How to make yourself stand out - advice on applying to university

By YP cadet Daniel Hurworth

Local secondary school grads tell us how they found the perfect campus and what it took for them to get accepted

By YP cadet Daniel Hurworth |

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As the new school year draws (unfortunately) ever closer, students all over Hong Kong are preparing to go back to their boring daily routines.

However, those in their final year will have more than just the normal school stresses: it also brings the dreaded university application process.

From searching for the perfect school and applying, to acceptances and rejections, Young Post talked to students starting university this year to find out how they got in.

The first step is finding schools that would be a good fit for you. For some, the perfect university might be love at first sight. From the moment they step on campus, they know it is the ideal match. For others, the process might be long, and might even include transferring to a different school.

Although you've probably already started brainstorming, it won't be long before you'll need to make your final list of schools to apply to.

Dallas Haskins, 18, just completed his final year at Hong Kong International School (HKIS). He will be attending Syracuse University in the US, but he found it tough to narrow down his list of universities. He finally realised he needed to do some research to find the best school.

"Set up about one-hour time slots for each of the universities you are interested in attending and go on their websites and do some in-depth research," Dallas suggests.

Chinese International School graduate May Huang worked through a system to find her perfect fit at the University of Chicago, also in the US.

"Before you dive into frantic googling and start to obsess over rankings, make sure you have a list of all the things you should consider about a university - location, class size, tuition, special programmes, and so on," she says. "Once you have an idea about what kind of environment you'd be happy in [visiting helps!], you can narrow your search down considerably."

Once you've made up your mind, then the real work begins.

"Be prepared to make some sacrifices," says May. "If you're spreading yourself too thin, drop a TV show and quit gaming. Don't exhaust yourself!"

Rachel Chiu, 18, another recent graduate from HKIS, will be attending America's Harvard University.

She says: "My experience was more stressful than it needed to be because I put way too much pressure on myself."

She worried about the application essay the most, but said: "You shouldn't stress over every word."

Instead, it's more important to start writing your essay early, so you can revise and edit it. "Don't forget that spending extra time brainstorming will save you more time than jumping into a piece without thinking it through and then having to rewrite it afterwards," she adds. "When it comes to the actual essays, avoid clichés. Topics like service, family, and travel can make excellent essays but they also run the risk of being overly manufactured."

If you're afraid of missing important deadlines because you like to put things off, Rachel has some advice for you.

"If you're a procrastinator, trick yourself and note down dates that are two to three days ahead of the deadline," she says. "That way you'll never miss an important submission date."

Bernice Chow, an 18-year-old who went to Creative Secondary School, agrees that time management is important. Being aware of it was a big part of her being accepted to the University of Hong Kong.

"I set priorities for my tasks, since applications have deadlines," she says.

After submitting all your university applications, the hard part is done. But sometimes waiting for the acceptance - or rejection - letters to come to your door can be even more stressful.

"It is not realistic to believe that you will be accepted to every school you applied to. It is quite a selective process," says Dallas. "Just remember that there are more schools out there, and everything happens for a reason."

Rachel agrees: "The most important thing is to keep things in perspective."

Everyone approaches the university application process in their own way, and in their own time. However, we hope that these words of advice will help you on your exciting journey this year.

Just remember that this is your future. You can let parents, friends and teachers help you find a university, but ultimately the final choice should be yours. Best of luck!

Top 5 things to consider when looking for a university

1) Size of student body

2) Location of university

3) Subjects offered

4) Housing for students

5) Sports programmes