Involution in education: helping students find the ‘best fit’ university for them

By Kevin Ebenezer, Head of Global Recognitions at Cambridge

On my travels, I was introduced to the concept of involution in education by a highly respected colleague of mine. From a university recognition perspective, involution is where a large number of students compete fiercely for limited spots at prestigious international universities, often taking more than the required number of high-demand courses and participating in numerous extracurricular activities. This intense competition can lead to stress, burnout, and if not successful, a sense of failure. Such enormous pressure places huge barriers on the ability of a student to focus on their personal growth and wellbeing.

In today’s interconnected and highly competitive world, Cambridge International students, just like their peers from other exam boards, face the challenge of securing a place at a top-ranked global university. In this blog, I want to explore the concept of involution and how we can encourage our students and their parents to consider other options and prioritise the concept of the ‘best fit’ university.

Due to involution, students often find themselves in a relentless cycle of academics, extracurricular activities, and standardised test preparation, all in pursuit of a few coveted or in-demand university places.

When asked, I always encourage students to consider the ‘best fit’ approach when making their choices. To embrace this approach, it is essential for students and parents to recognise that success in education is not solely defined by the name of the university on their degree certificate. Finding the ‘best fit’ university takes time, effort, and research. But the reward is the student will find a university that aligns with their interests, values, and career goals. Here are some key considerations when exploring higher education options:

1. Self-reflection:

Encourage students to reflect on their academic interests, career aspirations, and personal values.

2. Diverse options:

Schools and parents can support students by highlighting the fact that there are thousands of universities worldwide, each with its own strengths and areas of expertise.  The Cambridge International online database includes a vast array of higher education institutions worldwide which have provided us with their formal acceptance policies for Cambridge qualifications.

3. Holistic admissions:

Many universities consider factors beyond grades and test scores, such as college essays, and letters of recommendation. Educators can help by emphasising this to students.

4. Career guidance:

Provide access to career counselling and guidance services. Students should consider their long-term career goals when selecting a university.

5. Embrace differences:

Encourage an open-minded approach to international education. As an example, since January 2019, students with Cambridge International A Level qualifications are qualified for university admission in Japan. This global recognition opens doors that students, parents and counsellors may not have known about.

For Cambridge International students not to fall into the involution trap, it is crucial for students and parents to broaden their perspective. Instead of fixating solely on the prestige and ranking of a university, focus on finding the best-fit educational experience.

Cambridge International students can thrive by embracing diversity and self-reflection, and by being open minded. Ultimately, success in higher education is not defined solely by the university’s name but by the opportunities for personal growth and learning it offers.

Find out more about the global recognition of our Cambridge qualifications

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Kevin Ebenezer
By Kevin Ebenezer

Kevin Ebenezer joined Cambridge Assessment International Education in 2013 initially as Assessment Product Manager in the International Projects Team, before joining the Recognitions Team as the Recognitions Manager for the UK and Ireland. In December 2018, Kevin was appointed to the role of Head of Global Recognitions. Prior to joining Cambridge Assessment International Education, Kevin worked in international schools as a Guidance Counsellor, and Assistant Head of School, where he helped many students with the university application process, and developed a deep understanding of international admissions.

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