Thursday, 28 August 2014


Now that nearly all of our graduating students have found places at universities in the UK and elsewhere, I thought it worthwhile to post a few notes about university application for parents of our current seniors. They are all engaged in this process right now. As the majority of them are intending to study in the UK, it seemed sensible to provide you with a few details about UCAS.

The acronym UCAS stands for Universities & Colleges Admissions Service. Nearly all students wanting a place at a British University use the system, whether they are residents of London, Paris or Kuala Lumpur. In the case of our seniors at the moment, there are various components required in the application process.

Firstly, we at KYUEM provide each student with subject references (given by teachers) and personal references (given by House tutors). We are also required to supply "Predicted Grades." This, occasionally, is the source of some minor disagreement. You need to be aware that students' progress through the college is tracked. By this, I mean that all their work is carefully recorded so that we can make accurate predictions when it comes to their A level grades. This is a significant UCAS requirement: colleges such as ours have built up an enviable reputation among UK universities because of the reliability of our predicted grades. It is essential that we maintain this: our academic credibility with the best universities in Britain depends upon it. Occasionally, a parent comes to see me to complain that our predicted grades for his son or daughter are not high enough - the child may require 3 A grades and we have predicted 2 As and a B. There is no point whatsoever in "inflating" the predicted grade just so that the child will get offers from universities. It creates false hope, when we know with virtual certainty what the eventual outcome will be.

Let me elaborate on that for a moment. Recently, following on from our excellent A level results this year, I asked all our Heads of Department to make a presentation of them, subject by subject, to our Senior Management Team. A key question we asked of all the HoDs was: "Were there any surprises: did any students perform much worse or much better at A level than you expected?" The answer was a resounding "No," in each case.

The student's task in the UCAS application procedure is twofold: firstly, s/he must select a number of universities (typically, five) that offer the sort of degree courses s/he wishes to pursue. In the case of sponsored students, this might be quite a restricted number, whereas private students can pretty well choose which ones they want. However, in every case, our University Guidance Counsellor is on hand to help students make the most appropriate choices, given their current academic performance. For example, we would strongly counsel a student not to apply to Oxford or Cambridge if we predict they will get 2 As and a B at A level.

The next task is the creation and submission of the student's personal statement. This is a very important document in that the student must clearly show his/her passion for the chosen subject and why the universities concerned should look favourably on the application. In many cases at KYUEM, students bring their draft personal statements to me and we go through them together. I will offer advice on suitable grammar and vocabulary choices so that the finished product shows them in the best possible light.

All this documentation is duly sent electronically to UCAS and students then wait for conditional offers. Assuming an application finds favour with the universities they have chosen, offers are often then made with nothing else required of the applicant. If they are lucky, students may end up with as low as 2 As and a B. More usually, it will be 3 As, 2 A*s  and an A, or even 3 A*s. However, at least they now know that  if they work hard and get the right grades, they have a guaranteed place at university. Certain university departments, and I'm thinking specifically of medical schools, may also require a face-to-face interview before an offer is made to the applicant.

Parents often ask me what happens if their son or daughter misses out on the required grades; e.g. s/he was offered 2As and a B and gets 1 A and 2Bs. When you think about it, this is likely to happen to hundreds (if not thousands) of students worldwide. UCAS expects it to happen and there is a highly effective system to deal with the situation. It's called "Clearing House" and basically, it matches students with appropriate universities where courses have not met their full quota. A student may not get the exact university of his/her choice, but s/he is likely to get an offer from somewhere (unless of course, the grades are poor). This system benefits our private students more than our sponsored ones simply because sponsored students are much more limited in their university choices.

I hope all this information has been of some help. Remember, if you need any further information or clarification, you can always contact Pn. Kasthuri, our University Guidance Counsellor, or myself.

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