How can UK boarding schools help smooth the transition to university for international students?
“One excellent example of specific support for international students is putting final year students in touch with alumni who are currently at the universities the student might be considering”
As parents know, selecting a university is about more than accessing the latest subject and university rankings. The challenge is even harder for parents who may be several thousand miles away, writes Pat Moores, director and co-founder of UK Education Guide.
Therefore, the responsibility for helping international students find the right university often relies on the diligence of boarding schools.
Some schools offer the same support for international students as they do for UK students, but it is hard not to think that they need more, recognising the lack of direct parental input.
As Caroline Nixon, General Secretary of BAISIS comments: “International students need greater support than UK pupils, not the same…parents don’t understand the process and are remote.”
“University websites make it quite difficult to find basic information, as the focus is on a detailed examination of facilities themselves”
Some schools argue that if their pupils are prepared properly, it is right that they lead the process, not the school or parents.
“The right choice of university does not depend on a thorough understanding of the university but on a thorough understanding of self. Students that are honest [about] their needs and desires are more likely to make a suitable choice than those that analyse only the provision of a university,” said Gareth Collier, principal of Cardiff Sixth Form College.
Certainly encouraging students to ‘take control’ of the decision-making process makes sense. However, if this is the case, it is arguable that boarding schools need more support from universities to help international students, who are more dependent on online and printed materials.
For example, a young person may know that being able to access all facilities, including lectures on the main campus, with halls of residence within walking distance from this campus is their ideal university ‘set up’.
However, university websites make it quite difficult to find basic information, as the focus is on a detailed examination of facilities themselves.
We had a similar experience when researching UK Education Guide. Finding out the numbers of international students studying at each featured institution was not straightforward, for example.
“We produce a university application process guide for international parents, and our mentors, assigned to each pupil according the subject area they are interested in”
We felt this was important information to provide as some international students want a large international student body. This information was hard to extract from some universities, usually those with low international student numbers.
Whilst recognising the need for students to take responsibility for the university selection process, many Boarding schools go to great lengths to help; including organising trips to university open days and encouraging pupils to take time to review online campus tours.
One excellent example of specific support for international students is putting final year students in touch with alumni who are currently at the universities the student might be considering. Both Felsted School and Brooke House College create these links which give a unique glimpse into university life.
Felsted School also pairs up international students with a UK family on university visits.
“This can help give a truer view of University life for [all] students,” said Chris Townsend, headmaster at Felsted.
Guardians also provide excellent personalised support to prospective students and their families.
“We produce a university application process guide for international parents, and our mentors, assigned to each pupil according to the subject area they are interested in studying at university, then work through the application process with them,” said Julia Evans from Cambridge Guardian Angels.
There are great examples of boarding schools supporting international students in their university selection process, but it is hard to escape the fact that there is nothing to replace campus visits, and these are hard for schools to arrange when parents are thousands of miles away.
The more boarding schools, guardians, and universities can work together to increase these opportunities and make online and printed materials more relevant to international students, the better.