Seeking Russian Agents? Here’s a good one.

The waters required to navigate while applying to an independent school, especially for an international student can be tricky. You can hear horror stories about bad agents and then really great stories about agents who really help their clients find, apply, enrol and even travel to see schools.

This past Fall I travelled to Ukraine and Russia with an agency called IQ Consultancy. We have worked with other agents in Russia and Ukraine to be clear, so this is not a unique endorsement of IQ Consultancy. On this trip, we travelled to Kiev, Novosibirsk, St. Petersburg, Ufa, and Moscow and met with many families.

In Russia, for the most part since the collapse of the Soviet Union, we are dealing with the first generation of students studying abroad and families traveling more widely than the borders of their former state. Many of the students I met spoke English quite well, however, their parents did not. This is where agencies in this part of the world really help their ‘parent’ clients navigate the tricky waters. They translate for them and most importantly, advise on individual schools in different countries based on their clients’ needs. As more and more Russian students are studying abroad, we are hearing from Russian families that there are too many Russian students in some UK and Swiss schools. A good agent can help a family avoid disappointment upon arrival at a school and help them find the right ‘fit’ for their clients.

If you are looking for an agent, in any country, make sure that you ask the agency how many students they have placed in university preparatory boarding schools, making the distinction between schools that have local students as well and not just students coming from abroad. Ask what services the agency is going to provide to you, will they assess your needs, recommend options, help you apply, help with study permits and study permit renewals? What services are free and what services carry an additional fee? Finally, ask if someone from the company has visited the school. Oftentimes, frontline staff may not have visited a school personally, but they rely on another member of the company who has. Some agencies have policies that they will not place a student in a school unless someone from the agency has visited the school. This is a good thing.

IQ Consultancy staff members have visited LCS on three separate occasions. They understand our school, our education system and the small number of Russian speakers within our community. They get the LCS difference and will help you understand what makes us unique and a special option for the right student and family.

All types are needed in boarding

I was asked today at lunch, “What type of students do you attract?” I answered, “no one particular type”. The person asking wasn’t asking about personality type but it got me thinking again…

I have been a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) practitioner since 1993 and love that it can be applied to almost every interaction I have with people. Some of the most interesting have been observing my colleagues speak about students I know or have interviewed myself. The interaction almost always goes better when the interviewer and student share similar ‘type’ and have had an easy time establishing rapport. So much so, that I was inspired to offer an MBTI session at the SSATB Annual Meeting a couple of years ago to help admission professionals explore their own type to ensure that there wasn’t any personality type bias in their interviewing and admission processes overall.

The danger simply is that an extraverted or introverted interviewer may get along better with a like-typed student. More often I have heard extraverted colleagues speak about how difficult it was to get a student ‘animated’ in the interview or an intuitive type (future creative) trying to get a more sensing student (grounded in the present) speak about their future. Independent schools need all types just like in society.

Depending on their culture, schools can miss out on the quiet deep thinkers in favour of the more vocal spontaneous types or vice versa.

For prospective students, expect that the person interviewing you may not be just like you. Therefore a little advance preparation can’t hurt, think about things that typically may not be ‘you’ on a day to day basis:

  • a subject you can speak about with animation
  • something you care deeply about
  • How you ‘feel’ about certain events, what you ‘think’ about different subjects
  • how you have handled challenges in the past
  • how/where you see yourself in the future
  • how do you respond to structure, what do you do when there is no structure?
  • what is your ideal environment for getting down to school work?

Having answers will help. What energizes you – action, people, ideas, rest; how do you take in information – through your five senses or from seeing patterns and possibilities; how do you make decisions – through logic or their impact on people; and what type of lifestyle do you prefer – structured or more go with the flow? Stephen Covey echoes the sentiment in his, “first seek to understand, then be understood”.

Just as in hiring an employee, MBTI should never be used for candidate selection purposes. If interviewers understand their own preferences, they will ensure that they are getting the best out of their candidates and all ‘types’ at their school.

For more information on MBTI and MBTI and learning.

What is the difference between an ‘educational agent’ and an ‘educational consultant’?

