When Akela Szasz started grade 11 at Aspengrove School, she had no idea she’d soon be preparing for medical studies in Scotland. Although she had always sought academic challenges, she wasn’t sure, at the time, what post-secondary plans she wanted to pursue.

The IB student also wasn’t sure what to expect in the way of help figuring out her future after high school. “Initially I had meetings with (Aspengrove’s guidance counsellor) Mr. Kingstone about what I was going to do, and I didn’t think they would be helpful at all,” Akela laughs, admitting she hasn’t expected much support based on her previous school experiences.

So she was very surprised at what happened next.

Over the course of the next two years, Akela met with Mr. Kingstone regularly as he got to know her personality, her interests and her goals. “Mr. Kingstone likes to get to all the components that affect your choice [of post-secondary],” she says. “For example, he asks whether you’re better in a big city vs. the middle of nowhere.”

As they narrowed down her choices and settled on medical studies, Mr. Kingstone gave Akela something that would change the course of her future: “I was looking at the typical schools — UBC, University of Toronto, etc. — and he had this pamphlet for St. Andrews, the oldest university in Scotland. I took it home and I thought ‘this is the best thing ever, I want to do this!’”

Akela was attracted to the Scottish-Canadian medical programme, with its small group lectures and hands-on work starting in the first year. “I’ll get to spend three years at St. Andrews and three in Edinburgh to get my Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery,” she says. “At the end of the six years, I’ll have the choice: to do my residency in the U.K. or to come back to Canada to do it here.”

“I’m a person who likes challenges,” she adds. “I’ve grown up in three different countries, I’ve been to 10 different schools and I’ve excelled. I’m also a competitive judo athlete, and last year came third in Canada. I’m drawn to that kind of intensity. Medicine challenges you in all areas — physically and intellectually; you have to be aware of everything going on. It’s challenging every day, and that’s what I want.”

With the support of Aspengrove staff, Akela will have the chance to pursue her dream career at one of the top three medical schools in the U.K.

Here’s a look at how Aspengrove works with students to help get them accepted into their top university picks, and to excel when they get there.

A team mentality

Mr. Jim Kingstone is Aspengrove’s Director of University Guidance

Preparing for university is a long process that requires self-inquiry, research and preparation long before you fill out any actual applications. Taking a team mentality means accessing all of the resources at your disposal, including your guidance counsellor and your parents.

“You’re part of a team preparing for university that includes parents, teachers, and coaches,” Mr. Kingstone says. “We’re developing a more consultative process at Aspengrove. Much of my work with parents is explaining that there are great traditional jobs, but a lot is about preparing for an uncertain future. The idea that you can plan for the next 25 years of life is outdated.”

A global approach

The IB program gives Aspengrove students a distinct advantage in their university applications. “The richness, rigour and relevance of IB supports of a wide diversity of options,” says Mr. Kingstone. “Students are realizing they’re qualified for opportunities they never imagined would be possible.”

“One of the things that I set as a goal was to help students broaden their school choices,” adds Mr. Kingstone, “rather than just UVic and UBC. Five students out of 22 applied to U.K. schools this year. And they embraced this idea!”

A focus on your story

For her St. Andrews application, Akela had to write a 400-word personal statement. “When I have an interview and someone can see my personality, they can get to know who I am. But with a personal statement, you’re just information on paper; the same as every other person. So the challenge was how to make myself noticeable.”

With the support of her guidance counsellor, Akela learned how to write an effective personal statement. “Mr. Kingstone told me that if I got accepted, it would be because of my story,” she says. “I grew up in Japan until I was 10 years old. That’s when the earthquake happened and I went through all that. My younger sister also passed away at two-months old and being in the hospital for two months straight, seeing doctors, I thought I wanted to do that.”

Writing her story was a collaborative process with her team. “The document was shared with Mr. Kingstone and he was constantly making suggestions. It was an evolving draft,” she says.

A variety of success skills

One of the biggest benefits of completing Aspengrove’s IB program is the development of skills that will not only help get you into your chosen university, but will also prepare you to excel once you’re there.

Akela says the solid study habits and time management skills she developed at Aspengrove will serve her well in university. “I’ve learned to study a page or two ahead in the subject, so you know what the teacher is talking about the next day. It makes it easier for your brain to absorb that info.”

She’s also believes her Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) class helped her develop a broader perspective on her impact on the world. “The course makes sure that you don’t only concentrate on academics throughout IB. You have to do a group project. Mine was collecting 500 pairs of new socks for the homeless. It’s an interesting aspect of the IB that makes sure students are active in the community, which I think is important. It will help me in university to be more engaged in the university community and what’s going on there.”

Rehearsals and more rehearsals

Biology Teacher and Assistant Head of School, Mrs. Sarah Marshall

University admission interviews give you a chance to really shine, but pulling off an interview takes a lot of practice. And practice is just what Akela did. “My biology teacher would help me every single day after school, and even our Principal did mock interviews with me to practice,” she says, adding, “Everyone is always looking out for you and making sure you get in.”

Staying connected while moving forward

While Akela is excited about the next stage of her life, she plans to keep in touch with her Aspengrove community.

“I actually enjoyed going to school here,” she says. “It was exciting going to classes. That wasn’t my experience in the past. The teachers never forget about you. They don’t just leave you behind if you miss a couple of classes.”

“The IB program is definitely a lot more challenging than a typical BC diploma program. For me, what it’s done is prepared me for university because of the workload. Although you have a lot of work, you do have the teachers’ extra support. I had a relationship with my teachers which I hadn’t had before. And I plan to keep in touch with my biology teacher, and with Mr. Kingstone.

Interested in finding out more about Aspengrove? We welcome you to get in touch.