Top of the Class

#8 How to Effectively Research Your Future University with Oxford Grad, Evelyn Wu

March 24, 2021 Season 2 Episode 8
Top of the Class
#8 How to Effectively Research Your Future University with Oxford Grad, Evelyn Wu
Show Notes Transcript

Crimson Education Strategist, Evelyn Wu,  graduated with her bachelors and masters degree in mathematics at Oxford and spent 10 years working at the British Council. 

Her experience is now helping Crimson students gain admission to top UK unis. 

In this episode, Evelyn gives us an insight into how she approaches university research including the rankings that matter, the graduate and employment opportunities and how to set realistic goals.

Podcast Host  00:17

Hello, and welcome to college tips. On today's episode I chat with Crimson Education strategist Evelyn Wu. After completing her bachelor's and master's degree in mathematics at Oxford, Evelyn spent 10 years working at the British Council. Her experience is now helping Crimson students gain admission to top UK unions. We chat about what students should look forward to university, the rankings to take into account and how to set realistic goals. Let's chat with Evelyn Wu. Welcome to college tips. It's fantastic to have you on the show. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Evelyn Wu  00:52

Sure. Hi, thank you for having me. My name is Evelyn. I'm currently working as a UK senior strategist here at crimson. So I graduated from Oxford was my master degree, both in bachelors and masters before joining crimson. So it's very happy to be here.

Podcast Host  01:08

Right. So how did you go from studying maths at Oxford to joining Crimson as a strategist.

Evelyn Wu  01:14

So after I graduated from my, for my degree, I really loved UK. So I was thinking, you know, what kind of job can steel, you know, helped me maintain this relationship. So I thought about British Council, which is was my first job before I joined Crimson as I was working for the British Council in Taiwan for roughly about 10 years before joining Crimson and now working as a senior UK strategist. 

Podcast Host  01:39

And so what does the strategists role involve for you? Like, what are some of the elements that you most commonly spend a fair bit of time on with students?

Evelyn Wu  01:44

So we are helping students prioritize their program planning, whenever they join presenting their study journey, you know, there are different focus that they need to be prioritized at time, you know, for their application in the UK. So we help them identify their UK go and also prioritize their their planning, and we set the academic goals as well as the, you know, actual curriculum go. So then we can build them along the way and hopefully, and for the schools during the application years.

Podcast Host  02:12

Yeah, I've been watching some of the acceptances as they've rolled in this year. And the students who've worked with you have done extremely well, I saw you had like a run of medical school admissions there for a little bit, what were some of the highlights for you in this admissions round.

Evelyn Wu  02:27

Definitely for for medicine, medicine, in general is very competitive, especially for overseas candidates, we have had some great high achieving students from from crimson, they are all working very hard. And for medicine, you know, you definitely need to have a very solid academic profile on top of the, you know, meeting all the extra curricular requirements for those medical schools. So it's actually quite a lot to prepare, if you want to be a competitive candidate when you came medicine. So definitely, it was a very interesting journey. I've had students from this reason cycle and also the last cycle, who got into some of the great UK medical school. So definitely, yeah, very interesting journey.

Podcast Host  03:10

Yeah, that's awesome. And you have decided to chat with us today about university research. What was it that made you choose university research?

Evelyn Wu  03:18

Right, I think definitely, this is very important, isn't it? Because for our students, before they decide their university destination, definitely, there are a lot of factors that you can take into consideration. So how do you know which one would be a good fit for you? Obviously, for a majority of international students, I will say when when they come to score selections, they would firstly always look at ranking. So they want to be aiming for, you know, top universities, high ranking schools or a well reputation schools. So usually what we advise students is to look at ranking, but this is just one indication. So in terms of ranking, there is a university overall ranking, there's also a subject ranking. So definitely, I will advise my students to consider, you know, to look into both. So a university that is good ranking overall doesn't mean that particular subjects, they're also you know, very strong. So it's always good to look into different ranking tables. So for example, the very well known one, the key was ranking the times. And also there is a complete University Guide for subject ranking, specifically. So I think those are all very important.

