By Athena Karsera
First impressions do count, and, in the case of the University of Nicosia Medical School, it is a member of the Admissions team who will most likely make that all-important first personal contact with a prospective student.
Talking about their department recently, Director of Admissions and Development John Surrey and Associate Director of Admissions Valia Tsiakala were both quick to emphasise the importance of teamwork and to note the crucial part each and every member of their team plays. They also underline the importance of good cooperation with other departments and faculty members.
“Admissions is a huge responsibility. It is the efforts of the global team not only in Cyprus but also in the US, Australia, Lebanon and Israel that bring the students to the School,” John said, adding: “There are lots of moving pieces that all have to come together at the right time for it to work.”
He noted that if the 14-member Admissions team, not all of whom are based in Cyprus, failed to do their work properly, the Medical School would not be able to attract the students it needs.
This also goes far beyond the actual number of incoming students, as Valia commented: “It is also a huge responsibility because we need to safeguard our standards, to ensure the implementation of best practice in recruitment management, and at the same time to achieve our annual targets with qualified students who meet or exceed our entry requirements. Therefore for Admissions both quality and quantity are important. “
The Admissions team’s initial contact with candidates comes about in several ways. Posters are put up at over 400 campuses across the US and Canada, for example. Or students may get in touch online, by telephone, or meet with Admissions advisers at education fairs, school events and presentations, or even Medical School open days. These types of events are regularly organised both in Cyprus and overseas.
“We have also been using digital advertising from the very start. We were perhaps the first entity at the university to do so,” John added.
Unlike admission departments elsewhere, the University of Nicosia Medical School team’s efforts are year-round. John noted: “While we are still enrolling the MBBS class in late August, the US-based team is preparing to travel to campuses to meet next year’s students. And even before the MD class starts in late September, the Cyprus-based team is getting ready to travel to education fairs in Europe. We do rolling admissions and our teams are busy literally the entire time. There is no downtime whatsoever.”
Once contact is made, it’s time to help the students learn more about the university and its programmes and also to find out on whether they meet admission requirements.
Valia said: “We review hundreds of applications and have to pay great attention to detail. Not all qualifications are the same even within the same country.”
Admissions team members need to stay up to speed on new qualifications in countries that students regularly come from, and also to learn all they can about the qualifications in a country a candidate is coming from for the first time.
It is important to be able to respond to candidate’s queries and applications within a very short period. Valia commented: “We operate in a very competitive environment. Our competitors are mainly located overseas, so we need to be very rapid in our responses to candidates. A slight delay may cause a candidate to choose a different university. We must also be able to provide our candidates with precise information so that we motivate them to choose us over any other medical school from around the world. Moreover, we need to show understanding towards the needs of our candidates. Some candidates like to be contacted during certain hours only, and others want us to speak with their parents. So we need to show respect and understanding for all these needs, and at the same time, to be flexible to provide solutions on the spot.”
Some candidates also tend to make a bigger impression than others. John and Valia recall a 12-year-old who, accompanied by his mother, joined an Open Day last July.
“It made a huge impression on us, because during that Open Day we had older students for the MBBS and 18-year-olds for the MD programme, and here was a 12-year-old boy equally interested in becoming a doctor, just like everyone else who joined us that day,” Valia said.
John added that it was also always gratifying to see someone enrol at the Medical School two or three years after first meeting them at a university fair or an event.
John noted that the success of the team depends not only on their own efforts but also on teamwork with other teams such as Student Affairs and Communications. Faculty and other staff play a key part by participating in interviews and events organised by Admissions, he added.
Valia went on to note: “We are always trying to improve ourselves. We now have a much quicker response rate and everybody in Admissions works to maintain it. At the same time we constantly meet as a team, to review our initiatives, fine-tune them and see how we can improve going forward. Our passion to support our candidates is appreciated by them. Many students keep in touch with their Admissions advisers throughout their studies at the Medical School, because they appreciate our professionalism and genuine interest in them.”
John added: “The most common feedback we get from candidates, whether or not they end up coming to the school, is how friendly and helpful our team has been, a marked contrast to their experiences at most medical schools.”