Following up on a survey on the idea of a common application form for international schools at the end of last year, David Willows shares the results and some possible next steps.

The Blog
A few months ago I published an article on my blog, asking a simple question, Should we reinvent the wheel of school admissions?

Of course, the phrase “reinventing the wheel” generally has negative overtones. It suggests that somehow we are needlessly repeating work that others have already completed, wasting time and energy that could be better spent on other things.

And that’s part of what I wanted to suggest: international schools, in all four corners of the globe, are busy creating their very own, bespoke, carefully crafted application forms. They are wonderful, I have no doubt. But the reality is that 90% of the questions we are asking and the data we are collecting is the same as everyone is collecting.

The conclusion: let’s reinvent the admissions wheel in a different way – working together to pull it apart and reconstruct it in a way that better acknowledges the needs of families applying to our schools.

The Dream
I don’t know about you, but I’m dreaming of a future in which we create a kind of School Passport for families that can be updated over time; a common application form that is accepted the world over, travelling with our globally mobile families; a form that remembers details, stores information, but also one that allows schools to add additional questions when necessary.

The survey and a bit of amateur analysis
In response to the blog, I wanted to test the waters a little to see who might be up for a change. A total of 167 schools replied from every region of the world, with responses coming mainly from admissions directors or heads of school. When asked about their appetite to find out more about a common application form, 89% (148 respondents) answered positively. So what does this mean? Well, I’m not pretending there was a lot of science behind this brief survey. In reflecting and talking with colleagues around the world over recent weeks, however, I’m wondering whether the following is true:

When records began and all we had was paper, we all worked in silos, crafting our application forms. Then online systems came along and we worked with thirdparty providers to transcribe these beautiful forms onto digital platforms.

Five to ten years later, I believe we are now entering the third age of school admissions – an age that puts the family first, is efficient, and gives up on the idea that unique is always better than common.

In short, I believe we are ready to create a common application for international schools.

My learning
It’s been quite a journey these last few months. I’ve talked to a lot of people. Read some stuff. Thought a lot. And what I’ve learned, above all else, is that there’s no need to reinvent the admissions wheel, because there are organisations that have already done much of the thinking and developed the tools we need to make this a reality.

What else have I learned?

  • A common application doesn’t need to replace your existing online application provider, but work seamlessly with it.
  • A common application doesn’t need to cost very much.
  • A common application doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions that are particular to your school.
  • A common application system will need to comply with the new European Data Protection Regulation.
  • A common application allows us, as a community of schools, to collect and analyse important market trends in different regions.

The Next Step
A few months ago I published an idea. This idea led to a series of conversations. It’s now time to take these conversations to the next level. It’s time for a few of us to sit around the table, hammer out the issues, and come back with something for the rest of you to test, consider and give feedback on.

More details to follow in due course. But if this is the kind of wheel you’d like to reinvent, please let me know.

About David Willows

Dr. David Willows is Director of Advancement at the International School of Brussels. His new blog ( is a series of micro stories focused on rethinking the learning business. You can contact him via email: [email protected]

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