IBDP University Admissions and English Language Requirements

A few weeks back, I ran across a US university admissions policy that required a TOEFL score for any international student applying to the college. This in and of itself isn’t necessarily unusual but I was surprised that this policy mentioned that only TOEFL and IELTS were acceptable as part of admissions to the campus.

When I followed up with my colleague on the other side of the desk, explaining that my students had IGCSE 1st language English and was studying English A as part of their IBDP program, I was told that they would still have to submit an IELTS or a TOEFL score.

I was really curious as to the reasoning behind this policy.

Now, I want to be clear, I get that putting together an admissions policy around language is not easy and presents a significant challenge. I also get that universities want to be fair and transparent to all of their applicants. I also understand that admissions colleagues are under pressure and accountable for the levels of English that the students that are admitted onto their programs.

I also understand that in some cases there may be visa and immigration requirements that require an institution to make students take the IELTS or TOEFL.

But, when these factors don’t apply, it seems like madness to my mind to be asking students to undertake another test even it is one that they can “bag” easily.

Firstly it adds another (unnecessary) cost to families during a process that is already expensive. Secondly it add another level of uncertainty and stress to students who don’t always understand the reasons for it. Often they see it as another test that they need to take multiple times to get the best possible score even though the university is only looking for a score above a certain number. Thirdly, IB students are busy! They have coursework in 6 subjects, plus their Extended Essay (4000 words) plus their CAS projects plus their TOK essay (1600 words) and presentation (10 minutes).

By asking these students to take an extra test just because that’s what your policy states and for no other reason than, this is what other institutions we compare ourselves to are doing then that shows that:

  1. You don’t understand the IB Diploma Programme
  2. You don’t know what students are actually studying in Group 1 subjects of the IB Diploma Programme
  3. That you really don’t care.

Aside from the very good detailed subject briefs that show the sheer volume of literature group 1 subjects require students to engage with the IB has even gone so far as to produce a signed letter by the director general explaining the equivalence of language A subjects and what these subjects actually assess.

If you are a university and requiring IBDP students who are studying English in group 1 to take an additional test for the sole reason that they reside in a country where English isn’t the national language then I will be counseling my students to not apply to you. At the very best it shows that you don’t value international students enough to actually find out what they are studying and at worst shows that you don’t really care.

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts…

Understanding the IB Theory of Knowledge and Extended Essay for Admissions

Last week, on September 21st I presented at the CIS-EARCOS Regional Institute on Admissions and Guidance in Bangkok. My session, which I co-presented, was entitled “Understanding the IB TOK and EE for Admissions”.

This was the first time I had given a presentation at any conference so represented a significant step for me.

The presentation focussed on the questions:

  1. Are IBDP students fairly rewarded for completing the EE and TOK elements of the DP?
  2. Do university admissions officers understand what these courses require?
  3. How can students best show case their knowledge and development from these experiences in the applications to university?

My co-presenter and I spent the few months prior collecting data from university admissions officers and interviewing teachers and students about their experiences with these elements. We the presented our findings and thinking, inviting discussion about how universities thought the best way to proceed may be.

Download (PPTX, 4.4MB)

Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST)

Hong Kong Polytechnic University

PolyU viewed from the MTR station Hung Hom

On the morning of Thursday 28th March 2019, I visited the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. This university, opened on its current site in 1965 in its original carnation as the Hong Kong Technical College. It became a university in 1994 and is situated in the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong’s Kowloon district. Boasting an impressively housed Design school, as well as its own 5 star hotel, PolyU is an impressive university. Students benefit from two years guaranteed accommodation 10 minutes walk from campus. In these halls generally two or three students share one room. There is a Swimming pool and Sports Centre on site.

During my tour of the Hong Kong Universities it was the only one that organized time for me to visit three different departments in the space of the morning. Like the other universities I visited this is a campus university with students housed in halls of residence within walking distance of the main academic buildings. I was first taken to see the Department of Humanities, The Design School and The School of Hotel Management. Like other universities in Hong Kong, students apply to specific programs and admission decisions are made at the program level by professors teaching the courses that students apply to.

