Tips DCB Counsellors Learned from Top US University Admissions

international school beijing

The university counselling team has recently attended a number of workshop-discussions led by American admissions officers (AOs) in order to best understand how selective universities and liberal arts colleges read applications from China. The counsellors will be using this information to help provide strategic advice to all students who are applying to the United States of America.


In August, Orteg Dakaj and Jeffrey Harmon attended a workshop with admissions representatives from Stanford University, the University of California-Berkeley, Bowdoin College, and Bard College. Through an interactive workshop, the AOs provided a glimpse into admission committees – how they read, evaluate, and ultimately make decisions on an application.


In early September, Julie Pankratz attended a workshop for counsellors hosted by Johns Hopkins University, and all three counsellors attended talks by Amherst College, Williams College, University of Pennsylvania and Brown University.


All the representatives stressed that successful applicants need to be both competitive (does the student demonstrate a likelihood to succeed academically based on transcript, predicted scores, and standardized testing?) and compelling (does the student demonstrate genuine passion and engagement in ways that will benefit their future communities?). Students voice for themselves the qualities and accomplishments that they believe make them compelling through essays and interviews. Teachers and university counsellors provide their own perspectives on how the student stands out in letters of recommendation. Importantly, all evaluations are made within context, meaning a competitive applicant looks different depending on where they come from, their own personal background, and their stated interests.


Selective universities and colleges are flooded with competitive applications, and oftentimes the distinction needed to become compelling boils down to a human question like, "Would I want this applicant to be someone's roommate?" Therefore, all students should think about how they can extend their interests beyond themselves to foster community and collaboration.

Dulwich College Beijing 

University Counsellors


Julie Pankratz

Head of University Counselling

Julie received her MA in English Literature from the University of Ottawa, Canada. She had previously received a BEd (Hons) from Sheffield, UK. Julie worked in the English Department before transferring full-time to university counselling. She studied for her Certificate in College Counselling at UCSD. Julie very much enjoys working with students on their university applications, wherever in the world they are planning to study. 


Jeffrey Harmon

Jeffrey graduated summa cum laude from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a B.A. in Global Studies and East Asian Languages and Cultures. At university, Jeffrey was heavily involved in student life and also joined a multidisciplinary research team investigating the experiences of international Chinese and South Korean students as they transitioned to university life. Jeffrey moved to Beijing in 2013. Before coming to DCB, Jeffrey worked in a premier education consultancy in Beijing and at an American-style boarding school in Suzhou.


Orteg Dakaj

Orteg has nearly 15 years of international admission leadership experience at various universities in the USA, including graduate admission and study abroad program management. He has also taught at the university level, served as Principal Designated School Official (PDSO) at Marymount College in Manhattan and been an active member of NAFSA: Association of International Educators since 2004. Orteg holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and a Master of Science in Education (MSEd) with an emphasis on curriculum and instruction. Fluent in five languages, he has travelled extensively to over 80 countries and calls New York home.