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Help your children get into a HK university

08 October 2017

By Hilda Ilaga-Jacinto

Many Filipino parents do not know that their children have a better chance now to be accepted in a university in Hong Kong. I believe that this information should be disseminated, and that Filipino parents should be helped to better understand how the process of getting a student into a university here works.

In the past, many young Filipinos who graduated from secondary schools here in Hong Kong would either go straight to work in the F&B (food and beverage) industry or fly back to the Philippines to earn a university degree. Don’t get me wrong. Working in a restaurant or a bar is a decent job but the Filipino youth had been confined in this box for a long time; it’s time for a change. The thinking that our youth are a natural fit for the industry is a cliché and restricts the development of their skills and talents.

Earning a degree in the Philippines could also be a problem because many Hong Kong companies do not recognize diplomas earned abroad, unless they were from schools in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada or Australia. Another hindrance is that, Filipino graduates will still have to compete against local (Chinese) applicants for the jobs on offer. An example is my friend’s son who graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from a prestigious university in the Philippines. He has been unable to find a job in a local company – mainly because of their preference for Chinese-speaking applicants - and is now working in a remittance company in Central.

So, how does one get into a university in Hong Kong? The preparation starts before the student enters Form 4 when he needs to choose which stream he would like to take: IB (International Baccalaureate) or DSE (Diploma of Secondary Education Examination). Both are for the purpose of getting accepted into a university, although DSE also includes vocational training.

How do we choose between the two? This will be mainly determined by where our kids go for secondary education. Those who go to international or ESF (English Schools Foundation) schools will have to go through the IB program as this is what’s on offer there. The presumption is most of them will go abroad to study so they are prepared for a more internationally recognized program. If they go to a local school, chances are they will have to go through the HKDSE stream as again, this is what is available to them.

Getting a place in a local university is tough. This year, out of the 61,600 students who took the HKDSE, only 15,000 government-subsidized undergraduate places were made available to them in the 7 universities in Hong Kong. That means, only about 24% of the HKDSE examinees are able to get in.

(There is no comparative figure for those who went through the IB stream as most of the graduates would have gone either to the United States or Britain for their college degrees. Those who opt to try and get into a HK university are no longer tested on their Chinese language ability so there is a bigger chance for them to get admitted).

Aside from the four core subjects (namely Chinese Language, English Language, Mathematics and Liberal Studies), the students need to select their elective subjects (such as sciences, languages, etc.) which are actually the prerequisites of their desired degree in university. It is advisable for the student to consult with their teachers on the selection of elective subjects for a more accurate assessment of the students’ academic potentials.

At Form 5, students should be able to gauge if they need extra help for the incoming exams. This includes attending tutorials, participating in study group or by revising mock exams regularly. Parents should also talk to their child frequently to give moral support and to keep them grounded during these difficult times. By the time the students reach Form 6, they should be preparing rigorously for the exams and panel interviews.

For HKDSE, students will initially submit their selection of 20 chronologically arranged programs in different universities. Once the students receive the exam result, they still have one last chance to re-shuffle their choices. A 24-hour period is given to students to alter their selection but the change can only be made once. Remember, only the best 5 subjects (4 cores + 1 elective) will be credited for the total scores in program requirements.

Below is a list of essential information on what to do when the HKDSE result is received:
• If the scores are high enough for your program requirements, there is no need for you to change your first choice.
• If the score can only fulfill the requirements for the lower-rank programs in the selection list, the student should make changes.
• If the total score is about 20 and below the requirements, student should consider applying to non-JUPAS bachelor degree/diploma provided that the 3322 (Chinese/English/Maths/Liberal Studies) for the core subjects and level 2 for an elective are attained.
• If the student’s score is below 20, the student should consider to either
- Re-sit for next year’s exam or
- Enrol in associate degree or higher diploma courses (1-2 years’ duration, depending on the program).

Here are some tips from some young Filipinos in Hong Kong who had gone through this university entrance process:

For an incoming university freshman, Ericka Regalado, she initially went to a mass tutorial centre (dubbed as “tiger centres”) for a month but she felt that it didn’t improve her performance. Eventually, her parents hired a private tutor and they found that this method worked better for her.

