By Gabija Žukauskaitė
Published 2022 11 18
Long-term selective student exchange programs such as UWC, ASSIST, and FLEX connect some of the world’s finest schools and attract outstanding students from all over the world. These exchange programs usually last from 1 to 2 years and are known for having prepared thousands of bright minds for top university admissions in the US and beyond. Let’s take a quick glance at what each of these programs has to offer and how their admissions process take place.
Founded on the principles of German educator Kurt Hahn in 1962 to promote intercultural understanding, United World Colleges (UWC) is an international network of schools that works on a mission to “make education a force for a more peaceful and sustainable future”. UWC connects 18 colleges on 4 four continents and selects the brightest students from over 155 countries each year, 80% of which receive partial or full financial aid. At UWC, students pursue the demanding International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IB DP). However, students’ experience varies depending on their host country, cultural setting, and community.
UWC lays down 5 main selection criteria: (1) intellectual curiosity and motivation, (2) active commitment, (3) social competence, (4) resilience, personal responsibility and integrity, and (5) overall motivation for UWC. The admission process is conducted either via UWC national committees or UWC Global Selection Programme. Application through the latter requires to (1) answer 10 essay-type questions about the student’s hobbies, interests, and experiences, (2) film and upload a short video (up to 2 minutes) answering a prompt, (3) submit the previous year’s or most recent academic transcript, (4) one academic and one non-academic reference. However, most applicants, including those in Lithuania and Germany, will apply through national committees, which set out their own criteria and process.
ASSIST (American Secondary Schools for International Students and Teachers) is a US-based non-profit international student exchange program that selects students entering the 10th and 11th grades and organizes 1-year school stays at America’s elite independent secondary schools (although opportunities for students entering as 12th-grade students exist as well). ASSIST participants – multi-lingual and academically strong international students – are matched with elite independent secondary schools in the US and serve as cultural ambassadors in their schools.
The admission process consists of an application and an interview. In the application, students are required to indicate their biographical information, answer a few short essay questions, provide the names of two referees (English, Math teachers and a school administrator or class master), and attach their academic transcript. If the application is successful, the student is invited to an interview with ASSIST representatives. School tuition charges range up to $73,200, however, ASSIST covers these costs.
Assist creates life-changing opportunities for exceptional international high school students by sponsoring their study at some of the finest high schools in the United States.
FLEX (Future Leaders Exchange) program, is a highly competitive, merit-based scholarship funded by the US Department of State that operates in 22 countries in Europe and Eurasia. Awarded students spend a year studying in a US high school and living with a local volunteer host family. In addition, the participants of the FLEX program act as ambassadors of their home countries and perform community service in their US communities.
Although all students who meet the basic eligibility requirements established for their home countries are eligible to apply, there are three rigorous rounds of the admissions process. First round includes a preliminary online application and 3 essay questions, which are submitted 10 days after starting the application. The second round asks students to take part in an online English test. Third (or semi-finalist) round includes an interview, essay, additional application questions, and another English test.
We have asked our mentor Jonas Kavaliauskas to answer a few questions about his experience of studying in the IB DP at UWC Dilijan in Armenia. Prior to UWCD, Jonas studied at Vilnius Lyceum, and after his time in Armenia, he went on to Yale, where he majored in Economics and Computer Science. After graduating from Yale in 2021, Jonas has been building startups and working at an investment fund.
Most Lithuanian high school students who intend to pursue IB DP choose to do it at home since to this day, 7 high schools in Lithuania offer this opportunity. What sparked your motivation to study at UWC and, even more interestingly, study at UWC in Armenia?
I liked the idea of UWC, of studying with students from all over the world. This is what makes UWC different from most other international boarding schools – they take 1-3 students from each country and in my class of 100 students, we had over 80 nations represented. It’s fascinating to get to know and become friends with other motivated young people from various religions, political camps, socioeconomic and other backgrounds – it definitely expanded my horizons.
In Lithuania (and for each country it’s slightly different), the selection process is run by the National Committee, composed of alumni and intellectuals from across different fields, and only a number of scholarships, usually 3-5, is available each year. In my year, there were two full scholarships, one for Italy and one for Armenia, and two partial ones. Since I needed the full-ride, I ranked both Armenia and Italy as my top choices, and later learned that UWC Dilijan, the Armenian college, had actually specified a gender quota for the committee – they needed a male student from Lithuania to keep the ratio roughly 50/50 male-female. Since the final round was me and 6 girls (out of around 200 applicants), that pretty much sealed it. However, the UWC experience, at least in academics, is pretty standard across the colleges, so, wherever you go, you can rest assured that you’ll be surrounded by international faculty and students.
How was it living in Armenia? Did you experience a culture shock?
Oh yes! The culture there is very different from ours back in Lithuania, with its own pluses and minuses, of course. I really enjoyed a form of “southern hospitality” in Armenia – everyone was very welcoming and friendly. Since Dilijan is two hours away from the capital and a rather small town, not everyone there had encountered foreigners from such a diverse list of countries, and the locals were thus very curious to get to know us. Walking down the street, you could get invited to people’s homes for barbeques, expect to be treated to special delicacies (on the house) at restaurants, etc. Armenia also has a very rich history and culture, and I loved exploring its cities, monasteries, wineries and more!
In your opinion, what has made you stand out from other applicants to this program?
I think it was my essay and my sincerity during the interview. I wrote my essay from a very philosophical standpoint (the prompt left ample room for this), which raised many interesting questions for the admissions committee and made for wonderful conversation during the interview. When asked provocative questions by the members of the committee, I spoke my mind without hesitation or much deliberation on whether my opinions conformed with the UWC mission and vision. While I had, of course, studied the UWC core values and had a good grasp of the expectations for ideal candidates, I felt that remaining true to myself was important, and could even prove refreshing for the committee, which was probably bored from hearing all too many carefully rehearsed answers, what the candidates thought the committee would want to hear.
I also sought out people who had gone to UWC before from my personal network and had them read my essays, help me practice for interviews. I am grateful for their time and help, as their comments proved invaluable and gave me much more confidence going into the experience, as I had a pretty good idea of what was awaiting me.
Reflecting on the last six years that have passed after completing IB DP at UWC Dilijan, how valuable was this experience from the current perspective? Was it worth it?
Most definitely. First of all, it was a very interesting and a very educational experience. Secondly, UWC has a very strong brand among top global universities and without it on my resume, I don’t think I would have made it to Yale. Finally, for me, the UWC experience really started only after graduating from the college, as then you become part of the alumni community of more than 60,000 graduates all over the globe. This helped me a lot in networking, meeting new people and traveling – for example, before visiting a certain location, say Havana, Cuba, I’d reach out to the alumni FB group, announcing my arrival, and would immediately have 10 alumni living there reach out offering to host me, show me around, or just to hang out, which always proved a very delightful experience.
What would be your advice for students who are considering applying to UWC or any other school exchange program?
Do it! The worst thing that can happen is you get rejected (and the chances for this, as for any worthy and selective opportunity, are high). However, even in this case, you’ve challenged yourself, gained valuable experience, as the selection process for these programs can be thought of as a mini-simulation for the university selection process awaiting you down the line, and met very motivated, like-minded students. In my case, I had applied to ASSIST the year before and was rejected. However, in the interview rounds I met another student, who told me of UWC, and was actually the girl selected to go to UWC Adriatic (Italy) the following year. Without having tried my luck with ASSIST and failed, I wouldn’t have gotten to know about UWC or gained the experience to allow me to succeed later.
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