The Key to the Right Education
By Leila Khalil
Study, more study, fees and more fees. Ask both students and parents what memories linger most about those crucial years before heading off to university. It is the investment of time and money in creating a base for graduate and post-graduate study in a top university that will hopefully lead to a fulfilling career.
But with so many vying for places in these universities and colleges, it pays to have someone with inside knowledge of what is needed to help you be sufficiently prepared. Cairo East Magazine sought out Omar Khashaba, CEO of Top Choice Admissions to learn more.
CEM: What is Top Choice Admissions?
OK: Top Choice Admissions (TCA) is Egypt’s only admissions consultancy firm. Founded in 2011 by graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the London School of Economics, and University of California – Berkeley, TCA was founded to provide support to students across Cairo who wish to continue their academic endeavours abroad.
What services do you offer?
Top Choice Admissions provides services across three main categories: admissions consulting, SAT preparation and academic tutoring. Essentially, we offer students and their parents expert assistance with all aspects of the university application process, from helping them identify right-fit universities and subject areas of study to guidance on how to craft thoughtful application essays with stand-out characteristics. We are committed to hiring graduates of the world’s top universities and applying a process whereby students are matched with consultants who have both country-specific and subject-area specific expertise. Students thus receive an unparalleled degree of highly focused, relevant advice from someone with first-hand experience.
What are your services?
One of our most important services is a University and Subject Consultation (USC). Students are first asked to identify three different subject areas they find appealing. They are then paired with three different consultants representing those subject areas who each spend an hour with the student talking about the nature of their respective degree programs, the kinds of courses you can expect to take, sub-specializations you can choose from and career opportunities available upon graduation. After they’ve gone through the series of subject consultations, students are typically in a much better position to decide which subject area they find most appealing.
Another important application service is help with the essay drafting process. While we do not write essays for students we do draw their attention to the key characteristics of successful essays. The approach to the essay differs from country to country. American colleges look for narrative writing from their applicants. Students are expected to tell a compelling story about personal growth and overcoming adversity. They have to emote to the reader on a very deep level and employ a novelist’s attention to detail as they recount the details of an internal or external struggle. In the UK, on the other hand, students need to produce a very academic piece of writing that outlines their rationale for wanting to pursue a specific discipline and what they have done to date to validate or nurture that interest. Students are expected to have researched their subject of choice and to demonstrate awareness of key themes and debates within the field. In addition to making students aware of these key differences we help them brainstorm and outline content for the essay based on their own life experience. Later on we conduct multiple extensive reviews of drafts produced by the student.
Is it possible to try for athletic scholarships?
Definitely. Another noteworthy service we offer in the admissions consulting arena is support with the athletic scholarship application process. Students work with former Division 1 athletes who advise them on which universities and teams to target, how to complete the NCAA registration process and what documents and video footage to send coaches. They also closely supervise correspondence with coaches up until the student is offered a scholarship package.
What assistance can you offer students sitting final examinations?
Our second main service category is SAT preparation. The SAT is a core requirement of the US application process. One of our flagship programs is the SAT Boot Camp, which is an extended course we teach at our locations in Zamalek, 6th of October and Fifth Settlement throughout the year. In addition, we have partnerships with the overwhelming majority of Egypt’s top international schools and routinely provide on-campus instruction so students need not go beyond the confines of their school to receive the highest quality SAT preparation available in Egypt. What differentiates TCA from other SAT prep organizations is that we don’t just teach drills and test tricks. Instead we approach the SAT as a means of preparing students for university and seek to develop their critical thinking and reasoning skills. All members of our teaching staff have scored in top 5th percentile of SAT test takers worldwide and hold degrees from leading American universities, including Yale, Columbia, Chicago, UPenn and NYU. Finally, we provide academic tutoring services across all subjects of the IB, A-Levels, American Diploma (including AP courses not commonly offered at schools), GCSE and IGCSE.