Podcast Host  04:28

Right? And then ranking, as you say, is just one small part of the bigger picture of university research. It's an area that I'm really interested in because through education and been in the industry for 10 or so years, and that kind of transition between high school and university. I know that there's a lot of students who go to university they think they're going to a great university based on ranking or based on course reputation or based on prestige for instance, and they get there and they not only like one semester in and they're like what By doing here, I didn't do enough research about like, what the cause actually involves what the university lifestyle was, like, you know, all these different factors. So, you know, we want to try and make sure students are doing the best research in that high school period. So they can actually go to a university that they really love and is really, as they say, you know, best fit University. What is an example, I guess, of bad university research, you know, a student who might just do it based on rankings? Or what are some of your examples of that?

Evelyn Wu  05:32

Yes, absolutely. If you only, you know, choose your university based on ranking, I will say that's definitely not enough, you know, so ranking isn't all. So things like other things, like cost structure is also very important. So that's take Oxford and Cambridge, for example, if you're thinking, you know, I want to go for either Cambridge and Oxford, and they have pretty similar course. But then how do you make this decision? Because you can only go for one. So obviously, look into their cost structure is quite important. You know, every school they have their own cost structure design, do you want to be, you know, finding out a bit more, you know, what do they have in their course, in year one, you know, which modules are the core modules? And year two, and three, what are the selective modules that I get to choose, you know, whether or not I can see myself, you know, enjoying that course, I think that that's all very, very important. So in the UK, there's a very popular a lot of schools, they offer this course, called sandwich course. So not only just the subject study itself, they provide, for example, like three plus one. So apart from the degree program, that also gives you a year in industrial placement. So actually, you get to work with different companies. So to find out a bit more, and also develop your networks and expand your experience. So there's also other things like you get to do research in other European school countries. And also you get to have a placement in a different country like us, some schools, they will have links with, for example, MIT in the US. So there are many, many different cost structures and design definitely look into that as well.

Podcast Host  07:07

I know a lot of students like to talk to alumni, or even current students at these universities for a bit of an insight into what life is like and what the workload might be like, etc. How reliable is the word of another student, you know, given that that student may have had different priorities going in, they may be a different person to you entirely, right? Like, if you don't know that person too well. And you're just kind of asking them because they're at that university? How can you take that on board and be like, their advice? And their experience is relevant to me, even though I don't really know them? Is that something that you advise students not to do? Or is that worth doing?

Evelyn Wu  07:44

I think that's a really good question. So definitely, I always also suggest them to attend the virtual open days. Do you know right now, with a pandemic, we are not able to attend open days in person, but there are many, many virtual open days events. So definitely try to participate. Usually, this happens from June to September every year. So during the open days, what do you get, you actually get to, you know, have a tour around the schools, and they will, you know, introduce their department and you know, they will probably introduce you, the faculty, staff, the professors, and also the current students, so you actually get to talk to them and ask questions for anything that you would like to ask them, including the current student day.

Podcast Host  08:23

Yeah, so and anything that's a valuable resource, other students who are currently studying at the University?

Evelyn Wu  08:29

I think so to some extent, because you, when you attend open days, you actually are speaking to either the department lecturers or the, you know, the head of the department and some of the current students in the school. So you'll be able to find out the most latest updates to your questions. If you want to find out more about what kind of curriculums you know, extra curriculum or class that the school is able to offer, they will be able to tell you the most updated information and also what kind of support for international student I get to ask them a lot. So if say a student from Thailand, they want to know, what's the population of Thai students in that schools? Would I be able to get some international, you know, student support from that schools? I think the school definitely will be able to answer that.

