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Empowering Students: Navigating the University Advising Process

Empowering Students: Navigating the University Advising Process
Empowering Students: Navigating the University Advising Process

Navigating the world of post-school options can be overwhelming for teenagers who are already coping with other stresses, like exam preparation. In fact, according to a recent survey from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, over half of students find university applications their most stressful academic experience.

It’s no surprise. It is, after all, a potentially life-changing process, one that has in recent years become even more complicated, with acceptance rates at the most prestigious institutes plummeting and entry requirements changing all the time. 

How are young people and their parents meant to make sense of this complexity? At Aiglon College, that’s where the University Advising Department comes in. Together, they have a combined 64 years of professional experience in college and university admission and academic counselling, and thanks to this knowledge and their deep networks, they have helped Aiglon students access top universities across the world. Members of the team have won accolades such as the peer-nominated CIS Peggy Templeton Strong Award, which recognises a university guidance counsellor for contributions made to international education.

“We’re four people,” says Patience Fanella-Koch, Director of University Advising. “That’s one of the best advisor-to-student ratios among all high schools in Switzerland.” It means she and her colleagues can build personal relationships with all Aiglon students, taking the time to understand everyone’s strengths, passions and goals in life. 

That process can begin very early on. “We start talking with some parents as early as in the Junior School,” says Ms Fanella-Koch. “It’s never too early to think about your child’s future, and we want to make sure everyone is informed.” The team also runs a range of webinars, covering topics like university trends, that can help parents learn more and start to prepare way ahead of time.

For most students, though, engagement with the University Advisors will start from around Year 10. “Each advisor is assigned a boarding house, and approximately once a week, we spend time in the house,” Ms Fanella-Koch explains. “We’re available for students in their own safe space, and they can come and have a deep conversation with us, or they can ask us a quick question.”

Being embedded in students’ lives means the University Advising Department is able to work hand-in-hand with other safeguarding, wellbeing and academic staff, including tutors and teachers, to get a comprehensive understanding of where each Aiglonian is and where they are hoping to be. “With the tutors, we communicate successes and also any concerns about students and their application throughout the whole process,” Ms Fanella-Koch says. “This allows us to support the student from all sides, academically and nurturing their wellbeing.”

It also provides opportunities to make the experience even more individually tailored and personalised. For example, for those students looking to head to an Ivy League college or Oxbridge, the University Advising Department has put in place a liaison between themselves and every academic department. “We’re going to be working very closely with somebody in each subject area to share resources, reading lists, that can help with interview prep and potential admission tests,” Ms Fanella-Koch points out.

As well as drawing on internal academic and pastoral teams to help students understand what they want out of post-college life and how to achieve that, the University Advisors are also able to tap into the broader Aiglon community. Earlier this academic year they organised an alumni panel where students in Years 12 and 13 were able to hear about careers in fields from communications, medicine to finance. “We engage alumni throughout the entire year to provide their perspective and advice on careers,” Ms Fanella-Koch says. “For example, this term, we had successful alumni speak to our Chemistry International Baccalaureate (IB) class about careers they can get into with the subject.”

The entire Aiglon community works in unison to mentor and guide students through IB course selection, career research, and the university search and application process. But this isn’t about hand-holding the whole way, which Ms Fanella-Koch says university decision-makers would see right through. “At the professional conferences we attend, university reps tell us they can spot when a student has worked independently on an essay or application, or when it has the tone of a 40 or 50-year-old because someone else has basically written it for them,” she says. “They are adamant: they want to hear the student’s personal story, their own voice.”

That’s why the goal of the University Advising Department is to help students find that voice, and then give them the confidence to be heard. “Some students know as early as Year 11 that they want to study medicine or business, for example. For others, they’re unsure and we might advise them to do an internship or job shadowing experience to further explore different options. Sometimes, they return all excited because they have a clear idea of what they want to do and then we can help them figure out how to get there, or they remain undecided which is also okay and we help them access university courses that will build on their strengths and skills, and lead them along their life’s journey,” Ms Fanella-Koch says. “In any case, you see them light up when the pieces finally come together. That’s the reason I love my job.”



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