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How Students Overseas Match with US Colleges

Episode 187

March 12, 2024 24 minutes


Jo Fretwell from the International Schools Partnership joins EAB’s Adam Wu to talk about how her team uses Global Match to help international students engage with US colleges that fit their interests and aptitudes. The two discuss how students use the platform, ways that students and colleges benefit, and how the matching process yields bona fide offers of acceptance without requiring students to submit an application. They also offer tips to other international schools that may be looking to provide more effective support to students looking to study at universities outside their country of origin.

  • If you are a US college or university looking to connect with and enroll more international students, click here.
  • If you represent an international school group and are looking to help your students learn about, connect with, and enroll in US colleges or universities, click here.



0:00:11.6 Speaker 1: Hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. Today we look at how students overseas learn about and engage with potential college destinations outside their country of origin. We talk to a senior leader from an organization called ISP, which is a partnership of some 80 international schools across 22 countries, about how her team uses the Match platform from Concourse, now part of the EAB, to help thousands of her students explore and connect with colleges overseas. It’s a fascinating discussion, so give these folks a listen and enjoy.

0:00:53.3 Adam Wu: Hi, and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. My name is Adam Wu, and I’m part of the Concourse team here at EAB. Much of my work is focused on providing help and resources to school counselors who advise students on their university options. Some of that work happens here at home and some overseas where international students may be considering the option of going to university abroad. As you might imagine, learning about and engaging with potential university destinations overseas adds another layer of complexity to the university search. At Concourse, now part of EAB, we built an online platform that streamlines this process significantly and puts the students in the driver’s seat in terms of seeking and evaluating university acceptance offers, which are typically bundled with merit scholarship awards. We’re going to get into how that all works in a second. But first, I wanna introduce my guest today who has joined me to talk about her organization and how they help their students find university options all around the world that provide a good fit for their interests and aptitudes. It is my great pleasure to introduce Ms. Jo Fretwell, Head of Learning Partnerships for International School Partnerships Ltd. Jo, welcome to the podcast.

0:02:02.4 Jo Fretwell: Thanks for having me, Adam. Great to be here.

0:02:04.4 AW: Great. Jo, if you could tell us a little bit more about your organization and what is your role there?

0:02:11.5 JF: So ISP is a group of 82 schools located globally around the world in 24 different countries, educating more than 80,000 students with more than 10,000 staff, and we’re still growing. We’re growing at an ambitious rate. We have a target for growth that’s going to add plenty more schools to the group in the near future. This year, for example, we’ve added two schools, two new schools to our group, one in Poland and one in Morocco, which is also a new country for us as well. So we’re very ambitious in terms of our growth. As well as working across a huge global span, which just includes South America, Mexico, the US, Canada, UK, Spain, Switzerland, the UAE, Qatar, India, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam, just to name a few countries there, we also work across numerous curriculums too. So this includes the international ones that we all know, such as IB, the A-levels, AP, US High School Diploma, and the Canadian OSSD, but also many national curriculums as well.

0:03:07.4 JF: And many of our schools also offer a dual curriculum and multilingual systems. But our schools vary in many ways, and therefore we are strongly invested in regional support teams globally who also support our schools with their day-to-day functionality. And I think that makes us quite special and different within the international school group world. As a group, we put learners and their learning at the heart of everything we do. Our role as ISP with our schools is to help them improve, and we do this through a unique process developed by ISP, which includes nine criteria for which schools self-assess to show them improvement. We as a group bring the support of a strong, stable organization to our schools, which is well resourced in experience and enhancing academic achievement, but also with a huge focus on building life competencies that allow our students to be successful now and in the future. We help to develop multiple extracurricular programs, which we call ILOS, International Learning Opportunities for Students, to build networks of like-minded students globally.

0:04:00.8 JF: I myself joined ISP in 2022 as Head of University Partnerships and now, as you said, Head of Learning Partnerships to work across our learning innovation team to support partnerships across a big range of areas. I’m most closely linked to our Future Pathways program, which helps support our students on their journeys beyond school to their destination of choice, be that in higher education, the World of Work, gap years or other options. But generally about 95% of our students do choose to go directly on into higher education. Before I worked at ISP, I was also an international student recruitment worker for two UK universities, the University of Cambridge and the University of Southampton. And in the middle of that, I was a Director of Higher Education for six years at a large international school in Thailand.