Podcast Host  09:12

Great. Yeah. So it is very important the open days talking to current students. I remember being at a Expo though, like a careers Expo here in Australia, and a dad came up to me and he said, Oh, you know, like, I'm very interested in having my daughter attend a UK University. I myself was a Cambridge man. I think my daughter's going to be an Oxford girl just ended up and I was thinking, Okay, how relevant might this be like a parent's advice because this parent bless him. I'm sure he's got great connections to Cambridge, but essentially, he probably attended the University like 20 plus years ago, potentially. So at what point does the advice and experience of alumni become less important?

Evelyn Wu  09:55

I will say there will still be some value from the alumni experience of sharing But ultimately, you need to find out from yourself because only you would know whether that environment or that cause will be a good fit for you. And so research on things like, you know, what we mentioned open day, or maybe ranking will be important to some people. Obviously, programs like summer school program, you know, a lot of summer school program, they will, you know, organize actually within the college or university itself. So you get to actually experience a little bit of the culture of the school campers and even the commendations. What kind of resources does the school offer, you know, the vibe in the schools? So a lot of summer, summer school programs, they are able to provide that. Yeah.

Podcast Host  10:38

Now, if you're working with a student, what kind of framework do you use to help a student narrow down their choices a little bit? Is it like, let's look at universities more broadly and think about what universities might suit us? And then go a little bit deeper? And then say, the particular courses at each university? Is that something that you do? Or do you do something completely different when you're working with each student? Depending on what they goes out?

Evelyn Wu  11:02

Yeah, definitely. So for, first of all, we always find out which subject area they're interested in. And according to that subject areas, we will look at the ranking subject ranking together. So just to get an idea of what are the you know, for example, top 20, top 15 schools that are good at this subject? And then we can talk a bit more about, you know, from this top 20 schoolers, what do you think whether you have any idea of any schools on the list here that you're particularly interested in? How can we do a bit more research to find out, you know, some of these schools and look into their cost structure. So usually, we will ask, we will, you know, work together to narrow down, for example, top 10. And then we'll look at the cost structure together to see if this will be something that students is interested in. And obviously, we have to be realistic as well, we need to look at the entry requirement for schools. So depends on where students are currently at in terms of their academic performance. So we will set goals for our students, and then go for the realistic so retarget and safety schools for them?

Podcast Host  12:03

Does career path or like employment connections to the university, does that play into the university research at all? Say, for instance, like, you know, the student wants to work for x company, and that particular company has a great relationship with a particular University is that something you know, students should have in their considerations as a high factor?

Evelyn Wu  12:25

Totally, totally, I think, especially for programs that you know, will be able to provide some industrial links for their students, I think that's so valuable. So if the school happens to have any of the program with industrial experience, a lot of schools in London, they all have this, they have very strong links with the industry. So students can not only you know, they can gain some experience during their degree time. And after they graduate, most likely, they will be landing a job with those companies if they have been performing well. So I think that's definitely very valuable. So look into the graduate prospects in the job after that degree is quite important to

Podcast Host  13:03

is looking at data a good thing for students to do and if so, what kind of data should they be looking at? If it's not just the school rankings? Should it be like the average graduate salary? And these kinds of things? I know, pretty popular as well?

Evelyn Wu  13:16

Yeah, totally. So there are some websites, as you mentioned, definitely, for example, like prospect UK? If you ever wonder by doing this degree, what kind of career paths Can I go into? What kind of jobs or companies would I be, you know, having a chance to secure an offer from that company? So from websites like prospect UK, they have a lot of different details that we'll be able to provide to our students, by doing, for example, a mathematics degree, for example, what jobs can they be doing, but usually, I will also share with my students that, you know, a lot of my friends, they graduate from their degree, and they're not necessarily working, you know, on the the subjects that they study from there. So for instance, myself, I studied mathematics, but right now I'm working as a consultant. This has nothing to do with mathematics. So I actually do believe I firmly believe that higher education really is there to also, you know, to to gear ourselves with a lot of soft skills or diverse skill set that is really important for our life to be successful, not only just in Korea and also in our life.

