Key themes from Global Forum on university admissions and guidance
Key themes from Global Forum on university admissions and guidance
Key themes from Global Forum on university admissions and guidance


Students have overcome many hurdles in their goal to make the transition from secondary school to higher education since the pandemic began. All of us continue to face challenges in our work to support those students in understanding their options, applying to university, deciding on the best option … finding the right fit.

Our annual CIS Global Forum on International Higher Education Admission & Guidance is where we come together to share experiences, learn, and find the support we need to help us all do our work—providing students with the guidance they need to continue their education beyond secondary school.

What did we learn? Here are four highlights that provide a clear snapshot of the overarching themes and challenges facing the global admissions and guidance community.

Watch again!

If you joined us for the 2021 Forum, you can log into the Forum app until 18 February to watch sessions again or explore something new.



Four key highlights


1. Rebuilding resilience and energy

It’s been nearly two years since the pandemic hit us globally, and yet most of us still forget that we cannot be robust and ‘available’ all of the time.

In Dr Bill Mitchell’s keynote Five steps to rebuild resilience and energy, he spoke engagingly about how we can each protect our own well-being and increase our resilience. He reminds us, yet again, of the importance of the sense of community during these difficult and unprecedented times.

Here are his five steps to rebuild resilience and energy and keep your physiology stable:

i. Physical activity (specifically not using the term ‘exercise’) to move your mind and body away from your desk, decompress, do something that enables you to wind down quickly to maximise your ability to sleep. Take a 25-minute brisk walk. Do something creative, cook, keep good physical health via good food and keeping alcohol intake low.

ii. Prioritise time for keeping the physiology of mental well-being in good shape

iii. Connect. We’ve been dislocated from people but connections with others have a big impact on how we deal with change and how effective we are at our jobs. Friends give support and perspective, they can jog us out of a mood, make us a laugh. Laughter is as good as exercise for having a positive impact on our well-being. Even via Zoom! Stay connected on a day-to-day basis.

iv. Stay in control of what you can. Don’t allow your head to drift towards helplessness. Try to take control of the structure of day-to-day life. It’s easy to slip into less defined structures when you’re working from home, checking emails from the moment you wake up, to the moment you switch off your light for sleep. Hopping on your laptop after dinner, after you’ve put the kids to bed, and all times in between. By introducing more breaks, physical activities, a more priority-driven structure will have a big positive impact.

v. Think about the way your head can mess you around. Positive mindsets can see performance on nearly every measure improve. Lots of people have lost positive mindsets in the last two years. Try to see if there are just two things you can do when you are feeling your mindset slump, think about your purpose, what you do well, where you have contributed something, where you’re relevant … it all contributes to your feeling of meaning, and meaning leads to good mental well-being. Be kinder to yourself, no matter how high your standards and perfectionism. Give yourself permission to look after you. Try and break through the guilt of taking breaks, of closing your laptop.

All these things are about investing time in taking care of you. Feeling energized, in control, and flexible for your work.

‘Bill Mitchell was a fabulous speaker! There were several key takeaways from his session including taking the time to focus on the task at hand, and be mindful of your mental health. Especially when working across multiple time zones!’

‘Bill Mitchell's keynote was inspiring and useful. I will implement some of the suggestions both for myself and for my staff.’


2. What if we were anti-racist? Envisioning admissions and counselling beyond the myths of non-racism

Jane Larsson and Darnell Fine CIS Forum 2021

The “what if’s” shared by Darnell Fine in his keynote were powerful and an excellent way to start this conversation at your school or university. What if:

  • we named our biases and blank spots when writing and reading letters of recommendation?
  • the letters we write for students who are black, indigenous, and people of colour (BIPOC) are just as long as the letters we write for white students?
  • we evaluated the words we use to describe BIPOC students and compare those with the words we use when writing about white students?
  • we offered students the opportunity to submit supplementary materials instead of standardized tests?
  • we critically reflect on which students we refer to selective colleges and why?


Darnell spoke openly about students and staff who are harmed by the system. The Q&A with participants that followed triggered a great deal of thought and critical reflection.

I loved the keynote of Darnell. It made me look at myself and my actions more than anything I have ever attended or read.’

‘I learned … anti-racism is a child protection issue!'

‘We are just beginning to deep dive into DEIJ and Darnell Fine's talk was perfect material for us to incorporate in to our discussions.’

I would like to explore how we can review letters of recommendation for racial bias.’


3. Changing models for student assessment

There’s been a lot of talk about this topic in recent years. What are the costs and benefits of high-stakes testing related to the school leaving and university admission process? Are there different ways to assess student competencies that would support them as learners and provide information to universities making decisions about a fit for admission?

Two Forum sessions addressed this topic. Disrupting the high school transcript: A new way to assess student competencies dived into some new models being built to allow students to present their strengths in a different way.

Disrupting the High School Transcript A New Way to Assess Student Competences Forum 2021Screenshot


And in Redesigning a social contract for education: Approaches to assessment and examining student competencies, school and university leaders talked about how competency-based assessments may be used in the admissions process.

