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Making the Right Choice

March, 2018
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For their kids’ education, there is perhaps nothing more important to the parents than getting the child into a school that is the “right one.” But how to find a school that meets the needs and expectations of the kids and the parents?

LittleStar Magazine had the honor to talk to several experienced admission officers of international and bilingual schools in Beijing, who kindly offered their insights and advices for eager families who are busy looking for a “best-fit” school for their kids.


Winnie Lai, Admissions Office, Beijing City International School (BCIS):

At BCIS, we select students from all nationalities and work to maintain a balanced enrollment based on a student’s academic history, passions and interests, English language proficiency, student and family fit, and the diversity of the student population. 

For families, the reason for choosing a new school is always different. However, we recommend that a family thoroughly researches their child’s prospective schools. A visit and tour of the schools are also important to gain a better understanding and insight of each place, which cannot be done through desk research. In addition to such visits, it is also important to be aware of the different international curriculums that each school offers.

When it comes to admission interviews, we advise parents and students to visit for a school tour prior to the interview. We host daily school tours for four to five families at a time. In addition, please take the time to understand our mission, vision, education philosophy, and education program that will help the families know BCIS better.

Our advice to parents and children during the admission interview process is simply to relax and to be yourself. Families do not need to hire an educational consultant to be accepted into BCIS. Through the interview process, we aim to get to know and understand your kids, as well as your family, your educational philosophy, interests, passions, and future dreams.   

When deciding which school to attend, prioritiesare different for each family. These priorities may be an international education, the language of instruction in school, the class sizes and student teacher ratio, the reputation of the school, and the teaching philosophy and quality of the education program.

At BCIS, we have established a particularly distinctive and appealing reputation, being one of the few international schools in China that have been approved to accept Chinese nationals. This enables our students to experience the culture, language, people, and traditions of China, alongside the rich tapestry of a cosmopolitan student body and the IB program of study with the Chinese National Curriculum innovatively integrated. This also facilitates a seamless transition for our students when transferring to an international school in another country and also prepares them for admission to outstanding colleges and universities around the world, in the US, UK, Europe, and Asia, including Australia and other countries.


Cory Dickson, Head of Admissions/Director of Public Relations, Canadian International School of Beijing (CISB):

At CISB, we want to accept a diverse group of students who will join us and share with our community their varied strengths, whether it’s academic achievements, athletic strengths, artistic ability or strong soft skills. We look for students that are well rounded, engaged and most of all, willing to learn. We do not request an admissions interview. We will prepare an English assessment, but otherwise we rely on your previous report cards.

For parents that are seeking suitable education for their children, it’s important to visit the schools before making a final decision. There are many great international schools in Beijing, lots of which are offering the IB programs, but it’s the philosophy, the vision and the schools’ cultures that set them apart. Go and see the school in person, meet the teams, ask lots of questions, talk to other parents within the school community and learn how learning is done. We all want our students to achieve success. How each school get them there is the difference.

To select a school, location, tuition fees and curriculum are important, but we also advice parents to find out what supports are available outside of the classrooms: Is there a career/university counsellor who will work with families for achieving their post-secondary goals? What type of resources are available to the students, the families and even the teachers? Psychologists, Numeracy Leads, Librarians, Technology Integrators, etc.… are all important players in a school’s overall success. And find out who is part of the community and what their role is in your child’s success.
In general, we encourage families to get involved and stay involved! Great schools are built on the cooperation between the school’s staff, the students and their parents. Once you’ve selected a school, become active in the community. Join their parent association, come out and cheer for the sports teams, offer to chaperone a field trip, coach! You are just as much a part of school’s success as the teachers. Be part of the community and everyone benefits, especially your child!


Peter. J. Bezuidenhout, Head of Admissions of Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS Beijing):

peter-j-bezuidenhout-ycis-bjAt YCIS Beijing, the admissions team is fully geared toward providing families and students with the support and guidance needed as part of the process of finding that ‘best-fit’ school, a school that meet their individual needs. 

YCIS Beijing upholds a non-discriminatory policy and accepts applications from eligible students for the Early Childhood Program (Kindergarten) through to Primary and Secondary levels, regardless of race, gender, class, economic status, ethnicity or national background. 

I think parents would agree that each child is unique, and that supporting that uniqueness and the development of individual qualities of the child should provide some guidance with the criteria when seeking to find a school that offers an educational philosophy that challenges and embraces those qualities as part of a student’s development.