Podcast Host  14:18

Yeah, absolutely. And in terms of like some of the students that you've worked with, I'm always interested in the kind of case studies and I've heard a few of them at Crimson where there might be a student who's like, I want to go to the Ivy's or whatever it might be. And then after some research, and after some conversations, and it might even be like a three, six month kind of turnaround where that students mindset starts to change, then they start opening up their minds to other universities, other countries, even that they might apply to have you had an example of that where you've, you know, over the course of a few conversations a few months hope the students got to broaden their horizons a little bit because I'm going to guess you have a lot of students who come to you and the first thing they say is I want to go to Oxford, or I want to go to Cambridge. And then it's amazing. To reflect, okay, let's work that out a little bit and see what else is out there?

Evelyn Wu  15:04

Yeah, totally. To be honest, a lot of my students, I will say, the majority of my students, they will come to me and say, Okay, we're only aiming for the high ranking schools, we don't consider any other school, they wouldn't require any safety Score Choice from the UK, they will much rather study perhaps locally, because they're just thinking, from the finance perspective, if they want to invest in education overseas, you know, including the living costs and all that you have to take into consideration. They wouldn't want to go for it. If it wasn't for high ranking schools. Obviously, we also have students that will be open to explore other countries as well. So like Canada, or even Singapore, so usually what we will share with them is, you know, the options they could potentially be considering. And then So apart from UK, if say, UK is your first preference, then what else do we need to prepare for other countries like Canada or even Singapore? So yeah, definitely, we have students who who has done that, but I would say majority, they already have a very good idea of what they want to go for usually happens to be hiring a school as I'm afraid.

Podcast Host  16:07

Yeah, that's totally understandable. And I guess that's the kind of people who are, you know, working with you, as well as students aiming for those types of universities. But how do you have that conversation around cultural fit as well, you know, understanding that the student has looked at the rankings as looking at the data, they know that they want to go for that university, but might not be the best cultural fit is that kind of conversation and that kind of university research an important part of the process?

Evelyn Wu  16:31

Yes, I believe so. So I will say, you know, not every school will be, you know, not, for example, not Cambridge, or Oxford, or no high parenting school, like Imperial LSE, there will be good fit for every students. Even if you are academically rigorous, you will be able to make the requirement, but you also want to, you know, think about, you're going to be spending three to four years of your life studying there for that degree, whether or not the Union University culture itself, or the environment itself will be a good fit for you. I think that's definitely very important to think about, especially if we're talking about medicine program, we're talking about five to six years, which is a long time. So you want to make sure that you want to definitely going to research and find out more about the school environment. What extracurriculars are, they're able to provide? What kind of, you know, teaching styles that the school is conducting, whether those would be a good fit for you or not? I will say for UK, they definitely will encourage independent learning. So a lot of times, they will definitely will not be, for example, like spoon feeding students or, or chasing you to do revision for exams, definitely, that will not happen. So you need to find out a bit more about in what the school is able to offer before deciding. So not simply based on ranking,

Podcast Host  17:48

do you recommend looking into who the professor's likely are going to be I know you said, you know, at the open day, you'll get a chance to speak to the professor heads etc. But like, you know, in any given University, the staff might turn over and the professor that you thought you were going to get after one semester or so they've left and you know, they've got a new person coming in. So how much weighting should students put on a particular professor at a university knowing that that may change?

Evelyn Wu  18:17

Obviously, I always ask students to also check out the professor's background. Because these are the people who will be teaching you. So you want to know like what kind of area of specialties they have, for example, if I want to study law, and I'm particularly interested in family law, whether or not my professors there are in this area of background, so whether or not they will be able to you know, give me a lot of focus on this particular area that I'm interested in. I think that's also quite important. And especially when it comes to college selections, you definitely want to be finding out a bit more about the tutors background. So in terms of the turnover, right, this is definitely not something that we can control. We say you really admire any particular professor, and we go there, they happens to, you know, maybe move on and change jobs. So they're no longer there. There's nothing we can do. But definitely, I would say, when you apply finding out the tutors, background professors background is definitely one of the indicators as well. So you want to make sure they have the right background to teach what you want to be studying.