0:04:41.6 JF: So I feel like I’ve worked on all sides of the desk and switched over multiple times. I basically love working in the world of education and supporting students to make informed decisions and to be as successful as they want to be in their future options as well. You might notice that I’ve got a British accent, so I tend to refer to US colleges as universities as per the British system. But also across ISP, our schools, our counsellors are known as Future Pathways Advisors. So I might use a lot of different terms like university counsellors, Future Pathway Advisors, guidance counsellors. But this Future Pathway Advisors just encompasses the broad ethos we have around where our students are gonna go in the future.

0:05:19.4 AW: Great, Jo, thanks for sharing all that. Definitely gives us a great understanding more about the organization that ISP is and what it entails. We’ve been working with one of the ISP schools previously, Boston School International, and we’ve been working with them for the last three years. And so our listeners know of the students at Boston who were looking to go abroad, 37 of them participated on the platform. Collectively, those students received over 200 admission offers, close to $8.6 million in scholarships, and on average about six offers per student. So that’s how for Concourse and EAB, how ISP came onto our radar. Jo, if you can maybe tell us a little bit more about how did you hear about Concourse and what led ISP to reach out to us to talk about the possibility of working together.

0:06:07.0 JF: So part of our ethos at ISP is that we work with and for our schools. And as someone working in our central team, we want to learn from our schools and see best practice and how we can spread that best, best practice across our group. So Concourse is one of those amazing examples where we could see great things were happening at Boston School International. We wanted to make sure that our other schools had access and opportunity to get involved in that program as well. I’d personally been hearing about Concourse in the international field for a while. I think to me is one of those things that just sounded too good to be true. And I think that was when I first came across Concourse, like that can’t be right, it just sounds too amazing. And I think for me as the momentum is building, I was reading more about Concourse in lots of respected places like the higher education news articles and also seeing lots of endorsements by counselors as well as Concourse working with really respected organizations like CIS as well that already began to solidify that this is actually a really good thing for our schools and our students.

0:07:04.9 JF: It was great to hear that it was working really well at Boston School International, so we wanted… That was working successfully both in terms of the school, in terms of the school’s ease to use it and also the students ease to use it and also as you mentioned, their success rate as well. So I think one of the aspects that make Concourse really appealing to me as a former university advisor is that students don’t get any rejections through Concourse. I think because of the way the system works, students only see offers when they’re successful and this is a tree flip of the regular admissions process. I think something which is quite self-affirming for young people who are putting themselves out there with their regular university applications and sometimes receiving quite a lot of rejections, which can be disheartening for them, especially as they’re going through their senior year and lots of final exams as well.

0:07:47.3 JF: I think one area that’s really excited me about working with Concourse was the merit scholarships that you mentioned earlier as well. Concourse has got an amazing record in supporting students to pursue scholarships through their higher education, and this is attractive to parents and families when considering the cost of studying abroad. One of the other things that Concourse has been able to help us with is offering a really amazing rich data on our schools as well. Like you mentioned, might be able to see where students are being offered places so they can also see the connects and the uses to inform their own decision making. So as the schools can see which students are getting offers from which university, and this really helps to keep that track of where students are going and what they’re up to as well. I think at the CIS conference in Dublin, we had a chance to meet you and some of the Concourse team as well. I think putting faces to names is really important for me to be able to build our relationship together and also just to confirm that the people behind Concourse were the right people to work with our schools and students as well. So being able to meet together and just put all those kind of questions to the team who were super helpful and patient was amazing.

0:08:52.6 AW: Absolutely. And I know for me when we… I enjoyed meeting you in Dublin. Irish stew will now always have a special place in my heart. [laughter] And I can tell you here that the Concourse EAB team were really extremely excited to have signed a memorandum of understanding to work with ISP, to strengthen that relationship between the ISP students and our nearly 200 university partners around the world. This is the first agreement of this kind that we’ve signed as far as I know, and I’d like to ask you a little bit more about how that partnership will work. But first, perhaps I should give our listeners a bit more background about the goal, about the Match platform. So Match is powered by Concourse is a reverse admission platform. And so on this platform, instead of students applying to the universities, the universities will apply to the students.

