• higher education
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What we can learn from the US college admission scandal

The US college admission scandal has generated extensive global media attention since it was reported (in March 2019).

Some good could come out of this; a better understanding of the complex nature of US college application, possibly more transparent application procedures being put in place, greater value placed on the professional ethics and accreditation of college counsellors, and hopefully, increased awareness of the need for important conversations with parents about what university means for their children.

At the heart of this scandal is the focus some parents place on university rankings and elite university brands. This came to the fore a few years ago with the ‘Tiger Mum’ concept of an excessively aspirational parent seeking the ultimate university achievement for their child. It has also been cited in a recent report published by ISC Research, Pathways from International School to Higher Education. One college counsellor in the report, Jeremy Handcock of Vienna International School is quoted saying: “It does happen quite often, that parents have decided that their son or daughter will be a doctor or engineer or whatever it happens to be, and sometimes they even decided which university their son or daughter will go to, irrespective [of their child’s ability], they kind of breeze over things like that.”

Many international school college counsellors and some international school Heads are already devoting much time to these conversations with parents and preparing families from an early stage about university choice and what ‘success’ means for their child. More needs to happen.

What impact will this recent scandal have on international schools? David Hawkins, an independent college counsellor affiliated to CIS (Council of International Schools) and a member of International ACAC who advises a number of international schools believes schools need to be prepared for the backlash from this media attention. “There will be many questions that parents will want answers to,” he says. His advice to international schools: “Make sure that you have proper college counsellors (not just a teacher doing it on the side), and resource them properly so that they can travel to conferences, meet peers and hold all the appropriate memberships (regional or international, International ACAC and sign up to the NACAC CEPP). Heads and SLTs should make sure that they have more than a passing awareness of how US admissions works, and don't assume it's like the university admissions system they went through. For British Heads, or Heads of British schools, this is vitally important given how relatively straightforward UK admissions are.”

Some less ethical ‘international’ schools are known to be making false promises about university attainment. No association or accreditation body will support a school making deliberately untrue claims, so parents faced with messages that seem too good to be true need to know how to make an informed judgement about a school choice. School association membership, accreditation and the employment of professional college counsellors provide a level of reassurance that best practice and ethical standards supporting a child’s education are being followed.

You can learn more about ethical college counselling here:

November 2018 issue of International School Leader Magazine – special higher education issue

David Hawkins University Guy Podcast on the US Admissions Scandal

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  • Higher education
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  • US college admission