By Katryna Snow
Recently the head of an international school posed a question in an online forum noting that the board at their school has been focused on student acceptances and matriculations to “top 50” and “top 100” universities as a measure of success. The head of school noted, ’I would like to have something more than this metric.’
It raises an excellent question—how does a school measure the success of its university guidance programme? What metrics can be used, and what metrics may do more harm than good?
Assessing how many students get accepted into a “top” university using university ranking lists is certainly easy to quantify, which may be why it is a standard that schools often use. The metric relies on various university ranking criteria, such as those devised by QS World University Rankings, Times Higher Education World University Rankings, and US News and World Report.
All these rankings have distinct methodologies to decide which universities are the “best.” University rankings are often controversial, and there are stories of universities that withdraw from participating or repercussions when a university submits incorrect data. For these reasons alone, using university rankings as a metric of success for a school’s university guidance programme is deeply problematic.
A larger problem is that defining the success of a university counseling programme by student admission into “top” universities only perpetuates the perceived value of rankings and undermines efforts to get students into truly “best fit” universities. Using rankings narrows the scope of how success is defined, putting immense pressure on students. Why place value on only 50 or 100 institutions of higher education? Globally mobile students aspire to thousands of universities worldwide and there are over 4,000 higher education institutions in the United States alone.
If schools focused more on finding the best fit higher education options for students, it would widen the aperture of “acceptable” university options as perceived by students, their parents, and educators.
There are amazing university options that may not make it to the top of the rankings but where students can thrive. Schools should encourage counselors and their students to identify these places.
What other metrics can schools use if moving away from measuring the number of acceptances into “top” universities? One idea we’ve heard is measuring the percentage of acceptances students receive compared to their total number of applications. However, I believe this logic is still problematic because students guided to a well-rounded list of universities will likely receive a range of responses to their applications—some positive and some negative. Students should be encouraged to have aspirational university choices on their list, as well as universities that are a solid match for their academic credentials and achievements. If a higher rate of acceptance to university is used as a metric of success, students may be discouraged from applying to aspirational options (and by their university counselors as they provide guidance on these applications).
Another metric of success that focuses on student choice but with a less problematic methodology is measuring how many students get into their top choice schools. For example, what percentage of students receive an offer from one of their top five university choices? This metric works best when you have a strong counseling practice to help guide students to the universities that are the right fit for them. Each student’s top five university options should look a little different from their peers depending on their academic interests, desired location of study, coursework, marks received, etc. Without strong advising in place, it’s easy for students to align their top choices with the top-ranked universities, even though those universities may not be the best fit for them. Continual dialogue between a student (and often their family) and the university guidance counselor can help students design their own top university list. In that way, this metric can truly show how well a counselor worked with a student to define their university list in a realistic way, producing admission results that give the student one or more valid options where they would be happy to enrol.
Perhaps there is yet another metric that schools can adopt when looking at the success of their university counseling programmes—one borrowed from universities and how they often define student success. Many universities focus on retention rates—how many students persist into year two, for example, or how many complete their degrees in a certain number of years. A higher retention rate means students are satisfied with their university experience and are not looking to transfer or drop out. What if schools were to look at the retention rate of their graduates that they helped to place at university?
If university guidance counselors are helping students to find their best-fit institutions of higher education, regardless of rankings, logic would say that students will generally be happy in their learning environments and would persist through to year two (and beyond). What if schools were to survey their graduates at the end of their first semester (or first year) at university to see how well they were placed? Schools with active alumni associations may be able to partner to assist with this sort of fact-finding mission. There will be reasons beyond their control that students may be looking to transfer—maybe they need to move closer to family, or a family’s financial situation changes, and they need to seek a lower-cost university option. Outside of these types of reasons, what if schools were to look at the retention of their alumni at university as the ultimate measure of success of the university counselling programme? Well-placed students who are satisfied and poised for success at university—what better metric could there be for your school’s graduates?
What would the impact be if schools started to focus on university fit over university prestige (as measured by rankings)? Schools can help to change the definition of success within their school community, encouraging students (and their families) to cast a wider net when looking at university options. University guidance counselors would be able to work in partnership with students to help them define their hopes and dreams for higher education without the pressure of having to place students at “top” universities. Students would feel empowered to look at universities that might be a truly great fit for them, even if they don’t fall into the narrow scope of options that have been historically valued. In the end, students may end up at a wider range of universities—both in terms of institutional type and location—and may have a higher rate of retention once they get there because the fit was the focus from the beginning.
How is your school measuring the success of your university counseling programme? We look forward to learning about your ideas and initiatives!
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admission & guidance at a 2023 CIS event
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- Inclusion via Diversity, Equity & Anti-racism (I-DEA) Deep Dive Workshop: Reducing Bias & Cultivating Inclusion In University Guidance, Recruitment, & Admission Practices, Dublin, 18 November More info & register
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- Work at a CIS member school or university? Join one of our events designed for our university admissions and guidance community
- More blogs relating to international student mobility:
- Student well-being perspectives on cross cultural transitions to higher education
- When a virtual water cooler chat is the boost you need
- Equipping the green leaders of tomorrow
- In a new Cold War, academic engagement is still necessary
- A missed opportunity and limited vision for internationalisation
- Three themes for schools and universities to support international student transitions across cultures
- What's the best way to connect with students? International school counsellors provide tips and advice for universities