And the Heads (of Schools) roll too...

By Lucien Giordano, with Karen Young and Heather Pineda

The growth of international schools has been prolific of late. The global education community is expanding as modernity sees our globe ever shrinking. Families feel comfortable raising their families on six of seven continents, and international schools play a major role in an international school student’s university pathway.


Throughout the eleven Dulwich schools around the world, 99% of our students wind up going to university somewhere around the globe. More than a third of these students end up in US tertiary schools while the balance of Dulwich students go to university in the UK, Canada, Australia, across Asia and Europe. The world is, indeed, getting smaller when we’ve seen Singaporeans studying fashion design in Italy, Koreans studying veterinary sciences in Budapest, and Canadians doing pre-medicine in Mauritius.


Supporting the journey

Beyond strong commitment to delivering a holistic student experience, Dulwich enables student success in the pursuit of one of life’s major stepping stones — the journey toward an undergraduate university degree. 


Dulwich believes in supporting students at an early stage so as to embrace the student’s voice and encouraging them onto a life of independence. The Dulwich Student Success Plan is initiated in Year 7; discovering student motivation, inspiration, passion, and intrinsic purpose and drive are at the heart and soul of the matter. The plan is supported by faculty, staff, and university counsellors through to graduation and has been implemented over the last five years.


We take great pride in guiding the individual student and investing in the time and process it takes to identify the best possible ‘fit’, where-in our students are tasked with selecting the best option among the many university options they should have. 


A road trip for leaders

At Dulwich, the relationship between the college counsellor and senior leadership is therefore hugely important. As part of this close collaboration, Dulwich takes semi-annual university trips to the United States with senior leadership members including Heads of College. Led by our central counseling team, these trips consist of visiting ten to twelve universities over a two-week period. More than just a ‘drive by and tour’, these trips serve multiple purposes on a variety of levels and have led to monumental shifts in approach and mindset within each school.


Over the years, we have traveled with eight different Dulwich members of senior leadership on such tours, and the experience has helped them in a myriad of ways. Having senior educators unfamiliar with admissions policies in the US (or Canada or Australia, or…) is a deterrent to the longitudinal success of any school and its university counselling program. If there is fluid communication and understanding of admission policies on a global scale by all parties within a school, there can be healthy and competent counselling offered to students, supported by all stakeholders.


One of the hurdles of university counselling in an international school arises when a senior school leader has personal experience of the university admissions process of one country, while the university counselling staff hails from another continent and has professional training and experience in others. Unfortunately, this disconnect trickles down to the students and may not end with the desired results. In Dulwich schools, specifically, most of our heads of school and leadership are UK trained and educated; however, the majority of our students do not matriculate to UK universities.


We feel the best way to introduce our English-educated heads of school to US admissions is to take them on a good old-fashioned field trip of sorts.


Secondary, tertiary collaboration

When we visit a university, we have real conversations with the university admissions officers that focus on the holistic values their campus communities hold dear to the admissions process; we have dialogues with professors and curriculum writers, and meaningful discussions with the school’s international student support services and career specialists. These conversations are powerful because they are collaborative and provide us with invaluable information in regards to how we can help support students in both transitioning to university as well as academic preparedness.


It’s of utmost importance for secondary and tertiary educators to work together. The tour enables everyone, on both sides of the table, to ask the tough questions and engage in significant conversations to best support students on their journey. The knowledge and experience we bring back to our schools benefits the entire school community.


A mindset change

One tangible and measurable point of growth has been how engaged the heads of school have been in the actual university counselling upon returning from the tour. What was once thought to be an administrative duty is now about how our students can best find the right ‘fit’ for their personal journey into adulthood.


No longer is the college counsellor siloed in his or her office waiting for kids to walk through the door. One could say, after a visit like this, that the head of school goes home as the university counselling department’s biggest advocate.


I have found that when school leaders visit these universities and begin to understand the processes involved, they also hear how taking risks, providing students with leadership opportunities, and emphasizing the importance of being impactful members of the greater community, play in the holistic admissions process. When this message is taken back to school, teachers and students are encouraged to think innovatively and take chances in and out of the classroom, supporting the unique student pathway to find their best fit.


Next stops: Hong Kong, Korea, Canada and Australia.


Lucien Giordano is Assistant Director of University Counseling for Dulwich College International; Vice-President for Advocacy and Outreach for International Association for College Admissions Counseling, Karen Yung is Co-founder of Dulwich College International and Director of Student Journey, and Heather Pineda is Director of Counselling.

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