Cover We speak to experts in the field for advice on getting into the best universities (Courtesy of Unsplash)

We speak to experts in the field to find out what it takes to be accepted into the finest tertiary education institutions

Summer is just around the corner, marking the end of exam season and another school year. But swiftly and surely comes another wave of students preparing to enter the university admissions process. 

There has always been a prestige in attending the top schools. Found in even the most subtle ways – think mass college merchandise and the large database of dating profiles featuring t-shirts and jumpers that adorn their alma mater. Being accepted and graduating from a reputable university has always been seen as a major determining factor for future job prospects and life success. Begging the question what does it take to get into these elite schools?

We spoke to experts in the field for some advice and tips on getting into the best universities.

Stay Diligent And Inquisitive

Students prepping for their university entrance exams in Hong Kong commonly take over four and a half hours of tutoring classes per week – one and a half hour per subject for the four compulsory subjects – English, Chinese, mathematics and liberal studies.

“For me, I spend monthly HK$1,500-HK$2,000 for two subjects, but I’m planning to take more courses to prepare for it. I did hear from my school mates that they’re taking a lot of tutorial classes, in some extreme cases spending nearly HK$10,000 per month” says Anson, a high school student who is preparing to take his university exams next year.  

Typically students begin prepping the summer right before their final year of secondary school which is 8-9 months before their exams. For successful college applicants Richard Eng, an English tutor and the co-founder of Beacon College found that candidates typically shared two qualities – they were incredibly hard-working and inquisitive, noting that “for really successful applicants, they are diligent, they ask questions and they will challenge me. I had a student who took 5 subjects per week at tutorial. She was here nearly every day. She would even be here on Saturdays”.  

It's About Being An All-Rounder With A Clear Passion

While the university application process in Asia, Canada, and Europe focuses more on academic evaluation, in the United States the system is described by Independent Education Consultant Diva Datwani as having a more “holistic” approach. Datwani – who specialises in helping applicants find universities in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States – says that in the States “all admissions officers are looking at five basic criteria, which can be summarised by the acronym GREET – grades, recommendations, essays, extra-circular activities and test scores”.

For the eight Ivy League schools and other top-tier schools, the rate of admissions ranges from 4-9%. Besides excellent grades “they are looking for someone with a very clear passion in one or two areas. These schools are saying they want the next generation of leaders. And when you look at the alma maters of many famous entrepreneurs, politicians and celebrities, they are usually from these schools” says Dave Bergman, author of The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process and Are Colleges Worth Your Money: A Guide To What America’s Top Schools Can Do For You.

Excelling and showing commitment to the field you have chosen is incredibly important. “If you want to be a chemical engineer, there should be evidence you sought out summer programs, you participated in research, or you even published research alongside a university professor. They really want to see evidence of going above and beyond” notes Bergman. 

Be Honest And Introspective In Your Personal Essays

Students can spend between 15-20 hours writing their personal essays. It’s about communicating how you’re different from your peers and what makes you a good applicant for the institution. It’s being able to effectively tell your story in an honest and compelling way, and having the ability to convince admission officers to vouch for you when the time comes to deciding between you and another applicant. Being authentic and true to yourself, acknowledging your shortcomings and not feeling the need to spout off your greatest achievements.

See also: The Best International Schools In Hong Kong