Screen Shot 2019-12-13 at 13.35.48.png


Helping international families navigate the university application process


As a parent, each phase with your children may seem simultaneously magical while also remaining challenging in its own way. Helping your children take the first steps in choosing their future path and start their journey into adulthood is no different. 


Add in multi-cultural aspects or the option of studying in another country than where you are living, or even choosing a school in the country you have relocated to with your family, which may not be your home country, and it’s understandable to feel overwhelmed by the application and decision process when finding the right university for your child. 


Getting guidance from the right resources can save families a great deal of time, stress and ultimately ensure that they make the right financial decision when selecting a university for their child(ren). Lauren Joyce Hensel and Sara Bittner, Founders of Launch Education Advisors, based in the Netherlands, have a passion for supporting international families through the process of researching, applying and selecting universities in the US, UK, the Netherlands and across Europe. 


“After graduating with a bachelor’s degree, I immediately started working in university and prep school admissions and athletics. I fell in love with helping students from diverse backgrounds reach their potential, discover their gifts, and launch their futures,” says Launch Founder Lauren Joyce Hensel. “When we sold everything to move to the Netherlands, I was motivated to find a way to apply my 10 years of experience working in higher education while living here and realized that there was a gap in good advice on post-secondary education and a lot of potential for starting my own business in that area.” 

Both Sara and Lauren moved to the Netherlands under different circumstances and at different times. Sara already in 2010 with her Dutch partner and Lauren in 2017 when her husband accepted a job in Amsterdam, met by chance in an Expat Facebook group. They quickly realized they had similar backgrounds and interests, both having worked in education and raising their families abroad. As their friendship grew, so did their ideas on how to support other international families using their knowledge and skills about the educational systems both in the Netherlands and the US.  


“Most clients are coming from international schools, likely because of the nature of third culture kids who travel between countries while growing up. Our goal is not to replace the college counselors at international schools, but to support the students who need extra guidance depending on their unique situations or when they are considering schools across continents,” explains Launch Co-Founder Sara. “Traditional, ‘guidance counselors’ are not very common in the Netherlands since the Dutch process is very transparent and straight forward – with a lottery system. International students applying to Dutch universities need more advice as not all programs are offered in English, for example,” she continues. “Different countries also determine tuition through different methods - residency, citizenship, and other criteria. Finding out this information takes time and effort - often which are lacking in the modern-day family,” adds Sara.


As your child progresses from primary to middle school and start to fine-tune their interests and skills, it’s important to consider how these years may influence their post-secondary education, sometimes as early as starting at age 14. “Most clients are juniors/seniors (16/17) but the best time to start getting advice on post-secondary education (when living in the Netherlands) is actually at age 14,” says Lauren. “It sounds very early, but it’s important to reach the students before they choose their ‘DP profiles’ or ‘study profiles’ for their final years in high school – which is common practice at schools in NL. It may lead to them shutting some doors to programs which they may have otherwise found interesting,” adds Sara. 


While the initial selection process depends on the profile and interests of the students, another extremely important question to answer early on is - what type of financial contribution is envisioned? Lauren and Sara walk families through the entire process of applying for and getting a financial offer, allowing them to be able to compare their financial offers at various colleges and understand how much each option is actually going to cost out of pocket annually. 


“US universities will offer scholarships whether you are a local or international student, but many factors influence the type and amount of scholarships available. In the UK the scholarships are a bit lower and not all schools offer them. Finally, it’s important for US families living abroad to know that not all universities in the Netherlands will accept the FAFSA (US Federal Loans) – only 5 in the entire country do,” explains Sara.

Each country and each individual school have their own process and requirements which can make the search for “the right fit” quite difficult to navigate. The college application process (globally) is also continuously changing, creating misconceptions and confusion for students and parents. 


“One of the most common misconceptions we come across when advising clients is the notion that international students have a higher chance to get accepted vs a local (domestic) student, when the reality is that international acceptance rates vary. At MIT, for example, the international acceptance rate is only 2% and local acceptance rate is 6%,” explains Lauren. 


“We often get the impression that families believe Ivy league schools or schools with big ‘brand names’ are the only options to be successful… Many universities do a great job marketing their brand but many underdog (less known) colleges offer amazing opportunities. We work hard to research broadly and put all options on the table for each client,” continues Sara. 


Lauren and Sara have the right priorities when it comes to advising their clients: being absolute experts in their field, offering full transparency, and adopting a personalized approach for each student. They have developed a specific onboarding process including values worksheets, personality profiles, and interviews to be able to deliver completely customized advice per family – usually resulting in a comprehensive list of 20-30 schools.


Lauren is clear about the mission of LAUNCH, stating, “We aim to make the university application process organized, less stressful, and tailored to a student's goals, values, and ambition. Our goal is to become a global company and create a more inclusive world through access to domestic and international educational opportunities for third-culture families.” 


LAUNCH provides three boutique, personalized university guidance packages for students seeking to attend university in America, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Europe. They work with third culture, expat, international families including those considered twice exceptional. 


Visit their website to learn more and schedule a free one-hour consultation:

Canva - Photography of People Graduating