Podcast Host  19:20

Yeah. And do you also take into account what is the future of the university, say for instance, like they're always building the new big fancy lebara tree or the new big fancy computer science lab, whatever it might be, right? And you know, if you've got a 16 year old who says, Oh, I really want to attend x University, but you know, you've heard something where like a rival University is building this new state of the art lab type of thing, and it will be just finished by the time the student goes into that course. Is that something that you're saying, hey, look, you need to look at what else is coming up in the next year or two because this university is going to go up in the rankings because they're building this particular development or whatever it might be

Evelyn Wu  19:58

totally awesome. Especially for like STEM subjects. For example, every year government, they will give a lot of fundings to, you know, top stem schools. And so, you know, using those fundings, you may see some of the news that this particular school, they're going to link with this particular company, they're going to build this, you know, virtual lab or something like really grand. So definitely take that into consideration. Yeah.

Podcast Host  20:22

Yeah, there's so many bits and pieces. But one thing that I'm quite interested in is the Course Guide, because that is an intimidating piece of reading material. Because as a student, you might think you know, what you want to do. But then when you're going through a Course Guide, and it has like, hundreds of options, and you're like, Oh, my gosh, I thought I wanted to do this. But then this sounds interesting. And this sounds interesting. And can I combine these two things and all these, you know, different things that you start doubting exactly what your pathway should be? What advice would you give to students in that part of the process, when they're looking through the actual course guide? And trying to decide, am I going to study history, or anthropology or ancient history or this kind of, you know, there's all these different branches of particular subjects? So at what point do you kind of say to the student, this is your path? This is what you should put on your application?

Evelyn Wu  21:11

Yeah, another great question. I think for UK, before you apply, this is something quite different from the US, you definitely need to decide on the course on the program itself. So you already know which subject and which program you want to apply. And obviously, for UK, usually, in year one, everything is more is more generic, more fundamental concepts. So is the broader education, you know, core subjects that you need to study. But the fun part starts in year two, and three, where you are given more, you know, selective modules. So you if you are, say, under mathematics, you're very interested to be more specialized in computation, you know, computing departments. So something to do with computing. So you want to check out whether from year two and three, that school has the offerings for, you know, more computing modules, or even, you know, different programming or different projects that they're able to offer. So I think that's quite important.

Podcast Host  22:05

Yeah, well, I've seen one of the Course Guides in the US and was Yale's Course Guide. It's like 2000 different courses. And you're like, how do you even choose from that, you know, like, it's, it's a crazy challenge for students to pick what they want to do. And I know like the US is kind of more flexible, but the UK like you need to know what you want to do. And it's good that you can have that advice for students to help them I guess, decide what they want to do in that early stage. wintered students start university research isn't something they can leave until, like, you know, the last three months before they submit their application, or should they started a lot earlier,

Evelyn Wu  22:39

I will say the subject, definitely the earlier, you're able to determine which subject when I study, the better. So you can start your foot, you know, all the preparations focus on that subject related, or activities, or any competitions that you're interested in. I think that's quite important for UK. But regarding the score selections, you don't have to, you know, this side on the list onto I will say, three months or a few months before the application, that's totally fine.

Podcast Host  23:07

And that's like the real crunch time where it's about putting that list together and committing to that list?

Evelyn Wu  23:12

Yes, totally. And also, I have to say another aspect will be to take into consideration the predicted grades, you will be able to, you know, achieve during the application year. So at some point, we want to be realistic as well. So by having a preliminary school list, then we look at what our predicted grades that we are getting in that year. So we can revise that school list again, whether these this list is, you know, consider realistic art.

