opportunity for both the College and the applicant—to give them a chance to showcase their true selves in a series of different tasks and exercises in relation to the mission.” Jonathan also took inspiration from the selection process for the UWC national committee scholars, who often undergo a series of interviews, activities and tests over a period of months designed to drill down to their core strengths and abilities and to distil their commitment to the UWC mission and their skills and assets as a community member.

The Assessment Day is an active and immersive experience; prospective students leave their ties and blazer at home and come dressed in sneakers and jeans, ready to get moving. This is a day that challenges the students’ ideas, perspectives and puts them in front of current staff and students. The day starts with an introduction and welcome for families—parents and applicants—before the parents are given a tour of the College and the applicants participate in an interactive session about the UWC movement and the nature of education. Rather than a typical slide show presentation about the College, Jonathan sets a series of questions for the group, designed to challenge and explore their ideas about education, meaningful diversity and where in their hearts the College can help shape a better world. Jonathan emphasises to families that this day is not only about the College getting information about them, but that they should also be evaluating and trying to get a deeper understanding of the College; this is a day for mutual learning and commitment.

After the education session, students then have individual interviews with the members of the High School Leadership team. A pizza lunch is provided and UWCSEA students join in for informal socialising. Applicants are then taken on a student-guided tour of the College. The applicants then move into the Games session—a series of exercises designed to look at social interaction skills, and the willingness to take on challenges, to participate and to be present (and not looking at their phones). The day culminates with a 60-minute forum; led by UWCSEA student facilitators, in which the group discusses an open-ended question such as “Should the death penalty be banned?” or “Should rich people be obligated to help poor people?” UWCSEA students who participate in the Assessment Day are volunteers who go through two training sessions in advance in order to adequately prepare for the experience.

Detailed reflection takes place after the Assessment Day, giving weight not only to the feedback from Admissions and leadership staff, but also from current UWCSEA students who were involved in the lunch, tours and forum. Jonathan says, “The new process has empowered our current students to take the mission into their hands. They are encouraged to deeply reflect on the prospective applicants and their potential contributions to UWCSEA. The process is also very uniquely ‘UWC’ as it gives our students a real voice, which creates a sense of responsibility and engagement. Our students are very astute and pick up on behaviours or skill sets demonstrated through social situations that might not have come through otherwise.”

Radu Lunggu, a UWCSEA Grade 11 student facilitator volunteer, reflects on his experience, “Leading the forum was a real chance to help the school to choose the suitable students who will represent the UWC movement in the best way … As the main leader and facilitator, I was challenged by the participants as they were quiet and not engaged in the discussions. I had to show initiative and ask them challenging questions, thus persuading them to debate and talk more.”

The UWCSEA High School Admissions is an example of how changing processes can have an impact across the College that truly reflects the UWC mission and ethos. There are few things more important for the College than the people who make up its community, and a community that is united in common purpose from the start brings us a few steps closer to fulfilling our unique mission.