Many families, once they have decided to pursue a boarding education or even just a short term educational experience abroad, turn to a local contact to help them find the right opportunity. Let’s face it, if you are in a foreign country or even a major city, and even if language isn’t an issue, finding a school that is appropriate to your child’s wants and needs is a daunting task. Often times, it is easier to have someone who deals with schools and education opportunities on a daily basis give you a hand. There are two options available to most families: consult an agent or hire an educational consultant. Like any decision to engage someone for advice, paid or otherwise, it is best to do a little homework before making your choice.

Educational Consultants are generally professionals who charge a family a fee for service which usually includes interviews, learning and personality assessments (sometimes a complete psycho educational assessment which may or may not include a diagnosis of a learning difference), a list of recommended schools to match the needs/wants of the student/family, facilitating visits to a short list of schools, and then assistance in preparing for applications, tests, and interviews. Educational Consultants work for a family and therefore are considered to be impartial because they are hired by the family to help them with their needs and they do not accept a commission from the school where a student earns a space. Educational Consultants may belong to a professional organization such as the Independent Educational Consultants Association . IECA consultants are available to help with college advising, day and boarding advising, learning disability advising and therapeutic advising.

Educational Agents are found throughout the world and collect a commission from education providers (schools, colleges, language programs) for each student they place in a school, on a course or program. Like a travel agent, they sell ‘seats’ and can book you on almost any course. In fact, much of the industry has developed out of the sector of the travel industry that caters to those looking for an educational ‘trip’ or experience. If price is your biggest factor in choosing an opportunity, an agent can counsel you on a wide variety of options varying in location, length of stay, and your budget. The biggest distinction between a good agency and a bad one is the training of their workforce. Some agents or agencies specialize in boarding school programs and some rarely place students in boarding schools in favour of less expensive public school programs that do not have the academic requirements of independent schools. Apart from charging much less, public schools often offer shorter and single semester stays as well.

‘Private’ schools on the internet can be deceiving as anyone can design a pretty website or have a catchy slogan, you need first hand knowledge through an educational consultant, or an agent if you cannot visit a school yourself. In looking for a recommendation, try to ask your agent to put you in touch with a representative from within their agency who has visited the school you wish to attend. Agencies that can provide first hand knowledge or testimonial from other clients they have placed in a program are your best bet for finding the right program or school for you. If the agency is collecting a ‘commission’ from a school, then they are in essence working for the school. However, they also see themselves as representing the interests of their student and family ‘clients’ as most educational institutions such as LCS reserve the right to accept or deny their students. Many consultants and agents also help with study permits, guardians, travel arrangements and may continue to represent the parents to the school. Who an agent truly represents in the market (family or school) can be a grey area, therefore it is best to run a few scenarios past your agency to see how ‘independent’ their recommendation of a program might be (for-profit private schools often offer bonuses to agents after a certain number of weeks or programs have been sold).

LCS works with Educational Consultants and Educational Agents from around the world. As we reserve the right to accept or deny all of our students based on their applications (and their understanding of our school), we do not perceive a conflict with paying a commission to an agent for a student we have accepted in an area of the world that a) prefers to seek advice locally, and b) where we do not have an ongoing presence or cannot travel to recruit on a regular basis. We see agents and consultants as an extension of our reach to promote the value of a truly world class Canadian education at LCS.

In our experience, educational consultants and educational agents can be very helpful partners to families (especially those with limited English), in finding and enrolling their children at LCS. In some countries however, e.g. China, we do not pay a commission, we work with Educational Agents who may charge a client family a premium for their work in placing a student at LCS. In this case, they are working very much like an educational consultant, helping and coaching their families to gain a space in a very competitive environment.

Educational Consultant Contacts (I apologize for this list requiring scrolling)

Japan

EDICM Tokyo

Turkey

Erka Group Istanbul

USA

IECA Directory

Educational Agency Contacts

Brazil

BIL Intercâmbios

CI 

ICI Intercâmbio

IE

China

Can-Achieve

EGI

JJL

Colombia

Estuviaje

Grasshopper International

Teducamos

Germany

LearnOut

Töchter und Söhne

Japan

ISES

ALFA-AC

Korea

EdComCanada

Mexico

EH Global

One-to-One

Viajes Interlag

Romania

World Education

Russia

IQ Consultancy

Spain

ASTEX

Foreign Study League

RedLeaf

Thailand

Born to Consult

Turkey

Biltur Educational Travel Agent

LMK Consulting

Vietnam

Canadian Education International

Delta Education Advisory

EAA Edulink

So you have been accepted to an independent school wait list, now what?

