A Reflection on the University Applications Journey – Episode 1

Dulwich College Beijing

As this academic year ends, our Class of 2022 students have completed another university application cycle. While some of our students will apply for university only after graduation, many of the Class of 2022 have selected where they will matriculate next autumn. With their destination settled, students have reflected on their journey over the past few years. Beyond the obvious selection of universities and majors, applicants also have to consider more strategic elements such as application round or identifying their relevant set of differentiating skills or experiences. To do so requires some honest soul-searching about their interests, values, and goals in life.

We are happy to introduce a new series of interviews: A Reflection on the University Applications Journey. A handful of students share their insight and advice for determining their own pathway and preparing for university applications. Here is the first episode.

Students at IB Common room

1. What does best-fit look like for me?

Students listed location, reputation in a given field, and campus culture as critical criteria for determining which universities to apply to. While some students clearly focused on academic and research opportunities in their chosen subject, others prioritised their new home's geographical location and environment. However, it is reassuring that they balance these criteria with a whole range of other considerations before finalising their university list, which is a sign of maturity about this big decision for their future.

  • Yiming S: “I considered two main factors: academics and music. I wanted a school with a mix of academic rigour and opportunities to learn and perform music. Columbia University in New York City stood out specifically with its strong physics department, ground-breaking research, and jazz studies programme.”
  • Jeffrey W: “I primarily considered the quality of academics, prestige, location, quality of life, and internship opportunities.”
  • Angelina D: “I focused on the content of the course and the quality of teaching. I wanted my studies to combine physics with philosophy or psychology, so I looked into schools that offered courses in physics and philosophy or were more flexible with course options. Then, I looked at the subject rankings and overall rankings.”
  • Pia M: “Sport and social life were the most important factors to me. I researched a lot about student reviews and the culture on campus. The environment was also important, including support for international students, climate, and access to airports.”
  • Justin W: “The most important factor for me was the geographical location. Since I only wanted to study in a big city, nearly all of the universities I chose were in London.”
  • Rino F: “Location played a big part in selecting my final school list. I narrowed down the general geographical area I wanted to go to and then conducted more in-depth research to shortlist the schools I wanted to apply for.”
  • Helena Z: “I found out that I prefer schools with tons of opportunities and diverse interdisciplinary programmes; this was especially important when I was considering universities in the UK. I also looked at the courses and clubs offered, dining and accommodation options, and professors.”


2. Should I apply early or regular?

Many universities offer both an early round and a regular round of applications, and this is often a big decision for students applying to the United States. Many students apply in an early round in the hopes of receiving decisions earlier to alleviate stress. Does this mean that all students should apply early? Let’s hear what our Class of 2022 have to say about this!

  • Yiming S: “I chose to apply both Early Decision and Early Action in the USA to receive some of my decisions earlier, which I thought would have been more stress-relieving. All my application materials were ready by the November deadline, and I wasn't waiting on any significant update to my grades, testing or ECAs, so I felt confident applying early. With universities in the USA, there’s a belief that applying early boosts one’s chances of getting in slightly; I’m still not sure if it is true or not, but I guess it didn’t hurt to try. With the University of Toronto, applying early gave me priority consideration for both my major and scholarships.”
  • Jeffrey W: “I believe that my academics and extracurricular activities reflected my strengths by the Early Decision round deadline. Hence, I thought that applying in the Early Decision rounds was an excellent way to demonstrate commitment to my dream universities, which would bolster my chances of acceptance. Although I was not admitted in ED1, I was able to reflect on my options in December and then submit a strong ED2 application.”
  • Natalie W: “I decided to apply to the USA and the UK in the early round because I thought hearing back from the universities early would be stress-relieving and offer guidance for my later applications. Most of my UK decisions weren’t released until March, however. To me, the UK and USA applications, especially their application essays, were very different, so I had to work on them separately, but I balanced this extra workload by starting early in the summer.”
  • Helena Z: “I wasn’t sure I wanted to apply during the early round, mainly because I had to get everything ready early. But I decided to give it a try to help me see where I could improve for the regular round. It didn’t change much for my USA applications, but I’m very grateful that I submitted to the UK early because I heard back from schools earlier, which boosted my confidence.”
  • Angelina D: “I wanted more time in Year 13 to improve my predicted grades and research my university options, so I waited until after my Term 1 grades came out to submit my applications to the UK.”
  • Rino F: “I didn’t have a strong interest in applying to schools in the USA, so I was not pressured to apply in their early round. And I knew I didn’t want to study medicine or law or apply to Oxford or Cambridge, so I didn’t feel any pressure to submit earlier for my UK applications. I applied for arts courses, so I used a lot of Year 13 to work on my portfolio.”


Stay tuned for our next episode!