Friday, 8 September 2017


If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.

Albert Einstein

Einstein was not rated very highly by his school teachers. Neither did he show much brilliance, initially, at university. Of course, we now consider him to be one of the foremost intellects of the twentieth century. It might be assumed that his gifts were so exceptional and advanced that his educators were not able to spot them. Simply because he was so ahead of his time, they just couldn't keep up with him.

I think you can make a case for saying that, but I prefer to look at it from a different angle. As educators, we can only work within the parameters of what is considered acceptable by society. If we find such a student at KY, but realise that he is incapable of demonstrating his abilities via an examination, for example, there is not much we can do about it. Thankfully, in my time here, we have not seen such a person. Nonetheless, the Einstein quote I offer you today resonates with us at KY. This is the time of year when our seniors are preparing their university applications. Our teachers are writing references and submitting predicted grades. Individuals are approaching me or my colleagues for help in crafting personal statements. It is at times like this that we need to ensure everyone is being represented fairly and in the best possible light, according to his or her academic abilities. 

Usually, everything turns out well, but occasionally, we get a shock. We might get a student who is confidently predicted to do exceptionally well, but who gets surprisingly few offers. Why have the universities to which s/he applied not seen the merit that we all know is there? In other words, why has the assumption been made that this is a fish who wants to climb a tree?

There are, I believe, certain undisputed facts about applying to Russell Group or Ivy League universities. Chief among these is that the intellect of the applicant is assumed to be of the highest order - it's a given, if you like. I remember asking a representative of LSE a few years ago what was the hardest part of his job. "That's easy," he said. "Having to turn down applicants who are expected to get three A* grades."

So, if we take academic excellence for granted, what else must there be in the mix? The fact that a personal statement is well written should be an obvious requirement. But what about the actual content? We are now getting down to the nub of the problem. Students who simply list their academic achievements and little else, are not giving the universities very much to go on. A well rounded student must also show ample evidence of extracurricular activity in sport or cultural pursuits. S/he should have held some kind of office to show elements of responsibility and potential leadership.

I also think there is one last piece in the jigsaw puzzle: a personal statement should show passion. Nothing impresses me more than to read about young people's idealism and their burning desire to make the world a better place. I truly believe that the combination of excellent predicted grades, sound references and a personal statement that shows a passionate belief in the subject to be studied, all increase the chances of getting good offers.

I wish our seniors currently submitting their university applications all the luck in the world.


  1. Good message to KY students. Hope they make use of this wonderful tips.