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Getting to Next: Supporting Our Students to Find a ‘Right Fit’ University

Johanna Fishbein, Head of University Advising, UWCSEA Dover
Pamela Kelly Wetzell, Head of University Advising, East Campus
9 September 2019

UWCSEA has developed a careers and university advising programme that spans the High School years.


UWCSEA students are sought after by reputable universities worldwide. Our graduating class typically enrols at universities in over 20 countries, with the four most popular country destinations being the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. Last year we hosted over 315 universities on our campuses for information sessions, with several choosing UWCSEA to host their information events for the wider Singapore community.

Our students literally have a world of choice available as they start exploring their post-graduation options, with most going directly to university or taking a gap year. Around 11% of each graduating class factor in National Service commitments. Whatever their next destination, we are conscious that our community of largely Third Culture Kids (TCKs) needs carefully considered advice and support to assist them with university applications around the world.

As a result, UWCSEA has developed a careers and university advising programme that spans the High School years, delivered by our team of dedicated University Advisors. These specialist staff are located in the University Advising Centre (UAC), which is integrated into the central High School office on each campus. The advising programme intentionally links with elements of the Personal and Social Education (PSE) programme in order to ensure students are able to use key self-discovery and exploration tools that are highly relevant to their planning for life after UWCSEA.

Underpinning the success of the programme are a highly experienced team of University Advisors who are equipped to support and advise students as they transition to life beyond the College. Between them, they have decades of experience and expertise across many university destinations and work closely with mentors, heads of grades and teachers to gain the most detailed picture they can of a student’s strengths, so that they can guide them and advocate for them on a highly individualised basis.

Starting with strength exploration sessions for students in Grade 9, the process expands into a highly individualised, nuanced programme of support in Grades 10, 11 and 12, as outlined below:

Grade 9 and 10: Understanding themselves, exploring options

In Grade 9, the University Advisors lead sessions where students start exploring and developing their academic strengths and extra-curricular interests. The emphasis is on students beginning to know themselves as a key first step in planning for their future. Information is also shared with students and parents about university systems around the world, career options and alumni stories.

In Grade 10, the students continue to explore topics that will help them in their university search, with significant integration with the PSE programme. In their mentor groups, at assemblies and during lunchtime and in after-school sessions led by the university advisors students continue to expand their exploration journey. Information and events include:

  • tools on Maia Learning
  • Alumni fairs, panels and ‘Alumni Week’
  • Careers-in-Focus talks by visiting speakers
  • Careers Fair organised by our Parents’ Associations
  • academic ‘taster’ lectures by visiting academics
  • resume writing and communication skills training
  • summer options and access to research databases
  • In-depth IB Diploma subject selection guidance is also offered, including an individual meeting with a University Advisor, which parents may also attend. 

A ‘Planning Ahead for University’ presentation for students and parents complements the rest of the advising process in Grade 10, which includes guidance on standardized admissions tests and the recommended timeline for taking these tests. Parents are strategic partners and so workshops and coffee mornings are an integral part of our engagement plans.

Grade 11 and 12: Personalised advising

In Grade 11, students are assigned a University Advisor who oversees the student’s entire university research and application process until (and sometimes beyond) graduation. The advisors continue their support beyond graduation in the case of Gap Year or National Service bound students.

Country-specific information sessions for students and parents are led by the university advisors. These are followed by a series of individual meetings between each student and their advisor. Parents are also welcome to schedule appointments.

Students are supported with a variety of research and information resources throughout the two years of the IB Diploma. The PSE programme interweaves ‘core’ topics at key times of year, and others (that are relevant to smaller groups of students) are offered via the Activity programme at lunchtime or after school. The support offered includes:

  • information events by visiting universities and UWCSEA alumni
  • academic ‘taster’ lectures by visiting academics
  • specialist presentations on topics such as Oxbridge, medicine, National Service, US athletics recruitment etc
  • mock US admissions workshops and alumni interviews
  • UK Personal Statement and US application essay writing support
  • training and mock interview workshops
  • guidance on standardised admissions tests, including on-campus test-prep and testing several times a year
  • a summer work experience programme

Students continue to meet with their advisors as needed throughout their Grade 12 year for guidance, for individual application essay feedback, application processing, and enrolment decision-making support.

Communication: a key to success

The UAC has a number of customised communications including a campus-specific website, Google calendar and Facebook groups, and regular bulletins and eBrief messages. The volume of activity means that it is important for students and families to actively engage with these avenues so that they can make the most of the opportunities available.

In Grade 12, students are also provided with a clear timeline of UWCSEA-set (‘internal’) deadlines to help them submit applications in time to meet the deadlines set by the individual institutions (‘external’ deadlines). In order to support the students’ applications, the advisors need this additional time to write and compile confidential school references, and coordinate submission of all school documents, including teacher recommendations, transcripts, the School Profile, and any other required documentation. The internal deadlines are set to enable the advisors meet a range of external deadlines over the course of the year.

Professional support

Building a relationship of mutual trust, respect and collaboration with university admissions professionals worldwide has been a key goal for the UWCSEA UAC team. A key part of their role is to manage the liaison between the school and the universities. The success of this approach meant that last year, both campuses were visited by 315 different universities and colleges.

Whether it is volunteering on Executive Boards for organisations or presenting to peers at conferences, the UAC team are also respected in the international university guidance community. They regularly co-present with university admissions representatives at international conferences, and all members of the UAC team regularly visit universities across the world to stay up to date with trends in higher education.

This extensive networking means there is always someone the UAC team can contact to answer questions, provide support and, where appropriate, advocate directly for our students.

A final reassurance

UWCSEA students are actively recruited by universities worldwide because of their excellent and rigorous academic preparation through the IB Diploma, their incredible range of interests and talents, but most importantly, because they embody the UWC mission and ethos. Our UAC team take great pleasure in supporting students as they journey towards becoming graduates who are high-impact on the university campuses they attend. In the words of one university admissions representative: “In addition to bringing diverse cultural perspectives to campus, UWC students are making an impact in every area from academics to community engagement, service, and leadership. UWC students have won research grants in the sciences, written plays and choreographed dance shows, led service projects..., interned in campus departments and … companies, and been leaders in student government.”