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#PersonalDevelopment How to choose the right school for you?

Hello there!

In today's post, we will talk a little bit in choosing the right educational path for yourself.

My sweet little sister, Zuzia, is facing a choice of a high school for herself, now graduating from secondary school.

Back in Poland, the educational system changed recently, from 6-3-3 (6 years elementary education, 3 years "gimnazjum"- secondary school, and 3 years of profiled high school) to 8-4 (8 years general elementary education plus 4 years profiled high school). This means that 15 years olds are asked to make decisions that will direct them for the rest of the life. Zuzia was lucky enough to be one of the last students to follow the old system.

In my opinion, the most important exam a Polish person takes is the one at the end of secondary school, not the maturity exam at the end of high school. Why? High school is the time of your life when you figure out who the hell you are. That is when our personalities are starting to become strong, firm, and directed. The exam will determine which high school you will be able to get into, which means, will determine what people you will spend your next 3 (or now 4) years, the most significant and shaping years of your life. That will also, to a high degree, determine your opportunities for the future, including university choice, reputation, and development traits for yourself. As a 16 years old student, this is a lot to face, a big responsibility on little person's shoulders.

However, the choice of high school is not the only decision we make with regard to education we are choosing, we also need to be smart about the university choice. This is something many students already have in mind while choosing a high school, and so they should.

I would like to share 8 things that I think every student (not so much a parent, after all its not them and not their future that is being decided) should look at while choosing the right school for yourself.

1. Scores you can reach

You know what your grades are, and you can take a pretty good guess what kind of score you may be able to receive for the exam that ends the stage of education you are in, whether it is college entrance exam or maturity exam, or secondary school final exam. Especially so since most systems that conduct such examinations hold trials earlier, where you can determine more or less what score you can receive. Each school has their admission requirements. This is something you have to look at. What you will want to do, is sit in front of your study journal with your grades, look at your trial exams, and determine "worst case scenario score", "average score", and "best case scenario score". These three should determine which high schools you will be applying for. Back in my high school choosing day, I really dreamed of going to Kopernik High School, which I ended up going to. My dream program was IB- International Baccalaureate. The requirements were very high though. But in the best case scenario (I was being very optimistic those days), I could reach the requirement citation. However, I realized I may not reach those scores, so I had to have another choice that would suit my most realistic- average- score. I chose a different class at the same school. At that time, you were allowed to apply to three schools. That was my school of choice. I applied for one more good high school that I would be able to get admitted to in case of average score. I also determined my backup plan, for the worst case scenario score. You have to be very careful with the "least desired" choice, not to go too low. Remember even in case of undesirably not-so-high scores, you still do not want to end up where you will be unhappy and where your development will stop. Choose around the amount of points you can receive at the worst case scenario, not much lower. 

2. Profile of the school

Most high schools are general education, with specified profiles, like "science" or "maths and physics" or "humanities" or "maths and social/geography". Each "norma" high school in Poland in Taiwan will have those. However, that does not mean each school is good at all at the same time. Some schools are known for certain programs that they specialize, or areas they cover. My high school, for instance, was known for the IB program, and big emphasis on entrepreneurship and economics, being a continuous winner of "Entrepreneurial knowledge" and "Economic knowledge" olympiades. Great choice for me! Other profiles were very good as well, though, so my high school may not be the best example. But there are other high schools in Warsaw that are known for specific programs, and being very good at those, but maybe not doing so well with other profiles. Think what you would like to do with your life and which school will be the right choice for you.
This is even more visible withing the university environment, where some schools are either profiled, like Warsaw school of Economics, Taipei Medical University, or London School of Economics, or simply allocate most resources into certain programs, like Yale is known for Law, National Chengchi University for Diplomacy and MBA, and University of Warsaw for Law and Social Science. Now, believe me, you will want to go to your university's flagship program. There is simply more resources allocated there, giving you more opportunity. Since TKU is showcasing its Aeroengineering and International Business, not sure if doing chemistry here would be the best choice you have. It is sometimes better to go to a better program at "worse" school than going to something the school does not specialize in at the best one. 

3. School reputation

Now, what is your school really famous for? When you look at high schools, it is really important to look at the reputation. What are the students known for? What have you heard about the teachers? Who has graduated from the school? These questions will help you determine if that is the right school for you. For instance, if you really don't enjoy the spending time over your books, pick a school that is famous for active students, where a lot is happening. If you are a quiet person, and want to go into a field that requires being studious and focused on knowledge, like Medicine or Law, maybe you do not need those distractions, and the school that is famous for "nerds" and "geeks" of your field would be more suitable? Remember, these are 3-4 most awesome years of your life, spend them with like-minded people.
For university, it is even more apparent. You need to know what you can expect from your university of choice. TKU for example, has one of the highest employability factors in Taiwan, despite not being the top school. It also has one of the highest average and median incomes among graduates. Quite a few of TKU's alumni became entrepreneurs or are employed by big companies at managerial positions in business. I think the big factor contributing to this situation is the fact that TKU, as one of only few schools I know about, requires student association activity for graduation. This tells the employer that the students already have experience in team working. They also have organized something in the past, and dealt with other students. Such thing may be invaluable in the future. So, while NTU definitely produces better lawyers and accountants, I would say, a TKU graduate would probably be a better choice for that marketing or HR position at your school. 