We often meet families who have concerns about the transitioning process between curriculums, from a US Curriculum to the English National Curriculum, for example. Our advice is to have an open mind. Do the research and make a list of questions or concerns in areas of the curriculum you would like to explore and clarify. Parents are encouraged to ask those questions when visiting a school. Some of the questions may include: What are the key concepts my child needs to understand this year? Or, how and how often will my child be assessed?It’s important that parents feel confident and comfortable with the decisions they make about the education of their children. Having concerns addressed at the start will help parents with making the right decisions and choosing the ‘best-fit’ for their children.

For interviews, the best advice I could give is for parents and students to be themselves. We find that it’s common for students to be anxious at the mention of an interview or assessment as they believe that how they perform would determine whether they are accepted for admission. That is simply not always the case. Students benefit from assessment as the school is able to gain valuable information that would assist with the placement of students, based on their strengths and weaknesses, in the most appropriate environment to complement and encourage their holistic development.

When choosing any school, International School Accreditations is an important aspect to consider. Parents should take time to do some homework and look at the different accreditations awarded to the schools they are considering. Accreditation bodies are rigorous in their criteria and the number of awarded accreditations provide a good indication of the quality of a school, its services, curriculum and educators.   

Furthermore, I suggest parents to venture beyond the tour and the “tour guide”, and beyond the facilities and the layout of a school, which frees parents to observe the human parts of the school and talk more about relationships. I would encourage parents to pay attention to the following five points the next time they visit a school:

1. Is everyone on campus engaged?

2. Observe how the faculty and students interact and go about their work and daily tasks and routines.

3. Ask questions about culture, the values, attitude, goals and practices of the school.

4. Ask to see what interests and matters to you as a parent.

5. Ask to speak with the faculty and students beyond your tour guide.

Be suspect of the spotless. Classrooms are used and should looked used.Each school offers amazing opportunities that nurture the development of their students. Remember that your child is not going to hug the building when they leave. They’re going to hug their friends. They’re going to hug their teachers.


Nicole Washko, Director of Admissions & Marketing, The British School of Beijing, Shunyi (BSB Shunyi): 

At BSB Shunyi, we start with discussing with the entire family what they are looking for in a school and what we offer to ensure they make the right choice for their child. We have worked to make our application process as easy as possible, depending on the circumstances of the family and where they are coming from.

If the family is in Beijing, then we invite them for a face-to-face meeting and visit to our school, including introductions to the Head of School and curriculum specialists. Once all questions have been addressed, we invite the parents to fill in an application form online. Supporting documents are required: from school reports to passport copies and visas, as we are an international school. Then we proceed with booking in assessments prior to entry.  

Qualifications for English level and prior school experience increase as the child gets older. While children in Early Years (ages 1-5) do not need any English level to join, students of six years and up should have an adequate command of English in order to understand the curriculum and keep up with the work of a Primary or Secondary student. We assess this using EAL assessments for non-native speakers. Primary and Secondary students are also given basic skills assessment tests to ensure that they will be placed in the appropriate year groups and ability sets.

While BSB is not an academically selective school, we cannot meet the needs of all our applicants and are up front with our families at application time if we feel that their child would be better suited to another environment.

Parents should be prepared with minimum criteria of what they want out of their child’s experience in an international school and ask enough questions to identify if the school offers the right mix of academic and other opportunities to meet the goals of the family. The parents should also take time to get a feel for the community of the school, and meeting other parents to ask these questions is very helpful.

For interviews, applicant students should have a few answers prepared. Practicing at home with a parent or a neighbor on how to introduce themselves and answer questions in English on their previous school experience and interests will ensure a good impression.

When considering which school to attend, the following questions may be asked: First, does the school offer the right curriculum for me? If I am going to be in the school only a few years and then transitioning to another location with my family, does this school have sister schools in other countries or offer transition assistance in and out? Secondly, does the school offer the additional experiences that I am looking for in a school such as sports, culture, language, leadership, art, etc.? Thirdly, is this school community the right fit for my family? Is it welcoming and inviting for all members of the family to contribute and interact with other members of the school?