Waiting to learn of an admission decision or hearing from a school that you have been found acceptable but that they don’t have a space for you can be frustrating, stressful and nerve wracking. Once you have been waitlisted for a school, what does it mean and what should, can you do?

First, let’s look at what being put on a wait list means. If you are in a “wait pool”, it is the same thing. Some offices use “wait pool” instead of “wait list” as they do not want families to think that a “wait list” is prioritized. In my experience, whichever term is used, parents still want to know where their child ‘is’ on the wait list or where they ‘are’ in the wait pool. At Lakefield College School, we use the term “Accepted Pending Space” to also mean the same thing. All of these terms mean you are acceptable to the school, there just wasn’t a space for you at the time of the decision. You may be wait listed at different times of the year based on your application type, e.g. day student, boarding student, and international student. Schools generally have ‘cycles’ and day spaces may fill first. Eventually, particular grades levels fill, and occasionally spaces for a particular gender are filled as the school tries to balance the number of boys and girls.

Once on a wait list, many families want to know what they can do. Schools use each admission decisions to enrol the best candidates for the needs of the school at the time. For this reason, most will return to the ‘list’ or ‘pool’ and evaluate all candidates at the time of an opening. Schools with rolling admission processes continue to accept applications for most grade levels, which can give latecomers to the process as great a chance for entry as someone who has spent a while on the wait list. For this reason alone, families are generally not discouraged from ‘padding’ a file after being wait listed with new material, achievements, report cards, etc. Universities dealing with thousands of applications generally discourage this practice, as might some larger independent schools that have a more ‘numbers’ based rating process. They simply don’t have the time or means to incorporate additional materials in their ‘scoring’ of your application. Generally new material will not increase your scores, however, a report card showing improvement for example, may improve your standing the next time your file is read. Usually in first rounds, schools only rate the specific components that they ask for in the admission process in an effort to provide a level playing field. Once you are on the wait list though, don’t be shy. A school may not look at anything new, and may have a policy enforcing this. Personally, I read everything in a file.

The hardest part about being on a wait list is, of course, the waiting. During that time you can feel doubt in your abilities and your fit with the school. For schools that accept and then wait list students, you are essentially being told that they would want you if they had space. Unfortunately, during the wait you are placed de facto in a new competitive process which then pits you against unseen competitors with no control over your future. So what do you do? My advice is to communicate with the admission office. Short of harassing behaviour, calls to the admission office to see when the school might experience openings are not held against you. Knowing that the school is completing its reenrollment within a few days, weeks or a months for example gives you a horizon, one on which to wait, but also to make decisions if you need to. Do you accept another school’s offer? Register somewhere else? Pay a non-refundable deposit? These are all decisions you have to make in case you do not get the offer you are waiting for, and knowing the timeframe helps in making these decisions. If the timeframe passes, don’t think all is lost. Some schools have elaborate plans and capabilities to communicate with wait listed students, others do not and have not forgotten about you, but do not have the time or personnel to communicate they don’t have a space yet. My advice again is to call or email the admission staff and try to establish a new timeline for communication from the school so you can make the decisions you need to.

I can be quoted for saying, “Never say never”, especially in a boarding school environment where many things can happen before a student leaves home and arrives in a new setting come September. Some get cold feet, others might have a student visa issue, or another’s parent gets transferred to a new city for work. There is always movement in the summer, that is why it is always good to stay in touch with the admission office if you still want a space. A wait list that is twenty students long can quickly dwindle to four or five as families in ‘limbo’ make decisions to enroll elsewhere. Once these decisions are made, they often cannot accept a space. The family in contact with the admission office and known to be waiting patiently in the wings can sometimes be the first person the admission office calls. Admission personnel develop relationships with you and genuinely want to help you into the school. Never feel you can’t contact the admission office and let them know you are still interested.

Being waitlisted isn’t fun. Keep yourself aware of the timeframes in which to expect decisions and make other arrangements as necessary. Take solace in the knowledge that you have been found ‘acceptable’ by the school and feel good about that. Keep the lines of communication open with the school and let them know when anything new and exciting happens you think they should know about. And good luck.

