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“Instead of thinking of a destination to this journey, think about the direction.”

This message rests at the core of how Simon Finnigan, British International School Ho Chi Minh City’s (BIS) Senior College and University Guidance Counsellor, describes how students should approach finding a university to attend. He spoke with Saigoneer to explain how students can find and prepare for an institution that gets them headed in the direction of the life and career they hope to lead. 

Students today face hundreds of university options all around the globe, but many students at BIS HCMC will be the first members of their families to attend one, and their parents do not necessarily have a wealth of knowledge to impart on the matter. Simon notes that a major responsibility of the three-person university guidance team is to provide information regarding options and expectations while dispelling myths. 

Parents attend Korean University application information session.

Simon and his team spend extensive time researching and visiting universities to obtain knowledge to share. They lead small group sessions, afterschool workshops, and weekly webinars with parents and Year 12 students on subjects including finding institutions, comparing education models, and application procedures. Bridge U, a robust online portal introduces students to the full range of schools available and shows which match a number of preferences, including location, type of courses, size, and application process. 

But even before their final year, students make choices that will lead them to the right university. In Year 9, they have the opportunity to select several of their subjects, which helps them identify and explore the interests they may later pursue. The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP), which begins in Year 12, gives students even greater responsibility in what they focus on while inviting discussions of real-world and career potentials.

Before COVID-19, representatives from universities made regular visits to BIS to introduce their institutions, and this has been replaced by revamped virtual visits in coordination with British International School Hanoi that allow students to take a proactive role in their search. Additionally, the different backgrounds and experiences of the staff add further sources of knowledge regarding different institutions around the world. As BIS is a member of the Nord Anglia network, they also can share experiences with 73 other schools across  30 countries. 

“The pillars of our school community are perseverance, integrity, respect, care, inquiry and reflection, and all of those qualities can be mapped quite clearly onto stages in the application process,” Simon says. Indeed, much of the coursework involved in the rigorous IBDP program and the years preceding it prepares students to take an active role in their university search. They’ve learned how to research, ask questions, think critically, and examine themselves; all of which are integral for finding and applying to a university.

Not only does the BIS curriculum help students find and get into university, but it makes them successful once they enroll. The Extended Essay they write for the IBDP involves the precise work they will be expected to perform during their university tenure. Because students must study a wide range of subjects, they are prepared for a variety of fields of study and are even able to switch their focus in the future if they decide to pursue something different.

University representatives visit BIS HCMC.

A major difference between European, Korean schools and North American schools involves how they assess applications. Some look strictly at grades, while others take a more holistic approach and places emphasis on character and extracurricular activities. BIS’ diverse co-curricular offerings provide a major advantage in this area. There are hundreds of clubs, organizations, and activities that students can participate in. Moreover, the Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) component of the IB program requires students to perform volunteer work. This, Simon says, is essential, because all applicants will say they care about community and empathy, but BIS students can actually demonstrate it. 

Different schools also have different demands for letters of recommendation. Simon and his team craft every letter after receiving input from each of a student’s teachers. Such a process allows them to give a well-rounded impression of the student across subjects. Their expertise also allows them to include the types of activities or anecdotes that they have learned schools are looking for.

Tuition fees are also an important factor in many students’ university choices. BIS explains the costs associated with different schools while guiding them through the application process to ensure they get the lowest possible rates, including Home Status for those eligible. Moreover, BIS’ reputation and long-standing relationships with many institutions, such as the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia, allows them to nominate students for special scholarships. 

Recent BIS graduates have gone on to study at prestigious universities including the University of California, Berkeley; Stanford University; the University of Cambridge; the University of Oxford; Seoul National University; and the University of Tokyo, amongst many others. This certainly reveals the intelligence and hard work of the student body, but it also reflects the dedication and expertise of the school staff, the value of the curriculum and the multi-faceted university advising process.

BIS HCMC's Facebook Page

BIS HCMC's website

BIS HCMC's Email

+84 (0) 28 3744 2335

BIS HCMC, SECONDARY CAMPUS | 246 Nguyen Van Huong Street, D.2, HCMC

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