Another incoming Social Sciences student, Lilaine Kapangyarihan, did class tutorials and mock exams through her secondary school. She also did self-study and reviewed past year’s papers rigorously during the few months leading to the examinations.

Both students took the HKDSE this year and got accepted in the University of Hong Kong (HKU ranks 2nd in Asia and 27th in QS World University Rankings in 2017).

An IB program graduate in 2014, Christine Vicer,  has expressed that DSE curriculum is very restricting in regards to how it is being taught as well as the depth of content. She prepared for the IB exam mostly in school and by self-study. She mentions that constant support and encouragement from family and friends helped her to get through the difficulties of this experience.

For siblings Alyssa and Armina Menor, their university journey was not easy. Failing to get any university places, they decided not to give up, and enrolled in two-year associate degree programs. They both got into university easily afterwards.  Alyssa completed a degree in Chinese University of Hong Kong and is currently working as an English teacher in a local secondary school. Her younger sister Armina opted to go to the Savannah College of Arts and Design where she just earned her fine arts degree. Both strongly recommend that students seek career guidance from schools or NGOs like Unison, which provided them scholarships. (http://www.unison.org.hk)

For families who can’t afford the high university school fee, there’s no need to worry. The Hong Kong government is offering student loans to those who have been accepted to a university program. This loan is payable in a comfortable number of years after graduation with very low interest rate. For more information, go to the HK government website: (http://www.wfsfaa.gov.hk/sfo/en/postsecondary/enls/overview.htm)

It is apparent that this process is very stressful. The pressure from the school, teachers and peers, as well as parents’ expectations, are too overwhelming for young Filipinos about to go off to university. In summary, no matter how much preparation our Filipino youth will do, family support, and as always, faith in God, are the two biggest factors needed in overcoming this huge challenge in their lives. Let us give them our encouragement and full support. More importantly, assure them that whatever the outcome of the university exam, everything will be alright as there is always a way for them to pursue their dream. There is no point being discouraged as there are lot of options open to them.

They should take heart from these words of inspiration from a few of our young Filipinos in Hong Kong:

“Just do your best. No matter what happens, no matter where you end up, it’s not the end of the world.”—Lilaine Kapangyarihan, Bachelor of Social Sciences student, HKU

“Your mental health is far more important than a piece of paper declaring your grades. Surround yourself with the right people. Work at your own pace, because you alone know your weaknesses and strengths.” — Ericka Regalado, Bachelor of Arts student, University of Hong Kong

“Don’t be so hard on yourself, set reasonable goals and no matter how busy you are, remember to make time for yourself and the people you love. Focus on your goals, always remember to give yourself a break and pray!—Christine Vicera, A.B. English graduate, and Master in Literary and Cultural Studies student, HKU

“This process is about endurance, patience and determination. Do your best and you will gain a lot along the way.”—Cyril Kaye Mateo, BBA in Accounting and Finance, HKU

“Get information and prepare earlier for the exam. Go chase your dreams and defy reality even if society and financial issues say otherwise.”— Alyssa Carla Jacinto, B.S. Biological Sciences, HKU

“Even though I was not able to get into a university after the exam, it was not the end of the world. Now, I have a stable job as a teacher. If I can do it, you can do it too. “—Alyssa Menor, completed Associate in Arts in HKU Space, BA in English in CUHK, and PGDE at HKU

“As long as you believe in yourself, just work hard towards your goals. Your reward will come eventually.”—Armina Menor, completed Associate Degree in HKU Space and Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design at SCAD.

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Our contributor for this issue is an engineer and a mother who has helped her children go through the stressful path of getting a place in a university in Hong Kong. Hilda has just taken part in our news writing seminar, hoping to equip herself better in reaching out to other members of the Filipino community in Hong Kong. Here is Hilda’s short biography in her own words: “I came to Hong Kong in 1995 and I have worked as an engineer for two decades. Aside from being a wife and a mother, the thing I love most in life is my relationship with God. I started to write for the paper (The SUN) in the hope of sharing information and to uplift the morale of my fellow Filipinos. I believe that although we are in the minority, we also play an important role in Hong Kong’s society”. – Ed)

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