During my tour of the Humanities Department I was shown the work of their linguistics laboratory where research is focused on understanding the processing and development of language in the Human Brain. Personally it was really interesting to see how the study of language and biology interact and gave me some new insights to bring back to my classroom. The faculty delivering the courses in communication were keen to stress the relevance of their degrees. Many of their graduates go on to work as interpreters and communications specialists. Two thirds of court interpreters in Hong Kong, for example, graduate from their programs. Students get exposure to hands on visual and verbal translation and they aim to produce students who are trilingual in Cantonese, English and Mandarin. The Design school covers a whole suit of programs from photography and digital media, through to interior and environmental design. A tour round the school which also houses an exhibition space, give a good insight into all main areas of Design and is truly a world class facility. Finally the Hotel School is attached to Hong Kong’s 5* Hotel Icon which is owned in full by HK PolyU and offers the leading Hotel Management courses in Asia.

Hotel Icon and PolyU’s Hotel School

The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

View from HKUST campus overlooking Clear Water Bay and student housing.

My final visit of the week was to HKUST. This is another campus university but unlike the others it is located in Clear Water Bay in the east of the city. It does not have an MTR line and is connected to the nearest station Hang Hau by a 10 minute taxi or bus ride. It’s lack of connectivity to the city can be definitely seen as a plus. Surrounded by beautiful green hills and with commanding views over the bay, the campus feels very much like you are out of the city. Living here students can be cloistered away in their own community but are able to dive into the city relatively easily for the day if they wish. HKUST has four schools: Science, Engineering, Business; and Social Sciences. The Interdisciplinary Programs office allows students to study courses from different schools should they wish. Once again students apply directly to programs for admission, although HKUST allows students to apply to a school if they are undecided on exactly what program they wish to take. In this way HKUST, offers a combination of specialization or flexibility of study, different routes that will appeal to different students. All students take a Common Core of 36 credits that allow them to  develop their Professional and general knowledge in other areas. HKUST also operates a undergraduate research opportunities program, UROP, which gives students access to international networking and conferences. HKUST stressed that they are results orientated in their applications and IBDP students should be looking to score 38+ points.

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CHUK) and The University of Hong Kong (HKU)

The Chinese University of Hong Kong

CHUK as viewed from the MTR station “university”

On the morning of Wednesday 27th March 2019, I visited the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). With around 16000 undergraduate students and about the same post graduates, this is a large  campus university founded in 1963 and is located in the New Territories of Hong Kong. The setting is very much sub urban, and stepping off the dedicated MTR (Hong Kong’s metro) station “University” you find yourself pleasantly outside the pace bustle of the pulsing metropolis. The University is nested in a series of green hills with views of the sea.

Despite the name, the language of instruction for the majority of courses is English and degree programs last for 4 years in the main although there are some exceptions (Medicine and Education courses being two examples). Bilingualism is encouraged, and international students may be required to take courses in Mandarin or Cantonese but ability to speak either of these languages is not a requirement of entry. Instead applicants need to have a minimum of a C in GCSE English or, for IB students, be on target to score a 4 in either English A or English B. For most programs these are the minimum language requirements to be able to study here, although some programs may have slightly more rigorous requirements. As always check the program requirements. Students can select three programs on application and IB applicants will need at least 30 points and significantly more than this for some programs.

They claim that they use student performance data at the university to work out comparisons between applicants with different educational backgrounds. The university develops new programs regularly for example they have introduced AI this year. IBDP Student can get up to a year advanced standing although many opt to take less. Admission selection decisions are made by the program faculties and not centrally. CHUK runs summer programs for Yr12/Grade 11 students in their summer holidays. This is currently a 2 week residential program where students take 2 courses each with 15 hours of instructional time. Very interestingly, the university has a collegial system. The collegial system allows students from different programs to live together, and runs in similar lines to UK universities with a similar system. In these colleges students take some general education courses and have a range of social and sporting events that they can take part in from formal dining to teams sport competitions against other colleges. They can indicate preference for colleges after they have been accepted. It is the only university in Hong Kong with this structure. Non-local students are guaranteed residence for 3 out of 4 years and can apply for it in their 4th year. Housing is only 1500USD per year.

