Choosing a university needs a lot of thought and research. No university, with the possible exceptions of Harvard and Oxbridge, is a world leader in every field. Most universities have distinct strengths, and if you want to study law, for example, you probably shouldn’t go to an institution with a strong reputation in engineering. But that’s just the first step through a veritable minefield of considerations. With this in mind, Education UAE spoke to David Turner, College and Career Counsellor at Dwight School Dubai, tapping into his 25+ years of educational experience and knowledge of pointing young people ‘in the right direction’.
EdUAE: It seems a bit of an ‘ask’ sometimes for young people to have to choose a career at such an early stage of life – how can parents help their children to choose the best path?
David Turner: You’re right. It’s a lot for a young academic to process. That’s not to say that counsellors don’t occasionally have a young person emphatic to be a Cardiothoracic Surgeon; admittedly, such clarity is decidedly less common. Nevertheless, regardless of how far along students may be on a potential career decision, it will be important to develop a greater understanding of what’s going on in the world in order for them to find their places in it.
A good investment is to gain life skills and improve your writing or interpersonal skills as well
To start, help young people populate a future universe with greater career/study interests and possibilities. Get your children engaged. Work and discover together. There is no shortage of low and no cost courses for students to further their pursuits – both personally and academically. We are developing young minds here. Be mindful that it is just as relevant to remember to learn skills. A good investment is to gain life skills and improve your writing or interpersonal skills. A young person, who has a better situational awareness of the world and his /her place in it, is more likely to be clear on a future direction.
EdUAE: So many young people nowadays want to take up ‘different’ careers, such as those in the arts – how important is it for parents to fully support these ambitions instead of pushing their children to be doctors or lawyers?
David Turner: This can be a very delicate situation. As a counsellor, I am an advocate for my students. However, it is inevitable that preferred outcomes may not be equitable amongst all stakeholders. What with individual preferences, social or cultural norms, even financial considerations, whatever the case may be, managing expectations poses a challenge to academic and career planning.
Without fail, parents and students who curate a shared vision come out on top
Without fail, parents and students who curate a shared vision come out on top. It is a better hand-to-glove collaboration. Working together with our children to create a better, informed internal dialogue ensures proper due diligence and betters a candidate’s growth as well as trajectory. It is a boon to the transition process as those in our care progress from high school to college and career – we are, after all, playing the long game here! The mutual growth experienced between parents and their children during this process cannot be understated. It is a parental imperative and a fundamental to support growth and confidence!
EdUAE: Whatever the chosen career path, how can parents support their children at home?
David Turner: Parents are important stakeholders in this process and should take an interest early on. Pay attention to any natural gravitational forces that seem to draw your child in; further, do what you can to perpetuate the same. Start with helping your child to develop directional awareness: what general career or study pathways does your child naturally align with? Does your child have any natural tether(s) to any of the six larger study/career captures – Medicine, Law, Business, Science and Engineering, Design and Arts, and the Social Sciences and Humanities?
Though these are the greater, more general buckets, within each of these, students, parents and counsellors can begin to explore more specific and relevant pathways and begin to establish greater patterns and overlaps in preferences and possibilities. Your college counsellor, too, can be very helpful with this. Also, many of our schools use online counselling platforms, such as BridgeU. Here students can engage with practical lessons and engaging content to further a better, more informed internal dialogue. These platforms are replete with information, online webinars, and university fairs where students can begin to formulate future strategies. These platforms help not only with greater career/study understanding and potential, but also neatly overlap with study programs and preferred destinations.
By working with high school counsellors, as well as with their children, parents can learn quite a lot here. It’s a great way to create better collaboration and bolster thought partnership. It is the stuff communities are made of.
Start with helping your child to develop directional awareness: what general career or study pathways does your child naturally align with?
EdUAE: What do parents and students need to think about when choosing a university? How important is it to research not only the university but also the town or city before making a decision?
David Turner: Too often young academics put the university first, buying into the ‘branding narrative’. Preferred thinking, however, is to ensure that the horse goes before the cart. Following that, one would want to curate carefully considered ‘yardsticks’ – the important non-negotiables. Yardsticks can also serve as standouts for why a preferred choice is better.