Podcast Host  23:38

I feel like you've had that conversation a couple times with parents and students.

Evelyn Wu  23:42

Yeah, all the time.

Podcast Host  23:44

Yeah. And when you see a school list that perhaps isn't realistic, how do you go about having that conversation with the parent and student to say, hey, look, this is what our goals probably should be. And that is no less kind of achievement at the end of the day in terms of like getting into these universities, when like, they might have Oxford or Cambridge at the top, etc. But you're saying, oh, let's go for, you know, maybe like a Warwick or St. Andrews or, you know, these kind of universities that are still very solid? How do you try and like, convince families that you're kind of second tier universities are still good choices? Where job?

Evelyn Wu  24:18

Great question. So I think UK is very different from us. We can't apply for like 10 different schools for UK, we can only go for five, maximum five. So obviously from those five, we want to make sure that we have carefully, you know, chosen our schools, so we all stand a good chance in terms of our five applying schools. So being relisted is quite important. So when when the time that we receive our predicted grades, first of all, we will check through whether we make the entry requirements or not. So it's very likely if we still you know, want to go for the school that we're not meeting the entry requirement, it's quite likely they will reject you from the first round unfortunately. So you We will try to explain that to the parents that you know why we need to be realistic. And obviously they are rich target and safety. So for reach, as long as we meet the entry requirements in terms of the competitiveness, nature of the program, we can definitely still give it a try. But we will explain to the parents because of the competitiveness, whether or not this program will be considered a reach school for the students or a target school. So, a good combination of reach target safety, usually, that's what we think would be a good you know, idea to move forward.

Podcast Host  25:34

Just for the benefit of our listeners who may not have heard that terminology before reach target safety, can you just define what you see as a reach school, a target school and a safety school?

Evelyn Wu  25:46

Totally. Um, so for students, for example, if you are aiming for top schools like Oxbridge LSE Imperial, some of the very competitive programs, even if you meet the entry requirement, there are still some uncertainty factors, for example, the return on entry exam, so we wouldn't know how well we'll be performing for the written entry exam. So due to those or interviews due to those uncertainty factors, so we would normally categorize those schools as rich school for the target school, usually this is, you know, where we are definitely, you know, at that level, so it should be a pretty, you know, easy, you know, straightforward schools for us to,

Podcast Host  26:29

you know, target and the safety scores, they are the ones that just in case, if things don't go well, as we plan, at least we will have a safety score that require slightly lower requirement. So it should be a good safety choice for us. And if a student was to go away from this podcast episode right now and start doing university research, what two or three steps would you recommend that they take right now to kind of start on their journey to figuring out what they want to do after high school or where they want to go after high school.

Evelyn Wu  27:03

So start thinking about which subject you want to study, because for UK, you do need to, you know, First, identify a subject area, and then based on that subject, do a bit of research on what are the options that we have, it can be from the ranking are. So if you want to go for only high ranking schools, or if you want to particularly be looking at those sandwich program, so a program that will be able to provide you with some industrial experience or a research opportunities, and then look into those particular programs. And then things like location cities are also important living costs, these are all quite important. And then finally attend the virtual open days to find out a bit more about what the school or the course is able to offer you.

Podcast Host  27:51

Yeah, fantastic. Well, even it's been awesome chatting. And thank you so much for your time today and college tips for students who would love the opportunity to work with someone like Evelyn on their application to the UK, US, Europe, Canada, and anywhere else that Crimson hopes students get into. There will be a link in the show notes for a free one hour consultation with a lovely academic advisor. But everyone, thank you so much again for your time for your wisdom, and I look forward to sharing the episode far and wide.


Thank you so much for having me.

Podcast Host  28:18

Thanks for listening to top of the class. subscribe for future episodes for show notes and to plan your best future head to Crimson