The University of Hong Kong (HKU)

HKU’s “main building”

In the afternoon of Wednesday 27th March I visited the campus of the University of Hong Kong or HKU for short. HKU is a campus university located in the heart of Hong Kong Island and is the oldest of the nine universities in Hong Kong. So old in fact that it’s imaginatively named “main building” is in fact listed and persevered from being demolished to allow the construction of yet another sky scraper. HKU is a campus university, again served by its own MTR station “HKU” but it is stuck right in the cut and thrust of a thriving modern metropolis and therefore has a very different feel to either CUHK or HKUST. It is a large research-based university with academic focused undergraduate programs. The University campus is spread out East to West facing the bay. Students apply directly to the programs that are of interest to them and the offers of admission are made by the program faculty. In an unusual move for a Hong Kong university, HKU has recently published its entrance criteria for its programs although they are keen to stress that the figures represent the grades attained by the lowest performing students, as measured by examination data, admitted to their programs. Interestingly students can take degrees at HKU combined with other universities in the UK, France and the US. Students on these courses have the ability to graduate with degrees awarded from both partner institutions.

Both these universities, considered by many to be the best universities in Hong Kong, offer very different living experiences for students. Both are well connected to the city via the MTR but CHUK is greener and possesses a more open sub-urban environment, with the possibility for students to get outdoors for hikes from its doorsteps. HKU being located in the heart of the city is surrounded and hemmed in by skyscrapers giving students easy access to the heart of the city.

Cialfo: Review

In May I published reviews of the guidance platforms Unifrog and BridgeU. I have had experience working with both these platforms as a guidance counsellor for a period of time. Subsequently, I had the opportunity to get a look under the hood of MaiaLearning and published a review of this platform in June.

Since then I have been looking Cialfo and speaking to their team and I share my review of their platform below.

Cialfo intro

Cialfo is a university guidance platform that is headquartered in Singapore and one that I first came across earlier this year in conversation with counsellors based in China. The platform is positioned to cover global university applications and is unique amongst the other platforms I have reviewed as it was founded by professionals formerly working in university guidance and with students directly. The platform grew from a team of counsellors who were initially building it for their own use. The platform was launched in 2016.

Cialfo is a contraction for “Citius, Altius, Fortius” the Olympic motto that means “Faster, Higher, Stronger”. The founders wanted a name that reflected their philosophy that university guidance has to be about more than just university applications but aspiring students to push further with their futures.

The founders also wanted to solve the problem that, according to UNESCO, 100 million students will apply to university every year by 2025, but there are relatively few counsellors, and so they wanted to enable counsellors to have a deeper impact on more students.

The student side

Both students and counsellors are presented with a fully customisable dashboard when they log in. This feature allows users to fully tweak and change their user experience and is a very nice touch – I am a big fan of flexibility and usability – allowing users to have what they consider essential features highlighted immediately on their landing page.

The platform is very clean and uncluttered, with menus laid out both along the top and down the left-hand side of the page. The left-hand menu is the main menu and from it, students can access their profile, a list of running tasks, meetings, their inbox and can complete their university/college research and complete three profiler type assessments.

The dashboard is accessible under the profile menu along with an overview of the student’s applications, contact people, grades and test scores and lists of extracurricular activities.

Students can select plans that their adviser has created in the counsellor section. This allows students to be grouped by plans (if the counsellor is working with very large cohorts) but also allows the relevant information a student needs to be organised for that student appropriately.

