Once upon a time, it seemed the only factor in university application success was academic outcomes and grades. This is no longer true if it ever really was. The expansion of global travel for university places means competition is becoming fiercer and fiercer, and with the constant increase in international schools across the world, today’s students must stand out amongst this ever-increasing crowd. So how do students stand out in this global market with so many high-achieving students? This is now the question so many schools are being faced with. So, what are universities looking at beyond grades and why? And more importantly, what can schools learn from this?
It has been accepted for a long time that the way to student potential is to develop the whole student. To focus purely on exam outcomes can mean that grades are achieved, but at what cost? Are these students going to be equipped to continue this success in a very different environment or tertiary education? This is a concern regardless of whether the student comes with A Level grade, IB Diploma Points, SAT or AP scores or from some other academic system.
If these students cannot problem solve, work with others, and communicate clearly, what real long-term prospects do they have? The real priority for schools must be to develop the whole individual so that academic success is possible alongside the development of life skills that will ensure success well beyond school life. This is the reason that good schools embed so many other opportunities within their curriculum.
Common place now is MUN, International Award or The Duke of Edinburgh Award, debating clubs, charity groups and other leadership roles alongside the sporting and arts opportunities. These activities do not just bolster the student’s application or CV, they provide real opportunities for learning. Let’s take the MUN as an example. The MUN allows students to actively engage in real-life global issues; it raises awareness.
It requires students to consider a problem from a particular stance, the stance of the country they are representing, regardless of whether their personal stance is the same or quite the opposite. It requires students to share ideas, seek alliances, debate and discuss points and agree to resolutions. What successful person could not benefit from these skills?
I wonder what my early career might have looked like had I had the opportunity to develop those key life skills at a younger age. You could list similar skills that are developed for the other opportunities available alongside the benefits and importance of those skills.
So, what are the implications for school leaders? Firstly, what opportunities can you provide for your young learners within the school environment? How can you balance this against curriculum needs? My opinion is that leaders need to be brave and trust that if students are getting genuine development opportunities, it will make them better learners but, more importantly, allow them a better chance at success long term.
It will mean that schools are fulfilling their responsibility of developing the whole individual so they can reach their potential beyond school and become a globally aware citizen and contribute to society. It will also boost their potential offers from universities and make them more saleable to establishments that are now forced to look deeper to select their students from a global cohort. For those in the community that may be cynical about the benefits of these opportunities, although I hope there are not too many, simply refer to the fact that to be offered places in the top universities, students are having to demonstrate wider development. This justifies the need, although I hope you appreciate that the real need is around student development, not CV development.
So why are universities looking at more than just grades? Is this just a way to distinguish between individuals? I believe not. I believe universities understand that a student who has had opportunities outside the classroom and demonstrated a desire and passion for being involved will be the type of learner more likely to cope with the transition to a new learning model, are more likely to have the skills to succeed and contribute to their new community, the university.
So, whilst it is easy to adopt the view that clubs and activities will boost an application merely by their presence, it is much more likely that the presence of those additional learning opportunities demonstrates the individual has had the support and opportunities to develop those key life skills needed to meet their potential, in school and beyond.