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How to be an Impressive Student, not Only a Smart Student

The Route to Admission in Top Secondary Schools

In our work in supporting families to gain admission into a top secondary school, we so often encounter the dichotomy of being a "smart" student versus an "impressive" one. Parents, educators, and students alike grapple with this distinction, often prioritising smart.

Almost every student we meet is smart. They have every advantage - smart professional, well-educated parents, a rich multi-lingual social life and private school!! Yet, not all of these students are impressive.

It is crucial to understand that admission into the top schools is not a one-size-fits-all process. It calls for a balanced blend of intelligence, authenticity, character, values, and intellectual curiosity.

The Smart Student and the Impressive Student

A "smart" student is often viewed as academically exceptional, scoring top grades, acing standardised tests, and demonstrating an excellent grasp of a wide range of subjects. An "impressive" student, on the other hand, is perceived as well-rounded. They typically excel in non-academic activities as well as academic ones, demonstrate leadership abilities, convey emotional intelligence, and display a genuine interest in learning beyond the classroom.

While being a smart student is undoubtedly essential, it is the impressive student that often stands out in the admissions process. The reason for this is simple: top secondary schools are not just looking for students who are clones of one another. Yes, many schools seek to admit students who can achieve top scores, but they can fill their seats 100 times over with this type of student. They are also for impressive young people who, they feel, can contribute to the school community in various ways.

Being a Good Classmate

Being a good classmate is more than just about being friendly or helpful. It means demonstrating empathy, respect, and teamwork — qualities that schools highly value. This is why many schools run group discussions as part of the assessment. They know that these traits help create a supportive, diverse, and inclusive learning environment. When students showcase these qualities, they illustrate their potential to positively contribute to a school’s community, which can significantly boost their chances of admission.

Being Engaged in Genuine Interests

This is a KEY. Especially in Hong Kong, so many parents seek to build a lengthy CV or a 'portfolio' of activities that their child is engaged in. And this is a mistake.

Schools appreciate students who engage in activities they are genuinely passionate about - not ones that their parents have chosen for them. It's not about having a lengthy list of extracurricular

s to attempt to impress — it's about depth, not breadth. Whether it's music, sports, coding, or community service, schools value students who pursue their interests with enthusiasm and dedication, as it indicates a high level of commitment and the ability to balance academics with other aspects of their lives.

Being Authentically "You"

In an attempt to stand out, students may sometimes lose sight of their true selves, playing a role they (or their parents) believe the admissions want to see. Yet, authenticity will always shine through. Genuine personal essays and interview responses leave a more lasting impression than exaggerated achievements or fabricated interests.

Showcasing a student's real character and values and providing a glimpse into the kind of individual they are beyond their academic abilities is the key to success.

Being Intellectually Curious

Intellectual curiosity — evident through a love for learning, a desire to ask questions, and an appetite for knowledge—is often more highly regarded than stellar academic results. It is an indicator of a lifelong learner, a trait that schools desire in their students. Intellectual curiosity can be demonstrated through participation in academic clubs, taking on independent projects, or simply showcasing a deep understanding and enthusiasm for particular subjects.

At the end of the day, schools are looking for students who will add something to the mix. It could be as simple as an exotic passport to add to their diversity stats but more than likely it's a passion for playing the bagpipes or consistently supporting a very small animal charity in a small country somewhere or teaching yourself to learn another language or... the possibilities are endless.

So, while being a smart student can open doors, being an impressive student can help you walk through them. Top secondary schools are looking for more than just academic excellence—they seek students who are good classmates, who engage in meaningful activities, who are authentic, and who demonstrate intellectual curiosity. So, as you prepare for this journey, remember to stay true to yourself and let your genuine interests and character shine through.


Further Reading We hope you found this article on Top Schools in Asia helpful and informative. For additional insights and strategies related to school selection and preparation, consider exploring the following articles:

  1. Perfecting the Admissions Process: Obtain effective strategies for a streamlined and successful school application process.

  2. Demystifying School Placements: Navigate the complexities of school admissions with our guide that separates myths from reality.

  3. Shaping Future Innovators: Discover the role schools can play in cultivating the innovators of tomorrow.

  4. Exploring Alternative Pathways: Not every student's journey follows the conventional route. Learn about alternative pathways to higher education and career success.

  5. Mastering School Budgeting: School budgeting need not be a headache with our practical guide on budgeting for the school year.

  6. Guide to Advanced School Research: Make informed choices for your child's education with our in-depth guide to advanced school research.

Remember, finding the best fit for your child's education involves careful consideration and diligent research. These resources can provide a wealth of knowledge to aid in your decision-making process. Happy reading!

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