How can you assist Egyptian students in getting placement at foreign universities?
Applying to universities abroad can often be a daunting task. The application process differs from country to country and, at times, from university to university. TCA strives to provide comprehensive support. We have no agency relationship or affiliation with any university, preferring to remain a completely independent admissions consultancy.
Which countries do you deal with?
While our expertise lies in the realm of application to the US, Canada, the UK, and continental Europe, we also have experience advising students interested in applying to universities in Latin America, Asia and Australia. Our aim is to provide students and their families with a comparative overview of the educational landscape in various countries around the world so they can decide which system is most suitable for them. For example, a student who is uncertain about what he or she wishes to study is best advised to pursue his higher education in a country offering a “liberal arts” curriculum. The American system is premised on the liberal arts model, with students undergoing a broad core curriculum in their first two years before choosing a major. The same is true of certain universities in the Netherlands and other places in Europe that start off with a very generalist approach. Students torn between different majors can take some time to explore before deciding which one to pursue.
If you wish to study in the UK, Germany or France, on the other hand, you better be certain about what subject you’re interested in because that’s the only thing you’re going to be studying from day one and if you change your mind you’re going to have to start from scratch. An arguably more positive feature of a UK degree, however, is that it will only take you three years to complete vs. the traditional four-year period associated with US and continental European programs
What is the process?
We cater our services to students’ individual needs. As a result, the process tends to be a bit different depending on what point in his or her academic career a student has contacted TCA. That being said, the preparation process usually begins in grade 10. Students are encouraged to apply to university-level summer courses open specifically to High School students. Summer school can be a great way of gaining insight into what studying a particular subject at university would actually be like. It can also be a fantastic way of building relationships with professors and academic staff who may be able to provide letters of recommendation later on during the university application process. Another reason students should get started early is because they often have to choose their grade 11 and 12 courses at this stage. Some universities, especially UK ones, have specific High School course prerequisites for admission to particular degree programs. We can help students narrow down which subject area(s) they may want to study later on so they can tailor their course choices accordingly.
What age group do you deal with?
While most of its focus lies in providing undergraduate application support, TCA offers dedicated support to students applying for graduate and post-graduate educational programs. Most undergraduate students are between the ages of 14 and 17, while those pursuing high-level education come in at a variety of ages.
Can you help them apply for scholarships?
Yes, we have a service dedicated to helping families identify financial aid and scholarship opportunities potentially applicable to their child.
How long does it usually take to get a response?
It really depends on the application route the student has decided to take. In the US there are three main application types: Early Decision, Early Action and Regular Decision. Early Decision applications contractually bind the student to accept the school’s offer of admission if it decides to make one. The upside is that this route offers somewhat higher chances of admission and students receive a decision in December of their senior year. However, students can’t apply to more than one university on an Early Decision basis.
Early Action has the same timeline as Early Decision except that there is no contractual obligation to accept the offer and students can apply to more than one school. Finally, Regular Decision is the normal process whereby students submit their applications by either November 30th (UC schools) or Jan 1st (most other US universities) and receive a decision in April.
In terms of the UK timeline, students are advised to submit their application by January 15th and can expect to receive decisions between February and April. Theoretically, the January 15th deadline applies to domestic students while international students have until June 30th to apply but since most universities will have awarded most of the seats on their course by then it would be a big gamble to fail to submit the application by January 15th.
What is your success rate for placements?
Our success rate for placements is 100%, and the reason is fairly simple: part of what we do is help students determine where to apply. In doing so, our approach is very scientific. Thirty percent of the universities we recommend are “reach” schools, 40% are “good-fit’s” and 30% are “safety options”. It’s important to note that a safety school is still a school the applicant would choose to go to if admitted, otherwise we wouldn’t recommend it in the first place. Safety simply means there is a higher than 70% chance of the student getting in. By building this safety net into our methodology we’ve ensured each and every one of our students has gotten into one or more of his/her chosen universities.