Kelly Ren, Head of Admission Office, Beijing International Bilingual Academy (BIBA): 

Application for admission into BIBA is required to be made online, followed by interviews and tests, as well as talks with the parents. When assessing an applicant student, we look at not only the academic ability, but also their personal character and quality. We are favoring applicants who are able to study in a bilingual environment, curious about the world, interested in learning, capable of thinking independently, and able to engage themselves actively in the school activities and school community. Performance in previous schools is also an area to be assessed. In addition, we encourage the abilities in music, art and sports. Based on our comprehensive assessment, we see if our curriculum is right for the child and to help them be successful.

We suggest that parents come to our campus for an authentic understanding of our curriculum, educational ideas and faculty, as well as cultural atmosphere. We hope that the educational philosophy of our prospective parents can match that of ours.

During an interview with a prospective child, we will make assessment according to standards that match the age and grade of the child. A child should, in addition to his or her abilities in various aspects, show good personal behavior and manners. When parents are looking for schools for their children, they should see if the educational ideas and curriculum settings are in accordance with what they have planned. And the teachers, school environment and facilities are also aspects to be taken into consideration.


Tina Li Walton, Admissions Director, The International Montessori of Beijing (MSB):

We have a rolling admissions system that means students can apply anytime. And we strongly encourage prospective families to submit an online application. For a child who is coming for an admission interview, I would suggest that he or she be well behaved and open to communication, be responsive, calm and act naturally.

We encourage a child to really open up because communication skills are a valuable asset that most admissions personnel look for. We check for this during the interview process. And we look and gauge their English and Chinese proficiency levels because we have an academically rigorous dual language program. During any interview process, there might be more assessment needed – this is to better place the child in the correct level for the child’s education to make the maximum impact. The child should be prepared to go through various rounds of interviews with different people.

At MSB, for the younger children we look at their motor skills, comprehension levels, and most of all a warm personality. For the older children, we engage and have a talk to see how confident they are and how they handle the pressure of the entire interview process.

Tips for a child doing an interview would be: Listen to the question carefully; where the child does not understand, it is okay to ask the interviewer to repeat the question; be polite and do not interrupt the interviewer before s/he finishes the question; take a few seconds to think of the question, even ask the interviewer to allow you time to understand the question will be a good sign for the admissions staff member.

The mistake we see most of the time is that parents think the interview time is the only part, but we observe the children at all times even when interacting with the child. This is to see if the entire family is a good fit for the school.

For parents and children who are considering a school, I have three points of advice. Firstly, it is important for parents to properly research an institution in order to understand the school’s strengths and philosophies. For students, somewhere which makes them feel comfortable, and allows them to learn and make friends. Secondly, it is very important for families to visit and tour the school, which will give them the first impression of the school culture and atmosphere. And thirdly, talk to the administration staff to get an idea of the type of school through engaging in a series of questions. Talk to friends or colleagues who have children attending the school to truly understand how it works.


Jessie Huang, Head of Admissions, Beijing Xin Fuxue International Academy:

As a newly opened school, we pay special attention to the comprehensive qualities of an applicant student. Our admissions tests cover subjects of Chinese, English and math, plus interviews of students and talks with parents.

Apart from interviews on English skills, what’s special here at Xin Fuxue is that there is also an interview section for math, where the student’s ability in solving real-life problems with math skills is assessed. This is because an overarching strength of Xin Fuxue is its math teaching, which is backed by Shuntian Fuxue Education Center, the major sponsor behind the school that over the years has built its reputation for excellent education in mathematics.

When we consider the application of a child at lower grades, we pay more attention to the upbringing and home education of the child, which are decisive for the development of these younger kids. And we will also see if the parents share the same ideas on education.

As for elder students, we will examine how well they master basic knowledge and observe their learning habits, because these are important factors that help a student settle down in a new school.

When looking for a school for their child, parents need to firstly identify the advantages and disadvantages of their children, so that they can search for schools accordingly. And they should not just be content with the simple introduction of a school by the principal or admissions officers, but rather try to find opportunities for their children to try the classes of the school, so that they can get real hands-on experience of what the school is like.

We advise parents to consider the following when they look at a school. Firstly, do they like the teaching styles of teachers? Secondly, does the admissions test of the school have an objective assessment of the child? Thirdly, what are the unique characters of the school? And do those characters meet the needs of the child? In general, while all schools have their specific strengths, the most important thing is whether or not a certain school suits a child and the whole family.





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