How to celebrate different types of student success in their final school year
How to celebrate different types of student success in their final school year
How to celebrate different types of student success in their final school year
 CIS staff photo of Katryna Snow

By Katryna Snow, CIS Associate Director of Higher Education Services


Completing secondary school marks a major milestone for students and is a moment of great opportunity and choice.

Upon graduation, students can decide the next step in their life’s trajectory—to university, a more vocational school or academy, a gap year, work experience, military service, or other pursuits.

Schools play a pivotal role in supporting students in their next steps. An increasing number of schools are employing “future pathways advisors” instead of the more traditional “university guidance counsellors”—recognizing the increasingly diverse pathways students are choosing upon graduation.

For students who apply for higher education, the final year of secondary school can be a blur of meeting university representatives, interviews, applications, open days, personal statements, standardized testing, and more.

All of this is layered on top of coursework, exam preparation, and extracurricular activities. Students are making decisions about future programmes of study, researching countries where they may want to enrol, as well as admissions statistics and financial aid or scholarship options.

Additional pressures can factor into the student’s decisions about their next steps. How does a school define success for its students? How do parents measure success for their children?

The pressure on students to make the “right” decisions about the future can weigh heavily and impact their mental health and well-being.

Schools have an important role in supporting students through the end of secondary school, and it is only natural to want to celebrate the successes of students who achieve a long-held goal. At the same time, it’s important to recognize that this period can be a season of disappointment and uncertainly for some students.

Some students will not receive an acceptance letter to any universities to which they apply.

Some students will receive acceptance to a university they hope to attend but not the financial aid to make it a reality.

Other students will not receive the scores on leaving exams they need to fulfil the requirements for a conditional offer of admission.

Some students will choose a less traditional path by not enrolling directly at university, and in forging a path different from many of their peers, they may face different challenges and uncertainty about their next steps.

What can schools do to celebrate the students’ successes without creating undue pressure and stress for the students who are facing disappointments in their own journeys after secondary school?


Celebrating student pathways


Here are some considerations shared by various schools in the CIS community about how they share student successes while also trying to safeguard the mental health and safety of all students through this process:

  • Create a school culture where student achievements are celebrated broadly and often, and not just saved for university acceptances.  
  • Involve student voice and agency in the decision about how and where their successes and next steps are shared. Consider leading small group discussions with students to get their input on this topic. CIS Member Schools can access the Student Agency Pack in the CIS Community portal which includes resources to help you conduct student engagement sessions around sensitive topics.
  • If sharing university acceptances, especially publicly, such as on the school’s social media accounts or community newsletters, make it an optional activity for students. Let students lead on whether or not they want to share their post-secondary plans with the wider community.
  • Keep your school’s child and data protection policy in mind as you make decisions about what information, if any, to share with the public. Publicizing student’s images, names, university destinations, and/or courses of study can be a breach of these policies. (Take part in a survey by the International Taskforce on Child Protection about data and record keeping)
  • Ensure your school’s communications and marketing teams are engaged in this conversation, are well-versed in your school’s child and data protection policies, and aware of the decisions about how the school will celebrate post-secondary pathways. Ongoing communication between the counsellor(s) and marketing teams will help to align and validate the information shared.
  • Honor different types of post-secondary pursuits, and don’t focus solely on university acceptances. In any recognition, make sure to include students doing internships, gap years, or military service, while also remembering there may be students who simply haven’t decided on their next steps yet.
  • Consider aggregating the successes of your student body and not linking student names to their specific university acceptances. Anonymizing the outcomes can help take pressure off students
  • Consider waiting until the end of the academic year to share the next steps for graduating students. Updating and sharing the results mid-cycle can create undue pressure for students who are still in the thick of university application processes.

The last year of secondary school provides a tremendous opportunity for personal growth—making decisions about the future, embracing challenges, and celebrating accomplishments. Schools can help students lead the way, supporting them in their achievements and helping them learn to navigate disappointments and practice resilience—all important skills for a more independent life after secondary school.

Does your school have effective practices for celebrating the successes of final-year students and honoring all types of pathways post-graduation while also safeguarding students’ mental health and well-being?


Please note that in preparing this article we consulted widely with counsellors in the CIS community. Later this year, we will seek students’ perspectives on this topic via the CIS & SPAN Student Advisory Board.


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Will you be joining us at our CIS-EARCOS Institute On International Admission & Guidance or Global Forum On International Admission & Guidance this year? These are events for admissions professionals and guidance counsellors at CIS member schools and universities. 

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How to celebrate different types of student success in their final school year
  • Data protection
  • Student well-being
  • University admission & guidance
How to celebrate different types of student success in their final school year