0:09:42.2 AW: On the platform, our students will fill out a single profile including their academic interests and achievements and what they’re looking for in a university, but it takes about 20 to 30 minutes. Our university partners will then review those profiles and make admission decisions and scholarship offers and send those directly to the students. The process itself takes about four weeks. We do it every month and then students can then choose which acceptance offers they want to pursue and learn more about. We’re pleased that through the partnership with ISP, Match is now accessible to over 70,000 students who attend ISP schools across 21 countries. And I guess that’s increased a little more, Jo, since the new schools that you’ve added to the offering. Jo, can you talk a bit more about how that’s gonna work? I know our team will be providing training and support to ISP counselors and students to help them successfully navigate the platform, but how do you envision that working in practice?

0:10:39.2 JF: So far we’ve been known to deliver training and partnership with Concourse to our schools virtually across many different time zones. So one of the things about different countries has been different time zones and we’re super grateful to the Concourse team for getting up at midnight and delivering training to counselors across the world, which has been super helpful. And what we found really helpful was doing this over one week to try and meet with lots of different time zones, different school holidays, and this gave counselors lots of flexibility to join. I think we had over six calls that week to really make sure that everyone was able to join and to be really inclusive as well. And obviously recording the sessions for counselors that couldn’t join us and making that resource available because a lot of our counselors, our unit Future Pathway Advisors are also doing this in their second, sometimes their third language as well.

0:11:23.4 JF: So being able to go back over the recordings and have that resource to really support them as they go through the process. The counselors were super engaged in all the sessions and able to ask lots of questions from different regional perspectives. So I personally learned a lot as we went through that process about different regional needs ranging from particular curriculum needs to also our counselors beginning to understand who really are the best fit students to apply using Concourse as well. And then working with the team at Concourse with Rebecca and yourself and other colleagues to really help the schools onboard with a really quick, simple process. I think it’s just a very short form that schools and counselors need to fill in to actually be onboarded onto Concourse, and then obviously going back to those schools and running onboarding sessions with those students as well. I think one of the things that has been really helpful to us has been the reporting that Concourse have been able to provide on each individual schools and particularly also on the scholarships as well.

0:12:21.7 JF: And this has been really great for me to be able to show the immediate impact that Concourse has had in our school communities across the globe. And it’s also been great working with you guys as well, particularly being super helpful in doing things like promoting our other events, like our school fairs, our Future Pathway festivals to our university partners. So we really appreciate the supportive working relationship we developed together, which goes beyond the scope of what we originally envisioned. I think that’s the great sign of a truly great learning partnership that we’re already helping each other in different ways to actually reach our targets and goals. So I think that’s great. Absolutely superb.

0:13:00.5 AW: Great. Thanks for sharing that, Jo. I’d like to transition a little bit. We’ve been talking about our two organizations as systems, and I’d like to kind of pivot a little bit to talk about the students. So as for ISP, how do you all assess which of your students are best suited to participate in the Match program? And what are the most important steps our two organizations need to execute together to ensure students put their best foot forward and get the most out of the platform?

0:13:26.6 JF: I think for me, this is where we very much empower our Future Pathway Advisors. I’m definitely not the middleman in this conversation to decide which students are the best to join the platforms. Our Future Pathway Advisors in schools know our students best, and they definitely make the best judgment on which students might benefit most from Concourse. We also know that the Concourse team provide amazing support and guidance to our counselors. This is where I’ve taken a bit of a step back and really encouraged our counselors to go forward and build relationships with the Concourse team and really reach out and learn for themselves about how they can guide their own students in this situation. I think for ISP and our Future Pathways team, a really important part of the process for students is to be able to make informed decisions based on a range of options open to them.

