Circles of Influence

Circles of influence: personal, contextual, geo-political

As 2024 begins, I’m aware of the various circles of influence that I’ve been talking to students and families about. In thinking about choices about where to go or what to study in higher education, I spend most of my time on the first and second, the personal, and the contextual. A year ago, when I also asked for a consideration of the geo-political context, those students and parents often looked aghast. What had that wider context to do with them? A year on, that broader influence is in every news report.


This is you. What control do you have? Well, you’re the one who is studying at school. For many countries, it is your track record, how hard you’ve been studying consistently over your last four years at school that determines your competitiveness. Potential and proven performance are key here, along with a degree or two more of honesty than most wish for. What you’re studying can also matter depending on courses that have distinct criteria. As a family, the personal should also include honest discussions about finances.


Immediately, this often includes curriculum that students are studying. If a university pre-requisite is course x and you’re not studying it, that may preclude an application. Each year, there’s some newspaper story of students studying the ‘wrong’ books for their examinations. ALL students really should understand their context. If you haven’t got a copy of curriculum, ask for one. If taking a course of study with externally assessed exams, make sure you’ve a mark-scheme, practice papers, whatever you need to understand what you’ll be graded on.
The context is as important in considering universities and courses. This could be to do with geographic location, size, whether or not accommodation is offered, and at a more nuanced level, what course of study you may pursue there. How much flexibility does your university offer if you change your mind? I’m finding myself with more students wanting to change their course of study, or their country of study finding that what they thought they were signing up for didn’t match their experience.


Let’s start with the basics. Universities are businesses. Whether public or private, all operate within a political framework of regulation. Students wanting to study outside of their own country should consider what extra hoops they need to jump through. That could be English tests, quotas, and if offered a place on a course, getting a visa.
All a student can do when considering what next is to be as self-aware of themselves and their context as possible. Things outside of their control need an awareness. I’ve always asked that students have plan B. These days I’m as likely to ask for plan C. And for those applying internationally, I’m certainly encouraging that a plan B includes some ‘home country’ applications. Plan C is at least a consideration of if neither A or B work out, what might you do after finishing school?

In a time of uncertainty, what you can be certain of is what YOU can do. The personal again. What podcasts are you listening to? What books / journals outside of your curriculum are you reading? What are you thinking about?