A Reflection on the University Applications Journey – Episode 2

Dulwich College Beijing

​We are happy to introduce a new series of interviews: A Reflection on the University Applications Journey. A handful of Year 13 students share their insight and advice for planning, preparing and applying for university applications. In the previous episode, these students shared their views about early applications and what best fit means to them. In this episode, you will read more about their reflections on time management and how to make university applications stand out.

Graduation ceremony

1. How should I plan my time to plan to prepare for applications?

Year 13 is often dedicated to finalising the list of universities and related application essays, portfolios, and other submission requirements; in short, submitting applications. Therefore, active university research occurs during Year 12, culminating in initial drafts of application essays during the summer after Year 12. Some students strategically dedicated their time to exploring potential fields of interest and building up their skills and experiences, but others merely pursued their genuine interests through internships, service activities, or summer programmes and still had ample experiences from which to draw.

  • Yiming S: “The most time-consuming part of my application was writing and polishing the essays. I did most of my university research over Year 12, so by the summer before Year 13, I had a list of targeted universities and could get onto the essay writing. The beginning of Year 13 consisted of finalising my essays and submitting all my applications. In my opinion, Year 11 is too early to worry about anything college-related; the most important thing is to pursue rewarding hobbies and activities and continue them throughout high school.”
  • Angelina D: “I looked into different areas of physics and took a course on special relativity out of interest rather than intentionally preparing for applications. I did some of my university research during the summer holiday of Year 12 but mainly over the winter break in Year 13. Most of my personal statement was written during and after the Year 13 winter break. It was close to the final deadline, but I needed the extra time to make sure I was making the right decision.”
  • Pia M: “I always follow my interests when participating in activities and leadership opportunities, so I already knew what I wanted. For me, building up achievements each year was essential. Each summer, I committed to a challenging internship to explore different work environments and gather experience. Year 13 should primarily focus on keeping up with your studies and making more memories with your friends, not a frantic scramble to do even more just for an application.”
  • Rino F: “I did numerous internships before and throughout Year 12, which I thought was the best way to enrich my CV and gain first-hand experience. I also enrolled in an online course about the Management of Fashion and Luxury Companies, which enabled me to further increase my knowledge in these areas. I wrote the bulk of my personal statement during the summer before Year 13, which helped with time management in Year 13 when the IA and EE deadlines hit. The courses I was applying for required specific portfolios that seemed like never-ending tasks. I worked on the portfolio whenever I could whilst juggling school coursework and deadlines. Finally, the Year 13 winter break was dedicated to perfecting all the components needed for my application.”
  • Natalie W: “College preparation is sometimes a subconscious process. Standardised testing is something that we do explicitly for college preparation, but we also do a lot of activities for interest, enjoyment, and even relaxation. Being passionate about chemistry, I spent my Year 12 summer working on a research project. Throughout high school, I enjoyed connecting with community members, so I participated in ECAs that I found meaningful or interesting. In Year 13, I organised my time by starting college applications early and prioritising specific applications.”


2. What differentiates my application from others?

University applications require students to reflect on their unique combination of background, interests, strengths, and experiences. When asked about what they believed made a difference in their applications, students almost unanimously emphasised how their extracurricular activities (ECAs) helped them become more well-rounded people and make a difference in others’ lives. By exploring areas beyond the classroom, they could develop new skills, contribute more to their community, learn more about an existing subject of interest, or even discover a new passion!

  • Jeffrey W: “I believe that my commitment to service and my contributions to the migrant community in Beijing distinguished me from many other qualified applicants. Besides my commitment to service, which has unveiled me to various social inequalities and phenomena, I have also sought to engage in social discourse through debate in different debating formats, domestically and internationally. I aimed to make debating more accessible to those around me by serving as the DCB MUN and Debate Prefect.”

  • Angelina D: “For UK applications, the most important factor is your academic preparation. But I think ECAs mattered to me. I could talk quite in-depth about the philosophy ECA I ran, because it was related to the area I wanted to apply for.”
  • Pia M: “My personal statement and interviews allowed me to clearly express my interests and experiences, thus defining me as an individual. I believe my character helped me secure my offers, and my ECAs were all related to my area of interest, which demonstrated consistency and commitment.”
  • Rino F: “Leadership positions in school and out of school, including my role as an Art Prefect, leading House events, ECAs... Internship experience related to the courses I applied to. Niche interest and deeper knowledge surrounding the courses I applied for and in general, just showing my desire to further my studies in the future.”
  • Natalie W: “Since I applied for an intended major in chemistry, my major-related activities like research and competitions demonstrated my interest and capability as a chemistry applicant. I also believe that my extracurriculars related to leadership, community service, and the visual arts provided a more holistic portrait of who I am as a person beyond academics.”
  • Helena Z: “Probably my academic and extracurricular interests and activities, and maybe also my leadership. Probably an amalgam of all those.”


Stay tuned for our next episode!