0:14:11.2 JF: The phrase we always come back to, I think in our decision making process is, you don’t know what you don’t know. So students don’t know what’s out there because they’ve not explored everything, and it’s impossible for students to explore every option available to them. So Concourse really does fit hugely with our informed decision making ethos, and particularly with the reverse admissions process where you don’t know where you’re applying. So you truly are broadening your horizons by getting these amazing university offers, often with scholarship as well, and then encouraging our students to really explore those new options and to reach out to your partner universities when they’ve made an offer to make sure they are then looking at those offers really seriously, thinking could they envision themselves on those campuses, asking questions at that point, reaching out to current students at those institutions as well.

0:14:58.0 AW: So really making sure that students aren’t just passively getting involved in the process, and that’s what we really want the students to be excited and invigorated by the process. We don’t want to add like another thing for students to do. We don’t wanna make more work for senior students who are super busy kind of finishing their curriculums and graduating high school as well. I think I see the benefits of this working quite differently in our very different schools. So in some of our schools, for example, almost 100% of students study outside their country of origin versus some of our schools who are very new to the world of studying abroad. So we’ve also learned loads along the process with you. So we now know that Concourse maybe isn’t the best fit for US students who wish to remain in the US, but it would be a good fit in our US schools where we have international students who want to stay in the US.

0:15:46.2 JF: So this has been a learning journey for all of us together to make sure that we’re providing our counselors with the right support to help them guide the best fit students towards the platform as well. So in the terms of how things are working, some of our schools are working to onboard entire cohorts of graduating students, and some schools are looking to onboard their kind of like finishing junior classes of students who are just about to go into their senior year as well. And then some of our schools are working with a few individual students who they think might be more suited to the process, which obviously requires them to be a bit more open minded and a bit more putting themselves out there. For some students, it might be something they do at the beginning of their senior year alongside their regular university applications, and for some students, it might be something they do later in the cycle. And for me, that’s also one of the huge advantages of Concourse is that the admissions decisions and universities are making the admissions decisions much later than the regular published deadline. So there’s always options out there for students, no matter what time they come to Concourse in the cycle.

0:16:43.3 AW: Thanks, Jo. It’s really exciting to hear how ISP is using Concourse in different ways, depending on the needs of that particular school. And I love how you mentioned as well that it’s a great tool for your future pathways staff, counselors to interview to help students learn about new institutions abroad that they may never have heard of before. I know in our field, we always talk about best fit, and so it’s exciting to hear that your team is using Concourse as a tool to help promote that ideal to students. Also thinking about this, what are some of the biggest challenges your students have faced historically in trying to evaluate whether they should study abroad? And how do they go about deciding which college or university might be the best fit for them?

0:17:31.4 JF: Well, I think one of the challenges is just so many universities around the world and so much information out there. I think where we can really help students is to help kind of curate that information. I think that’s what Concourse does for us really neatly. What I also love about Concourse is it’s not just another search tool. There’s no kind of searching function, it’s really just an application function. So you’re not saying to students put loads of extra information in here, you need to do loads more work, you’re really just putting in some details. And if you’ve got an extra essay or you’ve got an extra certificate that you want to add in, that’s absolutely great. But primarily, you’re looking at the transcripts that the students are already providing and uploading, which is also really helpful.

0:18:13.8 JF: And it’s also a really great process for our counselors as well. They’re able to just go in and send check, approve the applications, verify transcripts, etcetera. And I think having that process that’s so smooth really does help to make everyone so much happier going forward as well. I think some of the other challenges we see with applications is students are really stressed in their final year. It is a really busy time for students. They’re already processing lots of emotions, they’re processing lots of challenge and lots of stretch in their academic lives as well. So this really simplifies the process for them and also reminds them there’s so many great universities around the world. Just because you haven’t heard of a university before doesn’t mean it’s not an amazing institution.

0:18:55.0 JF: And also just because it’s… And we know that Concourse has lots of amazing partners globally as well. Universities that we’ve all heard of, universities that we’ve not heard of. But I think exploring all of those options is really super important for students. I always feel having worked as a counselor and also in a university that I’d much rather a student had explored all of their options and then come down to the right one, than had gone to the wrong university and regretted it later. Doing that research stage when students are able to in their final year is so important.