Let’s start with the former. The ideal for the best fit is to consider the following. What purpose does your university education serve? What do you need to do? What outcomes do you hope to achieve? Be specific. This is where we start; as such considerations are the fundamentals of a strategic internal dialogue, as well as all the ancillary feed-ins for course selection, extra and super curricular for pretty much everything. It is not as banal as I want to study at ‘X’ university because it is well established or that it has a famous college of Business. Is that really what you are leading with? Sharpen your pencil and be critical! What specific attributes can said university bring to your future vision? Yes. That’s better.
With that established, we then move to the yardsticks – any non-negotiables or deal-breakers or makers. Having just gone through a similar experience with my own graduating daughter, it was amazing to have her roll out some of her important deciding factors. I remember she wanted a BIG university – 50,000 or more students – and felt that she would benefit more from starting in Europe, rather than her dad’s home state of California. Business, Media and Communications were all her lead choice study options. What’s important to you and your family? Don’t forget budget! Play that card early to better manage expectations.
EdUAE: As well as choosing the right course at university is it equally as important to find out which sports and societies are on offer?
David Turner: This question speaks to the importance of community. YES. Community engagement and membership will be vital to help lifeline someone away from home. Whether one plays a sport, or enjoys a more casual affinity for cycling, tennis or even yoga, university communities are fabulous tethers allowing young academics to come together to create lasting bonds and networks.
Some months ago, I interviewed a group of students in their first year of university. All felt that the best way to alleviate homesickness and bolster confidence in their social networks was to simply create greater community outreach. The notion of ‘fitting in’ is at the essence of many universities as well. Over the years, I have heard many of my admissions colleagues hawking the grand numbers of groups, clubs and activities available to students. There’s no doubt that they, too, recognise the value. Students will find a variable surfeit of school-sponsored ways to engage – across many social, ethnic, athletic, musical, and gender-specific clubs.
When rankings are the only tool in the application toolbelt, the admission process is much less effective, sometimes being a house of cards
EdUAE: How much notice do you think parents and students should take of university rankings? We all know that Harvard, Oxford and the Sorbonne are top universities, but what is perhaps less well known, for instance, is that Edinburgh is brilliant for linguistics. So should parents and students ‘dig deep’?
David Turner: When rankings are the only tool in the application toolbelt, the admission process is much less effective, sometimes being a house of cards. Where is the greater internal dialogue? If an applicant has come to view a highly-ranked university as a best fit destination, based upon proper engagement and due diligence, it can be argued that the likelihood of success would be greater – so long as aspirations and academics align.
Here would be a more productive use of ranking: let it make you a better consumer. Recently, I had a session with an outstanding 9th-grade student. Academically, she’s fabulous. Directionally, she is looking at the field of Medicine – nothing overly specific. She hopes to study in the United States. Okay. All important factors to get us started. Of course, I asked her which universities she was considering and heard all of the names one would expect.
Then we went to Edurank.org. As expected her dream schools lead the list for Medicine in North America. No surprises. However, I did take the time to impress upon her the requirements. The two or three schools she mentioned were incredibly competitive – she knew that, but she needed to see ACTUAL numbers! Okay. “Keep scrolling,” I said to her. The look on her face was priceless when she noted that the 4th ranked university (in the world, might I add) had an acceptance rate 12X greater than her choice university. And the 6th ranked university (yes, in the world) is 10X! Each had a minimum SAT score that was 200-250 points less than her top choice.
Here’s what you need to remember about rankings. Firstly they can be highly contentious, so be wary of making them your go-to. That said, let them help you to be a better consumer! Not unlike my student above, we used rankings to find greater variety, to help with better due diligence and research. We flipped a common narrative to better inform our decision-making process. There are some incredible, lesser-known programmes and destinations in the world.
EdUAE: What would be your top five tips when it comes to parents supporting their children in their educational and professional goals?
- Do what you can to encourage a better internal dialogue: promote critical thinking with why or what purpose? Remember not to go all-in with ranking and branding bias.
- Know individual requirements and be vigilant for timelines and deadlines: proper research and good time management will be extremely important.
- Create buy-in authentically: Create investment through engagement. Get involved in academic, extracurricular and super curricular activities which dovetail not only with your future ambitions, but also provide personal growth and skill opportunities.
- Create good buy-in with Universities, as well: When your application is submitted, ensure that you have authentically engaged – attended workshops and webinars, and be sure to take advantage of UniBuddy.
- Parents and students achieve greater outcomes with the collaboration which comes from a mutually understood and shared set of expectations.