Both sessions involved presenters who participated in the CIS Summit of University and School Leaders. They shared various takes on a similar theme—that there can be a different and perhaps better way to allow students to showcase their talents and competencies throughout secondary school, and how universities can adapt to start assessing students differently using these new tools.

‘The idea of micro-credentials or giving "badges" for certain successes/achievements. And helping parents and students move away from the idea of success as grades and content knowledge toward the concept of success as mastering soft skills.’

‘Very much enjoyed the discussion on assessing student competencies. A lot of sessions were so helpful in building different skills, exposure to different ideas and just generally participate in such interesting conversations.’


4. Cross-cultural perspectives on higher education transitions & well-being

The transition from secondary school to higher education is challenging for any student. International students transitioning across countries and cultures can face additional stressors. An excellent Forum session brought together a highly engaged panel to talk about a CIS Insight project in which ten CIS members from around the globe participated. The project focuses on the well-being of students in their journey from high school to university and the importance of student voice in designing transition programmes.

The panel explored emerging themes from the project that are also outlined in this post—don’t miss the student recommendations for the admissions and guidance community on these three themes:

                i.         Cultural transitions and building a community

               ii.         Personal safety and discrimination

              iii.         Narrow definition of success

Cross-cultural perspectives on high school to higher education transitions and well-being CIS Forum 2021


There’s more to come as we, at CIS, complete the collection and analysis of this project’s data and embark on a second stage in 2022. This second stage will bring together students, guidance counsellors, admissions staff and student services personnel to co-create transition resources for schools and universities.

‘I always love how CIS is thinking forward in ways that we can continue to grow and change to best support our students.’


Networking & connecting

Our Global Forum is all about community. We bring together university guidance experts from international schools and universities worldwide to (re)connect, forge relationships, and collaborate.

From the past (almost) two years of virtual working and living, we all know that finding ways to make meaningful connections with our work colleagues, family, and friends is both vital and challenging. And while in-person connections will always be the preferred choice for most, we’ve all learned that virtual connections can still be enormously valuable. They also expand access.

I really liked the collaboration sessions and the networking sessions. I think it can be really difficult to get people networking at virtual events and this was a really creative way of doing it. It also gave us a topic to discuss so there weren't too many awkward silences once people got over the fear of using their cameras and microphones.’

‘This was probably the best possible solution for virtual networking—I felt almost as if we were in-person.’

‘It’s a great place to get connected with people who are working in the same field and to share the experiences. It’s good that we get updates here about current trends in the school and university education.’

‘I liked the collaborative learning sessions where we could really delve into some of the ideas presented with school and uni colleagues. The breakout rooms were nice for having smaller group chats with people.’

‘The networking was wonderful, and I enjoyed the live chat during sessions as a way to connect.’

‘LOVED the collab sessions and connection sessions with the random breakout rooms. It was much easier to get to meet new people and really connect because no one has the opportunity to clump into a group with people they already knew, as happens at in-person Forums.’

‘Excellent virtual platform. Felt engaged and connected. Did not feel cold.’


Celebrations & acknowledgements

We can't talk about Forum highlights without mentioning one of our annual highlights: the announcement of our annual Higher Education Awards.

Recognizing and celebrating our achievements is always important, no more so than in a period of such disruption and uncertainty. 

So, it was our great pleasure to award and congratulate this year’s recipients:

CIS Higher Education Award Recipients 2021


Left to right:

Peggy Templeton Strong Award—Myriam Polo de Molina, College Placement Counselor, Colegio Colombo Británico

T. Michael Maybury Award—Petra Orent, Senior Associate Director of Admissions, Franklin University Switzerland

Future Leader Award—Jacqui Brelsford, University Counsellor, British International School, Phuket

Find out more about each of them.


And finally, a very big THANK YOU to the Forum Planning Committee for their time, ideas, leadership, and efforts in helping us put this valuable event together. 

  • Claudia Botero, International Relations Coordinator, Marymount School Medellin, Colombia
  • Caroline Halling, Head of Student Recruitment, University of Essex, United Kingdom
  • Amy Kice, Director of Admission, New York University Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
  • Annie Prasanna, College Counselor, American School of Bombay, India
  • Holly Smith, Senior International Officer: Europe, University of Sussex, United Kingdom
  • Matt Stiegemeyer, Director of Student Recruitment, Concordia University, Canada
  • Andrew Whyte, Director of Guidance, Institut Le Rosey, Switzerland
  • Carolyn Barr, International Relations and Recruitment Officer, Leiden University, the Netherlands


Watch again, on-demand

These are just our highlights. What were yours? If you joined us for the 2021 Forum, you can log into the Forum app until 18 February to watch sessions again or explore something new.

 ‘Another great learning experience. For anyone involved in international university admissions, this is a must-attend event.’


Save the date!

Already looking ahead to next year, the 2022 Global Forum will take place on 16–18 November. We'll update our events page as soon as registration is open.

Related content:

Key themes from Global Forum on university admissions and guidance
  • Diversity (I-DEA)
  • Networking & learning
  • School & university collaboration
  • University admission & guidance
Key themes from Global Forum on university admissions and guidance