0:19:24.6 JF: And I think the platform also allows students to really focus their research on universities who’ve already accepted them, which is such a positive experience for them. And it really changes their approach to researching schools because now they don’t need to worry about am I going to be admitted? There’s none of that kind of uncertainty about will I, won’t I get into this university? Once they get an offer on Concourse, they are already admitted to that university. It’s to, instead, allows the students to really focus on what’s important to them, is this truly the best fit for the student and kind of thinking about it from that kind of completely different perspective. And that’s what really, really helps students evaluate whether they should really go abroad to university or go study abroad at a different university as well. I think also obviously having the scholarships option as well.

0:20:12.6 JF: And obviously I think the tool that Concourse uses to help students determine their budget as well, really helps to engage students and parents in that conversation as well because those are quite tricky conversations I think for students and parents to have together about budget because it is highly sensitive information that parents are sharing with their children in many cases. So it really, really does encourage that conversation. And I think when I’ve been using Concourse and when I’ve been looking at the system as well, we don’t see loads of students coming back with full scholarships, but we see lots of students coming back with partial scholarships. So actually when universities are looking to meet that additional need that a student might have, particularly an international student, I think that’s where the platform is really, really amazing as well.

0:20:54.6 AW: Great. Thanks, Jo. And what would you say are your near-term and long-term goals for this undertaking?

0:21:05.0 JF: So I think primarily this is a tool for our counselors to use with their students. So at the moment, we’re really most interested in how many counselors are interested in using this within their school communities and giving those counselors, those Future Pathway Advisors lots and lots of support. I think going forward then we might look into how many students are taking up their places with their Concourse offers. And we’re always interested in working with Concourse partner universities in the future as well in other ways. So we’ve already evolved our relationship with Concourse. We’re keen to partner with your partners as well. We want to work with the universities that you work with as well. So I think we work with universities in loads of different ways through our parent webinars, through our student talks, through our future pathway advisor training, through our own bespoke scholarship fund as well. So I think in the long term, working and engaging with Concourse partner universities is a wonderful measure of the success of our relationship as well. And the fact that we’re already finding ways to do this is a sign for me that this is something deep and meaningful rather than just a transactional relationship.

0:22:07.6 AW: Thank you, Jo. And Jo, I wanna be respectful of your time, but before you go, I’d like to ask what advice you would give to other schools, systems or organizations that are interested in helping more of their students engage and enroll at US universities or college, whether in the US or somewhere else around the world. And what do school leaders need to understand about how to provide the best guidance to their students?

0:22:32.9 JF: For me, there is no disadvantage to joining Concourse. It’s a win-win situation for your students and for your counselors and for your school leadership team ’cause you get such rich data on what your students are doing and where they’re getting offers from. I think it’s just, I would just encourage you as a school completely just to get involved and for universities as well. Again, there’s no disadvantage, there’s no commitment in terms of you must take X amount of students. It’s a great way to expand your reach, expand your diversity within your recruitment cohorts as well because just a group like ours we have covered 24 different countries around the world already, so you’re already reaching out to new audiences as a university partner of Concourse as well. And I think for school leaders providing the best guidance to your students, I think it’s really just about making sure they are not limiting their options too early. I’ve worked with students who have said to me from like age 10, I want to be a doctor and that’s all I want to do.

0:23:29.9 JF: And that’s absolutely great. We would completely support that student, but you never stop saying to them, have you thought about this? Have you tried this? Have you heard of this amazing university here that can combine medicine with technology or medical pharmaceuticals? Or have you been to a lecture about this new field in biomedical research? We never want to start closing doors off to our students. I always wanna be opening doors for them, and for me, that’s what Concourse really does.

0:23:56.8 AW: Great. Thank you, Jo. And we are really excited to have over 20 ISP schools so far commit to using us on the Match platform. And we’re excited to continue working with you and your ISP schools and your students. So thank you so much for your time today, Jo.

0:24:13.4 JF: Thank you so much, Adam. It’s my pleasure. And I’m really looking forward to seeing where our partnership goes in the future.


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