How High School counseling helps students find their place in the world
By Nick Yates, ISB Communications
High school is a time when students make lasting memories, create lifelong friendships, explore plenty of co-curricular activities, and challenge themselves academically.
But this is also a time of stress and anxiety.
Students are trying to choose what post-secondary school to attend, they’re learning how to hone a university or job application, and they’re starting to think about the oh-so-common question, “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?”
Fortunately for International School of Beijing (ISB) students, there is a very well-resourced team of experienced and highly qualified staff in place to help them in each stage of their journey. Advice on how to choose a university and apply makes up a large part of the package in High School, alongside social-emotional, personal, and academic counseling. Want to learn how a social and emotional counselling program benefits students? Click here.
To further strengthen support to students and families, ISB made some important changes recently to its High School counseling model. Since the start of 2020-2021, ISB has had one department responsible for social/emotional/academic counseling led by School Counselors and one department for career and university advising led by Careers and University Advisors. This remodel has allowed the Counselors and Advisors to specialize and provide an even better service.
The move was made based on extensive research, collection of internal data on community needs, study of best practice, and listening to feedback from ISB students, parents, and outside consultants. ISB now has three School Counselors and three Careers and University Advisors, with an additional University Access Coordinator.
Autumn is a busy time for the Advisors. The past few weeks have been packed with virtual university “visits,” online events which have come to the fore as travel restrictions have complicated this traditional season of university campus tours and meetings with admissions representatives. ISB has embraced these since the start of the pandemic, hosting many visits and facilitating Grade 11 and 12 students and parents to attend third-party events. As well as day-to-day meetings with individual students, Advisors have also organized parent workshops to help them help their children navigate the university application experience.
High School counseling road map
University advising begins at ISB in Grade 10, when students are assigned a University Advisor in the Second Semester. The first in the year’s series of coffee mornings with the High School counselors features an explanation of the major events and landmarks of a student’s High School experience and how the department supports them through the journey.
As students progress through High School, there are seminars talking about university admissions systems around the world. Students and parents can have their questions answered. During Grade 11, students have college research and essay writing workshops. They look into post-secondary facilities and learn how to put together an admissions essay.
In their final year, students participate in an all-day workshop on application processes and consult with their Advisors.
Helping students find their best-fit university
A major focus of the university advising service is to direct students to best-fit universities and courses. ISB prides itself on ensuring its learners find the institution that is most appropriate for them based on their passions and talents. The wide scope of university offers and the subjects ISB graduates go on to study each year signals that they are pursuing their passions at many of the world’s finest educational institutions.
The Advisors spend a lot of time busting myths about university and encouraging community members to think in line with ISB’s whole-child philosophy, which promotes social-emotional well-being and character development alongside academic achievement.
“There is no evidence that students’ learning will suffer from attending a less selective college… the students who benefit the most from college are those who are most engaged in their academics and campus communities,” note the authors of a research paper for Challenge Success, a Stanford University-affiliated organization that partners with communities to promote student well-being and engagement with learning.
This quote illustrates how students excel most when they attend a post-secondary facility that is the best fit for them, rather than one that just looks good on paper. It’s tempting to just think about the likes of the Ivy League when targeting a university, but there is of course life beyond these weighty names.
“This is one of the greatest challenges,” according to Patrick Stenger, one of ISB’s University and Career Advisors and a veteran counselor at the school. “We look at the entire experience of the three or four years and ask the students to think about which of the universities they apply to will provide them with the greatest amount of value, not just in the degree, but in life and education.”
Mr. Stenger presents parents and students with material like the Challenge Success study to take it from opinion to fact.
No need for unreliable agents
With highly-trained, well-resourced Advisors who know the students, ISB makes it so parents don’t have to seek help outside school amid the often unreliable networks of agents that exist in some parts of the world to capitalize on families’ uncertainty about university.
ISB has always sought out the best counselors, whether they’re School Counselors or University and Career Advisors, and the school is committed to continual training, development, and research time for them.
Mr. Stenger always knew that he wanted to do something in education to help others. He has two decades of experience in counseling and university advising internationally since earning his masters in educational psychology. His colleagues have similar backgrounds, and ISB funds them to continue learning and attending conferences to keep up with best practice in their field.
“All of us Counselors and Advisors are actively involved in continuing to learn our trade,” said Mr. Stenger. “[These learning opportunities] give us a way to network. We collectively have great relationships with the people who actually read our students’ applications.”
Ultimately, Mr. Stenger hopes that even with the university admissions process demanding most of the focus during High School, students will still take some time to enjoy themselves and begin to find their place in the world.
Meet ISB’s Careers and University Advisors
Originally from Canada, Mr. Maki has previous experience in China, having worked here for eight years before moving to South America, then back to Canada to work at a boarding school, before joining ISB in 2019. Mr. Maki secured his undergraduate education in Canada and his professional degree in the U.S. He has 19 years of experience in university advising and just recently completed his advisory board position with the Ohio State University.
Having spent most of his career internationally, Patrick Stenger is now serving in his sixth year at ISB. Prior to this, he worked at the Bangkok Patana School as a careers and university advisor, Shanghai American School-Pudong as a high school counselor and department head, and Osaka International School as a kindergarten-grade 12 school counselor. He began his career internationally as a counselor at the International School of Aberdeen in Scotland.
Yunxia Liao is in her second year at a ISB. Before that, she worked in one of the Yew Chung Education Foundation campuses in Shanghai for 10 years as a university guidance counselor. Ms. Liao is a member of the International Association for College Admission Counseling and a mentor in the China Institute of College Admission Counseling. She has also volunteered for LifelineConnect, a mental health-related organization, since 2010.
ISB is an extraordinary school, made so by a tradition of educational excellence spanning 40 years. Establishing, nurturing, and growing such an exceptional learning community has been and remains intentional; we work hard to build strong relationships so our learning is at its best.