Creating a University & Careers Guidance Programme (Part 2)

This is the second post in a series of four dealing with my experience in setting up a university and careers counseling department in a start-up school in the school year 2015-16. At the time I had little background in this area. The first post covers how I approached the resources I would need and this post looks at building relationships with external agencies and institutions, the next post deals with essential registrations that need to take place when setting up your department.

Putting the School on the map pt 1: Building Relationships

Aside from the getting materials into place and organising them which has been an ongoing activity throughout the year the next big task I felt that needed to be started was that of contacting and communicating with admissions representatives and student recruitment representatives. It was immediately obvious to me that the guidance office had an important role in putting our school on the map from a university admissions perspective. We needed to market oursleves to these institutions because universities who knew we were here would be more likely to visit us when they were in the area on European recruitment drives or attending conferences. Having more university visits, I also felt was essential for building parent confidence in us and demonstrating that the school was taking guidance of students seriously.

I began this process before the summer holidays in fact now that I think of it. I was first introduced via a colleague at work to an marketing executive for Laureate Education who own both Glion Institute of Higher Education and Les Roches. This person put me in touch with Glion and I arranged my first site visit to these campuses on the day before the 2015-16 academic year started.

From there I was quick to respond to any emails that I received from university professionals who were interested in visiting our campus. This was particularly challenging. I have already mentioned in this post about receiving hundreds of emails from outside agencies all demanding your time. Part of the job requires an ability to sift the worthwhile from the less worthy. The fifteen minute inbox technique that I was introduced to in on of our inset days has proved especially useful here. Initially I was open to most universities that contacted me. During the course of this first year, due purely to email, I had visits from:

At the time our school was going through and still is going through accreditation with the council of international schools (CIS). CIS run a Forum on Higher Education and last year this was held in Edinburgh; next years is in Barcelona. The International Baccalaureate also run a Higher Education Symposium and in addition there is the IACAC Annual Conference.

I wasn’t sure which of these would be most appropriate for a new college counselor and which would be the most effective in helping me support students. To help make the decision I sought other counselors views through a medium which has been incredibly helpful in getting questions answered: Facebook.

On FB there are three groups that I have found particularly useful. The first I joined and was put onto by my DP Coordinator is the IB Counselors, Coordinators and University Relations Group, the second is the UCAS Advisers Group and the third is the International Association for College Admission Counseling Group which you can only join as a member of IACAC.

Each of these groups has been extremely useful in getting answers to rookie questions and for clarifying information. There are loads of counselors and university representatives on these groups who are more than willing to share and support.

I first used these groups with questions about the advice that the DP coordinator and I were giving to the grade 10s last year as they finalised their DP options but the advice that I got regarding conferences was that the IB symposium was largely useless for someone in my position, especially as I already knew the IB having taught Biology DP for eight years. I was advised to aim for the CIS forum or the IACAC conference.

I eventually decided to go to the CIS forum as we believed that as a school it would be better suited to our needs.

I found the CIS forum incredibly useful both for the chance to talk about the processes of college counseling with experience colleagues and attend some very insightful workshops that covered the mechanics of applying for Engineering courses or applying to study in Canada, but also for the chance to network and meet university representatives. At this event I deliberately targeted American Universities as these are the institutions that I personally know the least about and are also the furthest away; until we have larger numbers of students I think it will be doubtful that I will be heading out to the US on a work trip. I did also spend some time talking with UK and Canadian Universities and learned about the CIS UK Universities European Tour. I was able to make contact with the organiser of this so that our school would be contacted in future when these Universities were visiting.

Many of the people I met were surprised that my education group had a school in Switzerland; they had come across our campuses in Dubai. Following on from this event I made useful contacts that were useful in getting our school on the map so to speak. A  number of conversation subsequent to this event led to me making connections with QMUL and RHUL, both of which I subsequently visited when in London for some UCAS training and one of which ended up coming out to visit us as part of our first “future-you” festival the careers event that I organised in the third term.

The CIS UK Universities tour unfortunately didn’t make it to Switzerland this year due to the events in Brussels in April that shut the airport down for a while.

However CIS did run a college night in Geneva in September which I attended. From all these events I built some excellent connections that our school will take forward and I was directly able to arrange visits from:

Positive relationships with Universities will help to drive more visits to our school, make universities become aware of our school and help us work with universities for the best outcomes for our students, ideally so that they will trust as a school to listen to our recommendations.

When universities visit us I like to show them the school, give them a chance to observe some teaching as well as meet with our students. This side of the role really does take time and effort but it will certainly be worth it in the long run in terms of the outcomes for our students and also to allow parents to have confidence in our ability to advocate for their children.

Building these types of relationships led to me being invited on two counselor fly-ins this year. One of which (to ESADE) I have already blogged about. Another opportunity came up that I wasn’t able to participate in and this was with the Karl Benz school of Engineering.

In the next post I will write about the agencies that your school needs to be registered with including UCAS, The Admissions Testing Service, CollegeBoard, CommonApp and others including the process of supporting students who are applying for Athletic Scholarships in the US.

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