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Creating Success: University Preparation at Harrow Hong Kong

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

#sponsoredpost The Sixth Form years are an exciting time for pupils as they extend their learning and prepare for the transition to university and beyond. It can also be a rather daunting period – the prospect of change, leaving behind the comfort of their familiar school environment and perhaps moving across the world, can be a challenge for even the most confident of young adults.

To help pupils navigate this demanding phase, it’s vital that they’re given proper support and guidance. That’s why Harrow International School Hong Kong has developed a dedicated programme for university preparation.

Focused Research Time

For the majority of pupils, the real focus starts in Year 12, when a double period is set aside each week for university research and information sessions. The aim of the programme is to equip pupils with the knowledge they need to make informed application decisions and the skills required to succeed with their applications. Sessions include mock interviews, talks from visiting universities and guidance on the intricacies of different countries’ application systems.

Key to this is the expertise of Harrow’s faculty, including Head of Sixth Form Ms Jo Morris, who prior to moving to Hong Kong helped countless pupils through her role as university coordinator at John Lyon school in the UK, also part of the Harrow family. Along with her colleagues, Ms Morris brings years of experience and a wealth of contacts, which all adds up to make Harrow’s university preparation programme unique in terms of both its insight and its impact.

“The aim of our programme is to open pupils’ eyes to all the possibilities that are out there,” says Ms Morris, explaining that it’s common for pupils (and parents) to have preconceived ideas of which universities are ‘best’. “We help them explore different options and set them up with lots of research so they can come up with their shortlist,” she says.

Application Intricacies

Ms Morris explains that Harrow offers tailored support dependent on each pupil’s aspirations, with dedicated counsellors allocated to assist both Oxbridge and US applicants. “Preparation for US applications begins earlier than for other countries because the application process is more complex. You have to send a transcript of the pupils’ academic records all the way back to Year 10. We introduce this concept to our pupils in Year 9 so that they are aware that their marks from Year 10 onwards will count.” Ms Morris explains that American universities also look for long-term commitment to extracurricular activities – around two to three years minimum – so leaving things to the last minute just won’t cut it.

Year 13 pupil Amber, who is hoping to study at Rice University, Texas, says the support she’s received from the specialist US counsellor at Harrow has helped her become more confident in her decisions. “Planning began as soon as I was in Year 10 and included carefully selecting and narrowing down my extracurricular activities as well as familiarising myself with the very wide selection of top-notch universities and colleges across the US. They are all unique in their own ways, so many hours of research and browsing on the web were spent. The majority of application work was done the summer before Year 13. I drafted essays, talked to current students and alumni, and attended virtual college fairs and information sessions. Come September, I had a more-or-less-finalised list of around 10 schools.”

Global Preparation

How has Amber’s experience at Harrow helped her prepare for the transition from a British to a US education? “Academically, the rigorous A Level curriculum and focus on independence and self-discipline has improved my work ethic, which I’m sure will ease the transition into college,” she says. “More importantly though, my experiences at Harrow have made me a more independent, introspective and open-minded person by offering broad perspectives that will allow me to fit into any diverse US university.”

Fellow Sixth-former Dash has also applied to the US and is hoping to study Drama at Tisch (NYU). Dash says their time at Harrow has provided a strong grounding for their application. “Drama A Level [has] guided me through the studies of a variety of practitioners, something that will be covered in the foundation years of university. This means I will be going into the course with a good knowledge of theatre history and a clearer understanding of what different theatre programmes entail.

“My other two A Levels are history and politics. A degree in drama at Tisch requires advanced writing skills and the ability to balance writing assignments on top of ongoing performances. I feel that Harrow has provided me with an opportunity to structure my schedule in a way that reflects what my university experience will look like as closely as a high school can.”

Window to the World

Other university destinations favoured by Harrow pupils include Hong Kong, Canada and Australia, though the most popular destination by far is the UK, with Harrow alumni having gone on to study at some of the most prestigious colleges the country has to offer.

One Harrow pupil hoping to strike gold with his UK university application is Julien, who has applied to Oxford to study PPE (philosophy, politics and economics). Currently taking maths, chemistry and history at A Level as well as AS further maths, Julien faces the added challenge of not having studied the subjects that he is applying for. Harrow’s Oxbridge programme has therefore been invaluable to him.

“The primary way the programme has helped me is by shoring up my knowledge in the three disciplines through mentoring sessions. These happen fortnightly and involve discussing readings with a subject specialist to deepen my understanding,” he explains. “The emphasis on independent research and finding out [for] yourself what subject you wish to study at university – for someone who did not know what university subject they wished to study at the start of Year 12, that was very helpful advice.”

Of course, pupils aren’t limited to applying to just one country, and Ms Morris says that many pupils apply to two or more destinations. One such pupil is Kadin, who is looking at options in both the UK and the US. Ultimately, his specific field of study will depend on where he ends up, although all of the courses he is considering are in the medical field, an area that Harrow excels in. “The [application] process is long and daunting,” Kadin remarks, “but there were several talks given by Ms Morris specifically for medical students, which helped clear a lot of confusion. She taught me a lot about the application process for people who wish to apply for medicine and what’s so different about it compared to other subjects. Thanks to Ms Morris, I was able to start my UCAT (University Clinical Aptitude Test) and BMAT (BioMedical Admissions Test) early.”

Managing Pressure

Let’s go back to that word daunting – how does Harrow help alleviate the stress that pupils inevitably feel when juggling A Level studies with higher education applications? “We do lots of advance preparation with the pupils, which helps take away the stress,” says Ms Morris. “Of course, the situation with Covid has impacted things this year, but we were quick to get onto Zoom. Pre-Covid, I ran a trip each year, alternating between the US and the UK, which gave pupils the chance to visit universities. We also had lots of international universities visit us here in Hong Kong. Obviously they can’t come here at the moment, but they’ve done a great job of arranging webinars.”

How do the pupils feel they’ve benefitted most from Harrow’s university preparation programme? “I definitely underestimated the time and energy required to make a successful application,” says Amber. “It is fair to say that I’ve grown and learnt a lot about myself in the process – something I did not expect to happen to this extent.”

Dash says they are grateful for the help received from the drama department, which supported them in exploring potential universities, as well US universities coordinator Ms Darke, who gave valuable feedback on the numerous essays required, and Harrow alumni, who offered first-hand insight into life at different colleges. Dash also credits their teachers Miss Courtis and Mr McInnes for helping them improve their performance for their audition.

Life at Harrow, Dash says, has prepared them well for studying in another country. “For all my life in Hong Kong, I have been a student in Harrow, and so settling into the school as a foreigner initially provided me with valuable experience on finding a sense of ‘home’ away from ‘home’. Being an active member of the boarding house life, as well as being a prep school prefect, means I constantly and closely interact with people from all across the globe, widening my own knowledge of international communities. I believe it is the strong international makeup of the Harrow pupil and teaching body, as well as boarding life, that has prepared me for a healthy transition into life abroad.”

A Unique Opportunity

The fact that Harrow is the only school in Hong Kong to offer boarding certainly gives its pupils an edge when it comes to preparing for life after secondary school. Not only does boarding help children develop life skills, social skills and confidence but it also gives them access to additional support long after the school day has finished.

“I often go into the boarding houses in the evenings to help pupils work on their university preparation, such as talking about their personal statements,” says Ms Morris. “And of course they also have access to their house masters/mistresses and tutors when they need them.”

It’s a unique set up and one that obviously works, with Harrow alumni having gone on to study and excel at top universities across the world. By nurturing its pupils and tailoring university support to each and every child, Harrow Hong Kong offers them the best possible chance for future success.


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