Students in their final year at high school are usually a skittish lot, and for reason. With deadlines for university applications around the corner, those keen on further education — in the UAE or abroad — need to prepare transcripts, essays, references and an entire paraphernalia of matter.

Applicants need to think about what standardised tests they’ll be undertaking, which countries they’d like to apply to and their plans after graduation. We’ve spoke to a few experts with knowledge of these matters.

THE TESTS

In the case of exams such as SATs and advanced placements, students as young as 15 need to do some serious thinking in terms of their future and where it lies.

Future university applicants should understand the options various standardised tests offer. While it’s common knowledge that British universities offer places on the basis of a student’s GCSE results and predicted results for their A levels, applicants from American-curriculum schools can also apply to UK higher education institutions with
Advanced Placement tests.

“These are accepted in some cases in conjunction with SAT scores,” says Shyamala Elango, Career Coach at UAE based training and admissions consultancy Inner Universe. SATs is a three-hour multiple choice standardised test taken at US-curriculum schools in either 11th or 12th grade. It comprises four sections, reading, writing and language, including an optional essay section as well as two maths sections, one with a calculatorand one without.

For those applying to the elite Ivy League universities of the US, a good SAT score is crucial among other things. “Ivy League and other top-tier universities are extremely competitive and a student needs to be not only strong academically but also have a robust CV and should have scored well in his/her SAT,” says Sanjeev Verma, Director of education consultants Intelligent Partners.

One alternative to the SAT is ACT exams. Like the former, ACTs are multiple choicebased, with an optional essay section. Unlike the SAT, ACTs include a science reasoning section. American universities don’t prefer one of these tests over the other, but it comes down to individual preferences — some students work better under the clock (a useful trait for tackling the ACT), while those with a better grasp of algebra than geometry could attain better results in the maths section of the SAT.

SUBJECTS IN VOGUE

University degrees vary in popularity over time, based on shifting economic trends, media coverage given to different industries and data on long-term income and career prospects. Elango lists psychology, film-making, fashion marketing, industrial engineering, product design, e-commerce and event management as subjects that have seen increasing interest from prospective students.

“There also seems to be a move away from traditional engineering to pursue natural sciences in depth,” she adds. Examples of cutting-edge sciences many applicants are keen to explore include artificial intelligence and robotics research.

WANT TO STUDY IN THE US?

For those interested in a US university education, it’s important to look into the differences between categories of institution.
For those who don’t have the requisite scores for a top-tier university, Verma recommends community colleges as a more viable route into an American study programme.

“Not only are [they] relatively easy to get into but the tuition fees are also much lower than state or private colleges. After completing two years at a community college the student is eligible for a transfer to another university. Having studied in the American system, the student has a much better chance to join a better university than they had after finishing school.

By using this pathway not only does the student graduate from a better and higher ranked university than they would have [otherwise] but the total cost of his studies is also much lower.”

STAYING BACK AFTER STUDYING

Many expatriates who have grown up in the UAE are interested in working after graduation in the States so they can eventually earn a green card and permanent residency. However, the current political climate may pose long-term challenges. “The Trump administration’s proposal on changes in H1B visas [which allow US companies to hire graduates in speciality occupations] has had an impact,” says Elango. “Students are now keen to pursue studies in destinations such as Canada and Australia where there is the possibility of renewal of student visa to stay back and seek employment in country.” Looking at the UK, has Brexit — the other seismic political event of 2016 — had a similar impact? “I don’t believe Brexit had as much impact as the withdrawal of the post study work visa that was scrapped a couple of years ago. Having to find work within the duration of their student visa or to leave the country if they don’t manage to find one makes students apprehensive.”

Verma concurs that it’s getting harder for international students to stay back and try to gain international residency status in the UK: “In the UK, your staying back [after graduation] depends on getting a job at the stipulated salary, a level that is normally not easy to come by.”

In terms of North America, he says, “It is necessary to differentiate between students applying to the top-tier US Universities and the rest. With the former the election of Donald Trump has not made any significant difference as students perceive there is no alternative to these globally top-ranked universities.

Having said that students applying to less competitive universities did scout around for alternatives, be it Canada or elsewhere.” Indeed, of the developed English-language study destinations, Canada may be the most attractive in terms of the prospect of staying back. “In Canada not only are you allowed stay back for three years after graduation, your immigration status based on points and studying and working in a Canadian university definitely qualifies you for extra points.”

SCHOLARSHIPS

It’s not fair that a good student should be limited by their family’s financial resources. It was with applicants of humble means that merit-based scholarships were developed – but these are easier to access in some places than others. For students looking to enter tertiary education in the West, there are disparities between countries in terms of the kind of financial grants available to them.

While the US is known for its high tuition fees, the country also offers a plethora of opportunities for low-income applicants — nomatter where they’re from. “Most people have no idea that there are different types of aid available for international students who want to study in the US,” Peter Davos, Founder and CEO of Hale Education, tells Education Now! “Generally speaking, state universities don’t have a lot of merit aid available. Take the University of California, for example. Its largest merit scholarship is $8,000 (Dh29,380), which isn’t really that much money. Private universities have a lot more money available for merit aid.

“There are about 25 private universities across the US that treat international applicants the same as American applicants when it comes to assessing financial need and granting aid based on family income. As an applicant, you don’t know what it will actually cost you to study in the US until you get accepted. That’s when you’re informed of any scholarship you’ll receive and any aid you’ll be offered, which can also be negotiated by the way. That’s very compelling if you know where to apply. Even if you’re an OK student, a good student, you’re still eligible for a considerable amount of aid from universities: $10,000 a year, $12,000, $20,000 or even more, depending on how strong a candidate you are. Obviously, the more overqualified and compelling you are, the more you’re eligible for.”

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