“It is perfectly ok for a student to not know what they want to do,” said Rachel Keys, Prem Tinsulanonda International School’s new Head of School. “They are still in school and the choices for their future can be bewildering. So the important thing is for schools to offer them opportunities to experience many different areas, then you encourage them to follow what they love, their passions and interest.”
Keys herself has previously spent three years as a university counsellor, so she understands the importance of helping to guide students towards the right path. That is why Prem is the only school in Chiang Mai to have a full time university counsellor, Dawn Parry, who has recently organised the 13th annual careers, college and university fair at Prem, the largest event to date with an impressive 95 colleges and universities from around the world represented. Around 400 students from across Chiang Mai, both from Thai and international schools, attended the fair where seminars and talks were held along with tables representing an astonishing number of career opportunities in Asia, Europe and North America.
“I spend a lot of time with the student, trying to help them navigate what’s the best fit for each of them,” explained Parry. “I help them to broaden their horizons, so if it’s business they are interested in, it’s not just business, we find a focus, whether it is fashion, wine, production or any other area of business. There are so many things that are changing in the world today so we hold fortnightly sessions with grade 9 and above to help them to think wider and I also have an open door policy so students can come and talk to me any time. I discuss their interests and find out what would make them happiest. I try to get the students to reach high, but only if it is something they truly want.”
Keys goes on to say that each student’s need is different. Some aim for Ivy League academic excellence, others have financial restrictions, while others yet need colleges which give them time to further explore their interests. “American colleges are very flexible as you don’t have to choose your major straight away; you can spend one or two years taking a wide variety of different subjects. British universities are excellent if you know exactly what you wish to study as you specialise from the moment you begin the course; In The Netherlands you find University Colleges which offer a combination of liberal arts and science courses, and also boast non-traditional assessment methods (such as giving presentations or group problem-solving) which suit our IB programme students. The Netherlands is becoming increasingly popular with international students as it is very demographically diverse and students frequently report that they quickly settle in and feel at home.”
Keys said that this recent fair at Prem has been the best university fair she has attended in over two decades due to the sheer number of representatives which Parry worked to draw to participate.
“Universities are, more and more, looking for well-rounded students,” said Parry. “And that is why Prem is really doing very well. Last year we sent 40 students abroad for further study. Our students spend their time with us not just on campus, but involved in community services, participating in extra-curricular activities, doing internships, they travel overseas, becoming activists and learning outside of the classroom. This is very attractive to many colleges and universities. This is what sets them apart, especially at highly competitive institutions.”
As her sole role, university counselling is all about getting to know the students, spending time with them and offering them the best advice. Parry uses the UniFrog applications programme to help students develop skills they need to apply to universities, but it is about spending years along-side students and really understanding as well as anticipating their needs.
“Prem kids can apply anywhere in the world,” Parry said proudly. They really are set up to excel and often because of the rigorous IB programme they have been through, they are even offered credits which can help them lose up to a year at university, which is a real strength.”
“We offer our students the opportunity to develop the full range of 21st century skills so that they can be flexible and fit well into any organisation,” continued Keys. What institutions are looking for today is a combination of critical thinking, creativity, technological and media literacy, leadership skills, of course, but also social and communication skills and the ability to take initiative. These skills then, together with personalised university and career advice, mean Prem students are exceptionally well-equipped to take their place in the world.