By Teresa Gomez, Communications and Marketing

26 January 2017 - 12:26

Feria de Universidades

More than 100 different institutions take part in the British Council School's University Fair . The enormous demand from brilliant students opting for the best universities, has made these fine tune their entrance criteria. It is no longer suficient to have a good academic record and several foreign languages. Universities are now also looking for students who are motivated, who can show a certain passion for the career they have chosen; students who can demonstrate commitment to the world around them with good leadership skills and qualities that add value to the University which chooses them. As we have seen at the British Council School University Fair, many institutions both from Spain and abroad focus on a personal interview and an introduction letter from the student to decide on the majority of places. “Our Fair is improving and growing each year, with more and more universities deciding to take part and come and show off their courses, which is something which we feel is very positive” explained Pamela O’Brien, Head of Secondary at the School. On this occasion, she continued “we have seen an increase in the participation of European Universities from Holland, Switzerland and Belgium, and this relates to the greater interest shown by our students in those destinations, along with those more common ones, the United Kingdom and the United States. These countries are also attractive to our students because when they leave School, they speak three or four different languages”.


 This year, the British Council School University Fair included a total participation of 23 Spanish universities and 81 from abroad. Amongst these, were some of the most prestigious worldwide, such as Harvard, Essex University and Lancaster University amongst others. Both public and private institutions from 13 different countries were able to show parents and students the huge spread of possibilities available to them as they begin their university degrees going forward with undoubted success.

In a society were students finish their Baccalaureat studies better equipped, speaking more languages, with greater extra-curricular experience, a good academic record is no longer the only criteria universities use to accept students. This is why universities are looking for something more from students. The most obvious example is Havard, where every year, more than 36,000 candidates apply, 4000 of which have been ranked number 1 by their respective schools.

“Only around 1800 get in”, explains Carlos Ortega, the Harvard representative in Spain and the person who interviews prospective Spanish students who want to join this most prestigious unviversity. “In order to get in, as well as being the best academically, you also have to be very good from an extra-curricular point of view. You have to contribute something extra, be very good at something, dance, sport, singing, volunteering, it doesn't matter what. And we are also looking for leadership qualities.”

There are also challenging requirements closer to home. Here in Spain, another highly demanding university when it comes to accepting students is the Pontificia de Comillas. Ingrid Gil, one of the lecturers there explains: 'Last year we had 1700 applications just for ICADE, and, in total, between ICADE and ICAI around 500 students get a place”. This is why, in addition to the average mark obtained in the Baccalaureat and PAU, they have their own entrance exams and for many degrees, particularly arts degrees, they also have a personal interview. “We are looking for a brilliant student, motivated, eager and enthusiastic, with an inquisitive mind, empathetic and with leadership skills.”

Motivation and passion are also key attributes to be able to access some other uniiversities as exclusive as the five universities which make up the  SEG (Swiss Education Group), a leader in training for the hotel industry, studies which are sought after by spaniards, with Spain being global tourist industry powerhouse. Corine Chopard es responsible for the group in this country and she meets all those spanish students who wish to study at these universities. “At interview I'm looking for the spark which makes students stand-out. They are normally more mature students than average who can show they have passion and empathy. They look you straight in the eye and you can see they have energy and desire to understand the world, you know they have a profesional and dynamic outlook”. There are only 10 spaniards per course at all the group's universities and Chopard knows them all by name, and she maintains that she hasn't got it wrong with any of them.

Public universities usually have the sole criteria of a cut-off grade, but on the other hand, their prices, their reputation and their 100% employment record, for example with some of their engineering courses, means that they stand up well to the competition from private universities. This is the case with the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. “We are well respected for the reputation we have in certain degrees, such as engineering and architecture” says Marta Olea, who is the lead Economics professor at this institution. “We have been teaching for 150 years and we have double degrees with 85 other universities around the world. And our classrooms are all connected with the latest technology'', she continues.


UK prefered destination

But if what is required is to do a degree abroad, then the UK continues to be the most popular destination of choice. British universities are often prefered because their graduates are highly employable, because of the quality of their teaching and their reputation as well as because of the variety and flexibility which they offer. For British Council School students, the University of Lancaster continues to be amongst the most sought after, especially for engineering subjects. Lancaster also offers a very attractive campus organised through a system of families and colleges which makes the student feel perfectly well integrated from the very first day.

There is such a varied and wide offer in the UK, where there are more than 3000 degrees available, that quite often students miss out on opportunities, because they are simplay unaware of them. This is why the university orientation service is so important. This is explained by Martin Hyde, a specialist in the British university world. “Quite often, students focus on rankings or on those universities which are most popular, and when you look at their webpages, they all look amazing. But few realise that there are other less well known universities such as, let's say Derbey, where if you study automotive engineering you also have some well paid practical internships at Rolls Royce, for example. That is why it is essential to look for some advice and guidance to be able to choose the best university for you; many have very interesting agreements with industry and local businesses, even if they are less well known”.

At the British Council School, our University Orientation team starts working with students from the last years of ESO (Year 11). They do this with the aim of helping students prepare access to university, helping them to choose from around the world and allowing them to choose the most appropriate university, for whatever degree they wish to study.