4. International opportunities

In the age of globalization, it is very important to stay in touch with what's outside. You may want to look into what kind of opportunities your school of choice provides to students to gain the international awareness and know of more people and cultures.
The international profile of both my high school and university were very important factors for me when choosing them. I have always felt this certain attraction to difference, to what's foreign. I come from a middle class family. I do not have family abroad, and my parents do not really speak English to help me find ways to find out about what was outside of Poland except for the invaluable vacation experiences I have. However, on vacation, you're a tourist. You see how the place looks, but you do not necessarily get to know anyone or learn anything from the people. Time is too short and people will not want to get into a conversation other than bargaining with you. Certain opportunities would not be available to me if not for what the school offers. My high school offered many options to meet foreigners. Kopernik hosted Rotary Exchange Students, who are usually very interesting personalities from very exotic places. Becoming friends with them gave me an insight into what was outside of Poland, how people of different cultures think. In fact, encouraged by one particular exchange student (Nate, I hope you're reading this) from USA, I made a decision that turned my life 180 degrees, to go to Taiwan for one year exchange. But RYE is not the only international opportunity Kopernik offered. There were short term exchanges available, as well as hosting various visiting groups, and integrating with them. Truly a school for the international-minded students. 
TKU may also be a good choice for you if you do want to experience getting education abroad but cannot afford a full degree. A long list of foreign Sister Universities and in my department, the requirement to study abroad during the 3rd year is a great opportunity to do so, if you're a Taiwanese student. Foreign as well, but this opportunity is aimed mainly at local students. 
Look into what the school you're considering offers with regard to the international opportunities. This may prove crucial for your future

5. Look at the school news

What is happening at your school? What kind of events is your school holding? What do the students do? You are not at school only to study. It is also time for personal development and hobby budding. The school events are the easiest ways to learn things that are not covered in class. Be it certain workshops, conferences you could attend, maybe movie festivals if you're feeling artsy, the events will shape you school life, and it is important to have access to the ones that interest you

6. Affordability

Can you afford going to this school? This is the part where you have to consult your parents. See if you will actually be able to cover the commuting cost and receive pocket money if you go study outside of your town, or in the distant part of the city, or if you can really afford studying abroad if that is your plan. If so, carefully check the costs, and try to find out about all the hidden ones, as well as take a certain margin of error into consideration and have a certain amount saved up for emergencies. Have options too.
This point is especially close to me recently. I am a Polish student in Taiwan, which means abroad. This is a paid alternative to my free education back at home. I made this decision for various reasons that I may cover some day, but in general, this is a high cost. And I must admit, I have made mistakes with budget planning. First of all, I assumed that I will be receiving the worth of half the tuition from Outstanding Students Scholarship offered by my university every semester. One semester, however, the competition was much higher than usually, and the budget for scholarships was cut, meaning, for the first time after 2,5 years, I did not receive the scholarship. I had no backup money saved up in case of such occurrence, because I assumed (reasonably, I think, especially looking at the competition at my year) that with the score of 85+, I will receive the scholarship, so I am safe. The school however, is not the smartest with regard to how it awards scholarships, and I did not receive one. Now, it is important to mention, that I already work part time here, but the amount of hours that I am able to work is limited, due to the school schedule, and my income is sufficient only to pay living costs, not tuition. So my half was missing. In addition, for reasons I still do not understand, my parents decided to retract their promised half of tuition, leaving me on ice. With no backup options, and no loan options available, I am facing taking a gap year one year before the graduation to earn money to pay off the tuition I owe school and the one for the one remaining year. This would not happen with clearer check of financing options or having a backup fund. Try to have few options for your financing rather than putting all the eggs in one basket, because when you slip one time, they all go crashing. Same for high school when commute is required. Make sure you will be able to keep paying for the transportation or you have other options, and that you will have a source of pocket money to be able to eat if you forget your sandwich or have to stay late.

There is so much to consider when choosing a school, and the choice is very important and unfortunately difficult. Try to consider all that I mentioned to make sure you smoothsail through your university or high school, and that you enjoy that time and that it works for you and your future. You have one life, use it smart. 

Let me know what you think about the topic, or what were the factors you took into consideration while choosing your educational path. I would also love to hear your story and feedback!

Cheers,
Szymon


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