The platform handles a range of applications to 25 different countries and allows students to manage the various parts of these different application processes. For the US applications, the platform uses a machine learning algorithm to help students and counsellors to identify, reach, target and likely schools, although the counsellor has the option to amend and change this recommendation – another nice touch.

Students can enter their grades from high school and this data will also be synced from the school’s student information system if this has been set up.

Finally, students can also undertake three different profiling assessments from Human eSources through Cialfo and these aim to help students understand their own learning styles and personalities better.

The counsellor side

The system has a left-hand main menu with each of these menu items having sub-menus that are displayed along the top when you click on the left-hand menu.

When logging in you are taken directly to students left-hand tab and a default view of all your students on the system. From here you can fully customise your view by setting several different filters: “Application Region”, “Application Type” “Current grade”. You can add more than one filter so that the student data can be presented in any way you wish. For example, you can filter by “gender” and “application region” plus others at the same time.

From this view, you are able to click directly into student accounts and can click through to the student’s pages. Here you can see all the information that the student sees and are able to edit student data directly, including setting tasks and adding in student grades and test scores. The counsellor can set meetings, add tasks, add universities along with a range of other options.

On the left hand, main menu counsellors also have the ability to send out communications to students, parents and other counsellors via the broadcast tab. This feature allows counsellors to communicate with students via text without having to give out their own personal number – a nice touch.

From the main menu, counsellors can also edit the account information and the plans that students can select as described above.

Finally, the “schools” tab on the main menu allows you to view information on all the schools in the database. Again, the filtering allows you to select the specific schools you want. Many of these schools have admissions information, presented in scattergram charts that allow you to see the range and types of applications that have been selected. This data can be shared across the entire Cialfo network, anonymously, allowing smaller schools to see what the bigger playing field may look like.

Cialfo can integrate data directly from a variety of student information systems. Once in, the student data can be synced directly between both systems.

Counsellors can use the platform to help manage student university applications; they can add and then submit documents these processes are provided by Parchment and Common Application (CommonApp) – both of these platforms are or will be integrated with Cialfo. The CommonApp clarified to the community at IACAC this year that there will be a simple integration in 2018 but the document submissions through all companies (Cialfo, Maia, BridgeU, Unifrog) will only happen for the 2019 cycle. Parchment though is seamlessly integrated into Cialfo for the 2018 cycle.

At the time of writing Cialfo have released the course information and richer college profiles for Germany, Netherlands and Canada, alongside the many other countries that they already support applications to. 

Finally, Cialfo is currently the only platform that I know of that has a regional HQ in Delhi, New Jersey and in Shanghai, and therefore has access to Chinese servers. This means that users in China do not need a VPN to access the platform and users can switch the language of the platform into Chinese. The platform also works on WeChat! Of course.

Conclusion

I really like Cialfo. Although I have not used it myself professionally, it would be a strong contender if I were choosing which platform to go with. It is clean, intuitive and really does put the counsellor in control (from what I can see). Update September 2019: I have now used Cialfo professionally for the last year.

The fact that the team who have built the platform have extensive experience working as guidance counsellors is implicit in the way the platform looks, feels and operates. This platform is really focussed with the counsellor in mind and enabling the counsellor to impact their students positively.

The platform has a peer-2-peer aspect to is aswell; data from different schools in the Cialfo network is anonymised and visible (if the school allows it to be) which means counsellors are no longer isolated in small silos but can get a handle on what the “market” is doing. The team also have a public roadmap, allowing their users to add ideas for development, comment and discuss what features need to be prioritised. In this way they are really modelling what counsellors do – collaborate. I have been surprised in my work at how collegial and helpful colleagues from different schools are and it is lovely to see this spirit of collaboration being used in this way.

Cialfo have also developed a Chrome extension for essay prompts, used by hundreds of students, parents, and counselor is a completely free Google Chrome extension that allows anyone to look up—and search—supplements from over 300 schools in the U.S and courses for colleges in US, UK, Germany, Canada, Netherlands.

Cialfo really appears to be made by guidance counsellors for guidance counsellors!