My 13-year-old son, who is starting on his 2nd year of high school this coming school year, asked me one time what prompted me to choose UP from among all the universities. My answer was simple: I had no choice.

Coming from a working-class family, my mother impressed on me early on that if I wanted to get ahead in life, I needed to go to a good school. And since Ateneo and La Salle were not options, then I had to get into UP.

My experience so far has proved that I made the right choice. I got my first job, with a national NGO network, barely two weeks after completing my degree. The interview only took 15 minutes on the strength of my educational pedigree.

Three years later, when I decided to make a move to the corporate world, I didn’t have any difficulty getting hired by a pre-need firm. Again, my school played a large part. Eleven years and loads of experience later, I was taken in by an up-and-coming marketing communications firm to help them in their operations. After three years, I was ready to strike out on my own.

With five of my friends (all from UP), I put up a non-governmental organization (NGO) that helps other NGOs with their communications and media requirements. Again, the consultancy I chose was largely influenced by my school, as UP is known for service and social development. Sure, I could have put up my own public relations firm and made more money, but that is not what I was trained to do.

Even in hiring people, I was a bit biased toward the “big three“ as most of the people I hired during my stint in management were from UP, Ateneo or La Salle. I may be accused of being biased but these people were the ones who passed the recruitment requirements not only of myself but the companies I worked for.

And my choices were proven right time and time again as these “quality recruits“ delivered on a consistent basis and were easier to manage and delegate work to. The downside of hiring these people, however, especially for entry-level jobs, was that I wasn’t able to keep them for long. They eventually moved on to bigger and better-paying firms. Oh well, that’s the price you have to pay for talent.

As it turns out, my hiring strategy is not based on personal bias at all as it has been validated by formal research. One such study, done by the Ateneo Center for Organization, Research and Development (Ateneo CORD), revealed that 37 percent of recruiters prefer graduates from- reputable school’s for entry-level managerial positions.

And when they say –reputable schools, they usually mean the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, and De La Salle University. The University of Santo Tomas and University of Asia and the Pacific are also mentioned.

The study also revealed that close to 10 percent of recruiters specifically favored applicants from UP, Ateneo, and La Salle.

Ateneo offers excellent courses in math, science, philosophy, and letters while building in students a strong foundation of values.  La Salle’s standards in the fields of engineering, computer science, business, and accountancy are world-class.  UP, on the other hand, exposes students to learning beyond books – everything you need to know to survive in the real world.

Interviews with managers and HR officers showed that these schools are preferred on the basis of the company’s good experience with the graduates of these schools who are currently or have worked for the company in the past. In some cases, executives and managers give specific instructions that they want to hire graduates of certain schools for certain positions.

Their preference also stems from the performance of applicants in the company’s recruitment process such as interviews and tests. Graduates of the -“Big 3” usually top pre-employment exams and do exceptionally well in interviews. They say that limiting their pool of applicants is an efficient way of getting the best.

But all is not lost for graduates of -non-reputable’ schools, those who graduate with honors at least. Some managers mentioned that they hire honor students from non-Big 3 schools since they are as competent as those who graduated from premiere universities.

The bottom line: There are thousands of graduates every year looking for jobs, and some are rejected by companies not because there are no jobs available but because they think these graduates are not good enough.

That is why it is so important for high school graduates to get into the best universities. But that is easier said than done.

Of the 100,000 or so who apply to UP, Ateneo, and La Salle each year, only 10 percent pass these schools’ stringent entry requirements. The Ateneo College Entrance Test (ACET) is reputedly the hardest in the country, with De La Salle University’s DLSUCET ranking a close second. UP’s entrance test – the UPCAT –  may not be as difficult, but with 70,000 students vying for 7,000 slots, it certainly is the most competitive.

A student will be competing against valedictorians and salutatorians of the best high schools from all over the country. The remaining 90,000 who will not qualify for the top three will join the 400,000 other students who will choose to take only the exams of other good schools. But even these schools will not be able to absorb them all.

With literally the future at stake, the college entrance test is the most important exam a child will take in his life. Unlike employment and board/bar exams, entrance exams can only be taken once.

With so much at stake, the child needs all the help he can get. Which is why review centers, virtually unheard of a decade ago, have mushroomed and are doing brisk business.

Rosanna Llenado, president of AHEAD Tutorial and Review Center, the leading and most awarded tutorial and review center in the Philippines, shares that “results of college entrance exams will set the direction of a person’s life, and more and more young people need resources outside of the traditional school setting to gain a competitive advantage over their peers.”

If the student tries to review on his own, he won’t even finish the math lessons in two months. He will read all his books and notebooks and will still not be thoroughly prepared for the algebra portion of the entrance tests,” she adds.

AHEAD was established 14 years ago and remains the only test-based review center in the country. “We believe that reviewing for entrance tests is essential because research shows that people retain 10 percent of what they hear, 30 percent of what they read, 30 percent of what they see, and 90 percent of what they do. Our review develops learning by doing,” Llenado says.

With the proliferation of review centers all over the country, parents won’t have difficulty finding a center that fits their needs and budget. However, a review center’s passing rate, quality of instructors (and subsequently, instruction), pool of materials, and methodology (test-based review) should be high in the list of considerations, not just price and convenient location.

“Parents are right in recognizing that even if their child is already getting very high grades or studying in a very good school, they still need a coach for college entrance tests. Choosing the right coach is therefore very important in ensuring your child’s future,” Llenado explains.

With our family’s better economic standing, my son is luckier than his mother and me. We were able to send him to good schools, ensuring that he gets quality education and adequate preparation for college. But we’re not taking chances. After he completes his third year of high school, we will send him to AHEAD to make DOUBLY SURE that he passes the entrance exams of the top three.

Only then will we be able to sleep soundly, knowing that we have provided him with the best preparation for him to get a head start in life.

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