16 Nov, 2023
15 : 40
How to provide better guidance to students applying to universities has been a question that Mr Nicholas Strong, Division Head of the Yew Chung Yew Wah Careers and University Guidance Office (CUGO), and his dedicated team have long been thinking about. According to Mr Strong, university applications extend beyond understanding the application process. Students need to make informed decisions on the basis of comprehensive information.
"It's not just about understanding how to apply, but also understanding what you're applying for and how it differs from other types of degrees available throughout the world," he explained.
Mr Strong knew about the many challenges that students face when they apply to prestigious universities. As a result, he and his team wondered whether it would be possible to help students better prepare for the demanding application process by integrating various aspects, such as the writing of personal statements and interview coaching, with tours of top universities.
Somerset, United Kingdom
The implementation of this idea is the CUGO Somerset Cultural Centre programme in the United Kingdom.
From late September to early October, 18 students from Yew Chung Yew Wah (YCYW) schools in the Chinese mainland embarked on a 10-day study tour led by their CUGO counsellors to the YCYW Knowle Hall campus in Somerset, United Kingdom.
Established in 2006, the YCYW Somerset Cultural Centre has developed a robust Yew Wah Somerset programme as a key component of the Yew Wah "World Classroom". The programme offers students an immersive learning environment for both British culture and English language. This background laid the foundation for the creation of the CUGO Somerset Cultural Centre project.
During the study tour, the students accompanied their teachers on visits to several prestigious British universities, such as Oxford University and Imperial College London. In addition to the university visits, the students also participated in various cultural activities designed to immerse themselves in the learning environment and the local culture of their dream school.
Emma, a Year 12 student at YCIS Beijing, shared her thoughts about the programme: "The important thing about going to Knowle Hall is being able to experience the local culture and learning environment. Rather than having someone else tell me what they were feeling, being able to come here and experience it for myself has been really helpful."
Ethan, a Year 12 student at YCIS Shanghai, expressed similar feelings, "We spent most of our time here outside the classroom and had the opportunity to gain first-hand experience of what it's like to be a part of a university. This is something we could not get on campus in Shanghai!"
Mr Tin Ip, YCYW's Education Director, summarised the programme in one sentence, "Learning is not just limited to the classrooms." As the programme coordinator, he actively participated in the discussions, guided the students, and accompanied them on university visits during the ten-day study tour. Mr Ip believes that the value of the programme is reflected in the students' expanded horizons and the rich learning resources they encountered.
A highlight of the programme involved having seasoned UK university application experts provide in-person counselling to the students. These experts shared their insights about what university admissions officers look for in interviews and personal statements. At the University of Oxford, students even had the opportunity to meet with Dr Matthew Williams, a leading expert on Oxford applications.
Ethan explained that his knowledge of applying to British universities had been superficial prior to his participation in the programme. After engaging with the application experts, however, he had not only a more concrete understanding of the admission criteria of top British universities, but also a clearer roadmap of what he needs to do to improve in terms of co-curricular activities, interviews, and so on. He said, "With a better grasp of the admissions process, I now feel more confident about applying to universities in the UK."
Jenny, a student from YWIES Shanghai Lingang, hopes to apply to Cambridge, Oxford, and Imperial College London. After interacting with the application experts, she learned valuable interview tips tailored to these three universities. Jenny was pleasantly surprised by the interview questions shared by the experts. "Although the interview questions might seem to have little to do with the specialty you want to apply for, they actually test your critical thinking skills," she noted.
Jenny first visited Knowle Hall when she attended a Yew Wah Somerset course in 2019, and she quickly fell in love with the historic and nature-rich setting. "The environment here is very similar to many British universities, with great biodiversity, lots of small animals, and a variety of berries," she said with excitement as she revisited the place after four years.
For Maggie Zhou, Chinese Vice-Principal of YWIES Shanghai Lingang, some of the fondest memories from the programme involve students playing frisbee and basketball, and cultivating friendships on the expansive green lawns of Knowle Hall. During the 10 days, she was able to witness the experiences and personal development of the students .
"Learning in real-life situations really helps our students to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to stand out in their university applications, especially self-awareness, interview skills, and essay preparation. Students also had the valuable opportunity to interact face-to-face with professors from renowned institutions like Cardiff University, and top admissions officers from leading UK universities such as Oxford University. As a result, the students admitted that they had become more confident in making future choices and navigating the application process. They felt particularly proud and rewarded," she shared.
In addition to gaining valuable experience and skills for applying to prestigious universities, Mr Ip believes that an overseas learning experience such as CUGO's Somerset Cultural Centre programme in the UK will have a long-term impact on the students.
"I sincerely hope that it will be a positive impact because they have to overcome a lot of problems. By doing so, they will become more mature and more independent. Whether our students study at a university in the UK or elsewhere, I think the overall experience of the Knowle Hall programme will help prepare our students to be ready for university life," he explained.