Enko counsellors share key insights from prestigious university admissions conference

 In Alumni, Education in Africa, Enko Blog, University guidance

An article from James Ball, Enko Sandton Campus University Admissions Counsellor

From 21-24 August 2019, several Enko university admissions counsellors attended the prestigious Yale Young African Scholars Educators Conference in Harare, Zimbabwe. The purpose of the conference was to provide counsellors from across Africa with the tools to guide their students through various admissions processes. The focus was predominantly on studying in the United States but there was also some great discussion on options within Africa.

Enko counsellors attend the YYAS Educators Conference at Arundel School, Harare, Zimbabwe.

The conference programme was packed with important topics such as understanding the role of a school counsellor, exploring standardised testing, compiling a school profile, writing recommendation letters, navigating the Common App and unpacking financial aid options. I asked my fellow counsellors what their big take-aways from the conference were and they came back with some fascinating insights. These have been distilled into seven key areas below.


1) Empower students

The representative from Education USA delivered a powerful message during one of the evening sessions. She reminded us that our job is to guide students through the admissions process rather than fall into the trap of trying to do the job for them. We heard how counsellors often take on too much responsibility for individual applications which can disempower students as well as lead to counsellor burnout due to the intense workload. The key lesson from the presentation was for us to create a supportive environment where students are able to take ownership of their admissions journey.

2) Face financial realities

Throughout the conference we heard tough stories of students who had their university dreams curtailed due to an inability to plan for and face financial realities up front. Some students celebrated being accepted into a university only to realise they did not have the means to take up the offer. Others managed to make their way to a university only to return home after a semester or two due to the non-payment of fees. The advice we were given is to advise students to only apply to universities that are able to meet their full needs. This will save a lot of emotional turmoil in the long run.

3) Leave a cushion for SATs

The session on standardised testing was very informative. Our understanding of the various tests and their uses was greatly expanded. However, the big insight on this front was a practical one. According to the presenter, there are a limited number of testing dates in Southern Africa and the testing centres get filled up very quickly. This means it is vital for our students to book early and to leave some room before deadlines should they need to rewrite for any reason. Further research is needed but there may be an opportunity for more Enko schools to apply to become SAT testing centres.

4) Train teachers on how to compile reference letters

I think we all had our eyes opened during the talk and discussion on reference letters. Many delegates shared stories of teachers writing thin, inaccurate and sometimes copy and pasted letters for their students. Admissions officers from some of the top American universities highlighted how this could reduce the chances of an offer being made, especially when compared to an application with high quality recommendation letters. Enko schools are very good at training their teachers but this was still an important reminder for us to keep the standards high.

5) Keep an eye out for exceptional sporting talent

A fascinating talk towards the end of the conference focused on student athletes. There are some remarkable opportunities at Amercian universities for students that have exceptional sporting talent combined with solid academic ability. We were told to keep an eye out for students that have represented their country in a particular sport as this is a good indicator that they may have a chance of securing a fully paid scholarship to study in the US. The earlier a school can start working with a student the better as this will allow the counsellor to help the athlete build up a strong portfolio of evidence to impress a spectrum of institutions.

6) The importance of emotional support

 This is not something that every Enko counsellor is trained or required to do but the importance of emotional support underpinned several stories shared by presenters and delegates. Students are under increasing pressure to perform on multiple fronts which can lead to high levels of fear and anxiety. The conference reinforced the idea that trained counsellors can play a vital role in helping students manage the stress associated with the application process. They can also assist students to prepare mentally for leaving home and transitioning to a new and often very different environment.

7) Sharing knowledge about opportunities in Africa

A highlight of the conference was the rich discussion on studying in Africa. Delegates felt that international options would remain incredibly popular but that more should be done to educate students about opportunities across the continent. With this in mind the organisers have committed to work with delegates to compile a database of African resources which is certainly a positive outcome.

Another shot of Enko counsellors at the conference

Overall, the Educators Conference was a huge success. We left Harare inspired with powerful knowledge, new friends and priceless memories. A big thank you from all the counsellors to Kate Maghlakelidze whose networking prowess enabled us to attend.

James Ball – September 2019


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