The real price of admission

Looking to send your child to a world-class university abroad? Having the money to do so may not be enough. The student needs to be interesting too.

Some experiences you gained when you were young may not be interesting or worth remembering much. But a few things you did a long time ago could distinguish you and reshape your profile, making you eligible for studying at Ivy League universities in the US, the ultimate dream of students worldwide.

Let's look at a profile of one student who dreamed of studying for a master's degree in business management at a top US university. Her life is quite simple with no exciting activities at all.

But one thing she did when she was young in the northern province of Lampang became her passport to a top-10 university _ helping her grandfather ride an elephant to haul timber logs.

"That sounds like an exotic and wonderful experience to a Westerner," said Susitt Thanarat, the director of Admissions-Office (Thailand) Co, an education consultancy. "A small lady is able to control a mammoth beast, and this is an interesting profile."

The firm used this anecdote to create a compelling story that enabled her to enter a leading university in the US.

"Her leadership in managing the animal, working as part of a team and, most of all, non-verbal communication impressed Westerners," said Mr Susitt.

"Besides good grades, noticeable profiles for applicants are essential and matter for top universities such as Harvard, Stanford and MIT."

So arranging a budget to send their children to study abroad may not be sufficient for parents these days. They have to show the student in the best possible light, said Mr Susitt, who is also a former member of the Stanford University admissions staff.

Each year, many students applying to top universities are rejected, not because they have weak academic scores but on account of failure to be noticeable in the admissions process.

Noticeable profiles for applicants are essential for top universities , says Mr Susitt.

"Building up a student's profile does not mean trying to tell untrue stories or falsely painting the student as admirable," said Mr Susitt. "The student must have genuine talent and capabilities that will show during an interview with admissions officials."

Admissions-Office is probably the first company in Southeast Asia to offer private university consulting services, working closely with students to highlight their most interesting gifts.

Mr Susitt raised another example of a girl who has a rather plain life but belongs to an environmental club. Such activity is fairly mundane in the eyes of admissions officers.

"But her hobby is remote-control airplanes," he said. "The guidance we gave her was to combine her hobby with the environment. How about attaching a camera to an airplane to survey forests or to inspect for illegal log cutting?"

The profile-building process helps students to identify which subjects and study programmes they are fond of and improve their leadership skills.

The company's staff encouraged one student to join a rally protesting against catching dogs for food, and her participation drew the interest of dog lovers.

"This is her genuine feeling. We did not set that up," said Mr Susitt.

Of course, a fine academic record is a key factor for acceptance to a world-class university. A grade of C in a subject would probably disqualify anyone.

For those seeking graduate programmes such as for an MBA, it helps to have several years' experience in the appropriate field. Leadership at work is critical to beefing up a professional profile.

So far, Admissions-Office has matched more than 1,000 students with Ivy League universities, helping applicants to make a good impression during the most difficult part _ the interview session.

"At the end of the interview, if the admissions officers ask if you have any questions, don't raise silly questions," said Mr Susitt. "Questions such as 'How good are my scores?' or 'Are you satisfied with my interview?' should not be raised, as that signals a lack of confidence."

Dhanawat Siriwattanakul , a business administration lecturer at Kasetsart University, suggests parents wishing to pave the way for their children to pursue their university studies abroad have a good long-term plan from the very beginning.

Early financial planning for children's education is crucial. A plan should be put into action as soon as a baby is born.

"If you're serious about sending your child to study abroad, then plan early and exercise discipline in managing your family finances," said Dr Dhanawat, a certified financial planner. "A young family has an edge over the late planners."

Once the child enters kindergarten, the parents should invest heavily in long-term stocks that generate good dividends.

Dr Dhanawat said focusing on certain select stocks for a decade is a good strategy for coping with economic volatility. Investors should not be concerned about short-term share price movements, which result mainly from market sentiment.

Normally, a good, solid company will provide higher returns to shareholders in the long term in line with asset and revenue growth. And a growing business can only be good in terms of long-term savings for education.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Wichit Chantanusornsiri
Position: Senior economics reporter