The results of a survey conducted with international schools by ISC Research in November (2022) suggest that students from an early age are now considering alternative pathways but university offerings remain a significant choice. The results of the survey, and what this looks like at school level, are addressed by college counsellors from Indonesia, Bulgaria and China in our latest Heads Up episode.
Alternative routes are being selected prior to senior years
Our research suggests that up to 10% of international school students are now making alternative choices rather than continuing directly to senior years at their school. These choices include vocational training, apprenticeships and internships, studying online courses, and taking a gap year to decide upon next steps.
In the Heads Up episode, Niya Stateva, former Career Counsellor at the American English Academy in Sofia, Bulgaria describes how the future pathways support offered to students at her school starts from Grade 8. This gives them time to learn and explore a wide range of pathway options she explains. It includes hearing from alumni and guest speakers who have followed inspiring and less traditional career paths. As a result, Niya says, “Students realise that you can study one thing, and then you can move into different fields…use education to develop yourself and to do something meaningful and productive.”
Harriett Burrows, Head of High School at Green School Bali in Indonesia, explains how internships are incorporated into the school programme and that she has seen a shift from younger students (aged 13 to 15) to participate in work experience or volunteerism. She explains that students “really are looking for those opportunities to add that into their portfolio of who they are, which they can then use later for whatever their pathway is. But actually saying yes to opportunities right now.”
The paths year 12 students take
Our research also explored international school student pathways after year 12 (age 18) including university destinations and subject choices as well as alternative routes. The results suggest that student cultural ethos and wellbeing as well as cost are currently motivating university choices. In the Heads Up discussion, college counsellors share more detailed evidence of this. Jolan Zhou, Head of University and Careers Counselling at Dulwich International High School Zhuhai in China says that, in addition to business management and STEM degree courses, digital media, communications, journalism and creative writing have become more popular in the last two years. “Students find it to be a very diverse degree that can offer them different opportunities afterwards,” she says.
Harriett Burrows in Bali speaks of a move away from universities in America and Canada. “Europe is now the most popular destination for our students,” she says, explaining that community is often a motivating factor for this. “Community is something that we talk a lot about with our students. It’s not just the course, but also, does the university have a community that they’d fit into, that they’d flourish in… It’s finding the space in which they feel they can make an impact and contribute in some way.” Harriett also highlights an increase in the number of students choosing degrees focused on renewable engineering and sustainability.
Our research highlights a move to alternative pathways for some international school senior students rather than the traditional and immediate university route. The results suggest that 9% of international school students are opting to take a gap year or, as Harriet describes it, “a year of life”. Jolan sees that her students in China who have taken such a break have benefited from the experience. “Some of them do army training or some of them are travelling, and then they see society… so I see some of them take a life year to grow and to be themselves,” she says.
Niya talks about the growth in the number of students from her school in Bulgaria who are now working and studying an online degree at the same time, and Harriet talks about the growing number of senior year students who have already become digital nomads with their own small or emerging businesses (she describes a student with an NFT business). This is directing their future pathway choices with more confidence and clarity she explains.
All three college counsellors address some of the contemporary issues, challenges and opportunities they are increasingly facing when it comes to supporting students with their future decisions, and offer some valuable advice for others supporting pathway choices. Learn more on our Heads Up podcast, available to listen here or on most common applications, or view a recording of this session on our YouTube channel here:
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