Why high school students need university prep counsellors

For all of the students at the British International School Hanoi (BIS Hanoi), the university counsellor plays a key role in helping them understand and navigate the pathway to their university of choice. Taking the step from Sixth Form to university is an exciting challenge for students, but there are many big decisions that sit between these two milestones.

It is the role of the university counsellor to provide support and guidance to students so that these decisions are informed, manageable, and ultimately lead the students to securing a place at a university that suits their ambitions for the future.


Lori Fairbairn, BIS Hanoi’s counsellor, explaining to parents and students how the IB Diploma Programme prepares them for university. Photo by BIS Hanoi.

A guidance for decision-making

At the very beginning of a student's journey to university, there should be a considered research and decision-making process. At this stage, university counsellors play an important role in guiding them and signposting important factors to consider when making their decision.

University ranking normally plays a leading role in the decision-making process for students. However, a number of criteria shape their university experience. Therefore, the counsellor’s role is to encourage students to not only focus on the ranking but also raise awareness of the diversity of choice available to them.

They also help students understand the locations of their potential universities and what it would be like to live and study there, helping them choose a location based on knowledge rather than assumption.

The global pandemic has affected students' choice of university and interrupting the study plans of many. Lori Fairbairn, BIS Hanoi's counsellor, advises students to be flexible in their thinking and adaptable in their goals.

As a counsellor, she keeps well informed of the universities' responses to Covid-19, and can help students change destinations, even at a very late date. This is extremely helpful for not only current Year 13 students but also past graduates, with whom she continues to work.

Understanding the application system

At BIS Hanoi, popular university destinations include anywhere from the U.K. and North America, to Australia, the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea and Singapore. This broad choice of universities requires students to navigate a variety of application systems for which the requirements and structure may vary significantly between countries.

As well as providing a new challenge to students, the application process is often unfamiliar to parents too. This is where the university counsellor plays a vital role in guiding students as well as parents. Their experience and knowledge of the international application processes equips them to successfully steer students through this system, ensuring they are prepared rather than overwhelmed by the challenge.

For instance, at BIS Hanoi, the school understands how difficult the South Korea application system can be for Sixth Form students and parents so they work directly with the school community to ensure the process is as open and transparent as possible.

Their South Korean liaison officer has been contacting all document review schools in South Korea to ensure they are up-to-date on best practice regarding applications and look forward to sharing this information with the community soon.

Making a stand out application

The written application process is only the first step in securing a place at a top university. At this stage and beyond, the counsellor is an ally for students and ensures they are prepared for each of the challenges presented.

From writing references and recommendation letters, providing feedback on applications, and holding practice interviews appropriate to the university and country in consideration, the counsellor helps every student put their best foot forward and have a clear understanding of what is required of them to produce a successful application.

"We are proud to say 83 percent of our graduates have been accepted to their first or second choice of university," said Fairbairn.


Sixth Form students at BIS Hanoi can choose their subjects from a wide range of IB courses available. Photo by BIS Hanoi.

Student wellbeing

BIS Hanoi recognizes their students have big ambitions and as a result, are often tasked with numerous challenges to focus on simultaneously.

In Year 13 particularly, students will juggle a variety of demands. In Term 1, IB students will have deadlines, the completion of their extended essay and completion of their Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) commitments. This is also when the majority of university applications take place, many of which are very time consuming - a typical application to a U.S. university takes 15-20 hours, for example.

The combination of workload and applying to university is the most demanding task students will have faced in the academic journey to date. Paying close attention to student wellbeing and their handling of these commitments is a top priority during this process.

Counsellor and Head of Sixth Form, Robert Airdrie, in conjunction with Sixth Form tutors provide multiple activities and sessions focused on student wellbeing. Mindfulness activities, yoga sessions, and sleep information sessions encourage students to relax their minds and help prepare them for the challenges they face.

In the second term of Year 13, they also turn their attention to ensuring students are ready and prepared for university life and discussing everything from cooking, finances and laundry to relationships, respect and consent.

This is also where they hope parents are also working with their children, ensuring they are modelling and encouraging health and wellness and preparing them for life’s future challenges.

The university counsellor takes a holistic view of everything students are juggling and helps them understand and prepare in advance for what the demands of university applications are, where these fall in the school year so they can time manage effectively, and provides support to them if they are struggling.

For more information on the Sixth Form School at BIS Hanoi, visit the school website.

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