How to convert more Applicants into enrolled Students

    My job in higher ed: Jillian Neasom, Fulbright Commission

    Jillian tells us about helping British students study in America and the key differences between the UK and US admissions processes.
    Last updated:
    February 14, 2024

    Jillian is Senior Programme Manager and Educational Advisor at Fulbright Commission. She tells us about helping British students study in America and the key differences between the UK and US admissions processes.

    How would you describe your role?

    I’m part of the Fulbright Commission’s EducationUSA advising team, which was created to be an official, free source of information for anyone interested in studying in the US. Our job is to offer advice about how to apply to a US university as a British student, and explain the differences between the UK and US education systems.

    I also manage The Sutton Trust US programme along with two of my colleagues. The Sutton Trust is the UK’s leading social mobility charity, and partnered with the Fulbright in 2011 to help high-achieving state-school students from low-and-middle-income backgrounds access education in America. Most of our cohort are first-generation students who don’t necessarily know how to navigate the US higher education process.

    What does a typical day look like? Is there such a thing?

    There isn’t really a typical day. The job is very varied because the activities we’re doing change every month. Having said that, each year is structured by the academic calendar – so it is cyclical to a certain extent. For instance, our office organises College Day every September, and the application deadlines for universities are always early November and early January. We’re constantly working with new students, which makes every year different and exciting.

    What are the most rewarding parts of your job?

    Working with the students. It’s wonderful to know that we’ve helped them achieve something. The Sutton Trust US Programme lasts for a year and a half, and it’s an emotionally charged time in the student’s lives. If they have setbacks in their application process, I’m there on the phone with them with the tears. And at times of success, I’m there with the screams and the joy.

    When did you decide you wanted to work in education and how did you go about it?

    I studied a BA in Classics at University of Florida, and did a year abroad at Royal Holloway. I didn’t know anyone when I arrived, which was quite daunting to begin with. I really loved that experience and the challenge of having to identify who I was and what was important to me. That definitely had a transformative effect on me, and I realised I wanted to help students have as an enriching higher education experience as I did.

    When I finished my BA I took a gap year to do an internship at the Fulbright Commission. I then went on to study a Master’s in Education Leadership and Management at University of Roehampton. The Master’s gave me an international perspective on education: we had students in the classroom from many different educational systems. That definitely helped broaden my outlook.

    What are the key qualities you look for in applicants to the Sutton Trust US programme?

    We want students who are high-achieving: 8 As or A*s at GCSE. We look for a certain set of qualities as well. The US higher education process is holistic, so there are no minimum requirements to be admitted. They’ll look for people who are change agents and who already have an impact on their school and community. So by extension those are the key qualities we look for. Because we want to support social mobility, we look for students who are at UK state schools, who come from low-to-middle-income backgrounds, and who wouldn't ordinarily have access to the resources we provide. We also want to make sure we pick the students who will really make the most of the eighteen-month programme.

    What are the main differences between the UK and US admissions processes?

    I describe the US application as a bit like an online dating profile, whereas I don’t think you’d ever say that about the UK application. In the US, institutions are trying to make sure you’re right for their institution so they can be confident you’ll go to class and contribute. The US application essay is often very broad and personal: the topic can be something like ‘tell us about yourself’. In contrast, the UK personal statement is more structured and linear.

    All of the undergraduate applications for a particular US institution are read at a central office, rather than by experts in a particular department. They’re not reading to recruit someone for a particular course: they’re looking for someone who will make an impact on campus. And they’re looking at things beyond what you’re interested in studying: what motivates you, what you’re passionate about and what you’ll bring to campus.

    What’s amazing about US universities is that the person who promotes the institution, travelling to the UK for instance and speaking to students at events, is the same person who will read those students’ applications and make the admissions decision. Whereas in the UK, marketing and admissions teams are usually entirely separate. That’s a very key difference.


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