 

In Praise of Small Senior Elementary Schools

As a consultant and a Director of Enrollment I have encountered the problem of parents second guessing the value of a small school for their children as they approach the senior elementary years.

It is usually a question of balancing a tween’s social needs with their educational needs. Socially, senior elementary students are looking for more activities like dances and more athletic opportunities, things smaller schools can struggle with or are unable to provide. Yet Grade 7 and 8 students are not quite ready to be mainstreamed with Grade 11 and 12 students. Academically, smaller schools generally produce students well prepared for secondary school because they have had all important teacher time in an environment appropriate to their age level. They also have more opportunities to begin experiencing leadership roles as the ‘senior’ students in a small school.

Parent anxiety about their child gaining entry to selective secondary schools can be the primary reason for leaving the benefits inherent in a small senior elementary program. If a private secondary school offers an elementary program that feeds the high school, they will want to take students as soon as possible to secure their secondary enrolment. This has made it difficult for many small schools I have worked with as the high schools siphon off students at Grades 5 and 7 or wherever they add a section of students to their enrolment.

Parents take a position earlier, not because they doubt their small school, but they are afraid of space scarcity at the Grade 9 entry level. In these instances, I suggest families contact the high school and ask about the typical profile of a student gaining entry at Grade 9 and ask about the projected number of spaces that will be available. A good number of our Grade 9 day students come from three small private elementary schools. Often, the Directors of the schools can give a family a good idea of whether their child is on a path to be admitted to a particular independent high school or whether they might be better to try to gain entrance to the school at Grade 5, 6 or 7 because they may not be strong enough for Grade 9 competition.

One of the indicators of the strength of a small school is the number of their ‘graduates’ who have gone on to selective entry high schools.

What about the sports and the dances? Ask, is the sports program at the bigger school better than you can find in your community for this age group? For the truly athletic, community athletics up until at least the varsity high school level are going to be essential for a student with college bound or greater aspirations. I have yet to meet the school Director who has solved the small school challenge of holding a dance with a dozen Grade 8 classmates that doesn’t feel like dancing with your sister or brother.

Should I attend a School Fair?

I attend a number of school fairs every year in Canada and around the world. They serve a very important purpose but you must take in what you learn and afterward evaluate all that you have been told.

Yesterday, in Mexico, a woman arrived at my table and said “every school I have visited so far has told me they are the best, are you the best too?” My reply was, “that depends on what you are looking for.” Was it an ESL program? No, we offer ESL support instead of full classes. Was it the best boarding program? Maybe, tell me more about your child… Remember, it is all about finding the right fit and the ‘best’ program for your child.

At this fair, there were public school home stay programs for $20,000, private for profit boarding schools with almost entirely international student populations for $36,000, then there were the not for profit CAIS boarding schools from $50,000 to $60,000 per year. Most of the high schools were from Canada and it was clear that with everyone saying they were the best, it had made it difficult for this mother the tell the difference between the options being presented to her.

As an aside, in my seventeen years in Admission things have changed on the marketing front for Canadian schools as we assert our quality in the world education market. It is not very ‘Canadian’ to claim you are the best. It is more appropriate to let others tell you “you are the best” than claim it yourself. Why? Because “the best” is relative, personal, and student specific. Beware the school that claims they are the best. In Canada, it is more acceptable to be “one of the best” or one of the ‘top’ schools.

In this case, the mother needs to assess at least three factors:

Her child
What is her level of English fluency? Does she need ESL? How much? Would extra help be enough?
What is her academic level? Does she need tutoring or extra help? Does she have an identified learning difference? What supports does the school offer?
What is her personality? Is she shy? Would a smaller school, smaller residence be better? If home stay, how are the appropriate families chosen for her personality and her family’s values? Will the school draw her into new activities and experiences?
Is she outgoing? Does the school offer enough cocurriculars to keep her engaged?

The Academic Program
Does the school offer ESL? Is it required?
What is the school’s graduation rate?
Where do the school’s graduates attend university?
What is she looking for? The two year IB, APs or the Canadian curriculum qualifying her for universities around the world? (See earlier blog post “To IB or not to IB”
What is the measure of art, music, drama, languages, science, maths and social sciences desired?

Her budget
Is this an investment in her academic future or a right of passage “language experience?”
How much could she afford? Keeping in mind that many CAIS schools offer scholarships and need-based financial assistance for good students (often making the cost of boarding equal to one of the cheaper options).
How much supervision and outside of class time programming is desired? In this regard, often, you get what you pay for.

Sifting your way through the missions, curriculums and value propositions presented by schools is not an easy task. Attending a school fair cannot hurt and invariably a parent and student will leave wiser and better equipped to ask the right questions of the schools on their short list.

I look forward to meeting you at a school fair in the near future.

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A matter of size – “the right size” school for every student

School size can be a key factor in school selection. It can also be a defining characteristic of a school, so much so that in LCS’s case, the Trustees have decreed that the school shall not have a student body of more than 365. Sometimes we end up at 366 when the dust settles at the end of our offer period, but to end up with 367 we have to get Board Chair approval. We don’t bother asking about 368 as we know that is out of the question. Why is size so closely guarded? It can matter in so many ways when choosing the right school.

Overall School Size
Overall school size limits what classes can be offered. It is great to have a high school of over 400 or 500 when offering the IB as you need more students to ideally and affordably offer everything at the higher and standard levels. But if you could have a more intimate school experience wouldn’t you want to? LCS’s Trustees recognize this as a hallmark of the LCS Difference, where the Head of School can know each student and every student can be known by their teachers and classmates.

A school needs to be just large enough to easily offer the courses that matter to getting into the best schools worldwide in any field of study – this is what LCS does. Too small, and students have a very limited range of courses. LCS may not have quite as many course offerings as larger schools but we have everything that gets you to where you want to go.

Size of Residences
LCS averages 23 students in its eleven residences, most other schools I have worked or consulted for have had 40 or more students per house. LCS uses Head of Houses and Assistant Head of Houses to provide supervision and continuity that most closely approximates a family environment with two adults interacting daily with the students in the residence. Larger residence setups of forty or more often have ‘duty teams’ of teachers or dons who take turns providing supervision sometimes working one night every two weeks in a rotation, supervised by the Head of House.

Size of Class
LCS averages between 16 and 17 students per class on a year to year basis, not 12 or 24. Sometimes, but not always (such as the case with a few schools with very large endowments) class sizes averaging 10-12 students can represent a school for students with greater learning support needs. Smaller classes give teachers and students more one to one time and time to digest course content.

Class sizes averaging 20 to 24 or more can sometimes indicate large grade sizes with multiple sections of every course. More students in class means less time for discussion or one to one time with teachers. Students need to be more self-directed and proactive about seeking assistance and more comfortable with holding up a larger group to clarify understanding of content. If students are less inclined to do so, this is when parents might like to pay closer attention to class sizes when selecting a school.

The middle ground seems to be a class average around 16 to 18 students. There is still time for one to one clarification, students will be called upon frequently to contribute in class, it is difficult to hide or get lost and teachers can easily differentiate their instruction to meet different learning styles and needs within their classrooms.

If parents can effectively gauge the self-directedness* of their child (homework completion, organizational skills, curiosity, and maturity), average class size can be a very useful indicator of a potentially good school to bring out the best in their child.

*Note: For parents with students with identified learning differences, average class size can still be an indicator. Generally, the smaller the class size the less time a student with learning support needs will need to spend outside of regular class time with resource teachers, tutors, and supervised study. Generally, the larger the average class size, the more the student with identified learning needs may need to spend with learning support resources outside of classroom hours. This can make daily participation in after school activities difficult to manage.

Size of Grade Level
The overall size of a grade level can have an impact on how much that grade mixes with another grade level. At LCS, thanks to the small residences which are a mix of boys and girls from Grade 9 through12, they are closer to their housemates in different grades than when they are in a large house where grade level distinctions can sometimes have younger students excluded. Outside of their house, older and younger housemates bridge the “grade divide” and lead to a school community where anyone can feel comfortable hanging out with anyone of any grade level.

Size certainly matters in defining school culture. It makes a difference in the residence and in the classroom. Luckily, it is one of the easiest things to look for when researching schools as most schools will mention the size of their student body or average class sizes in their short descriptor. These two websites help parents quickly find information about school size and average class size. The first for the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools allows you to search by overall school size. The second for Our Kids provides average class size and overall school size in each school profile.

http://boardingschools.ca/school-finder/

http://www.ourkids.net/school/