Any fun or formative experiences in your childhood spring to mind?
My first memory is from when I was quite young, 2 or 3 at most. I was toddling down the hall in my home, towards my beckoning parents. Suddenly a giant (from my perspective) cat appeared, coming down the hall towards me. THUMP THUMP came its plodding footsteps, heavy in the hall. Its lower lip jutted out towards me, menacingly. Then it bumped into me and I fell over. That’s my earliest memory. I got better with cats though; my family now has five of them.
Your job is helping high school students get on track for college admission. Did you have any form of that when you were in school?
*Laughs* I know I should say I did, but honestly, no. High school was brutal, I went from school straight to tennis practice, where I worked out until I was exhausted. Then, I would go home, and do homework until I was mentally exhausted as well. Rinse and repeat every workday. A schedule definitely would have helped, but I was very cocky as a high school student, and didn’t see a need for one.
That sounds like a lot, did you do any other extracurriculars?
I also played viola, and did a lot of independent historical research projects.
Can you elaborate on those?
I read a lot; books and academic articles, other sources that I could track down. I worked closely with my APUSH teacher, and had since I was in 9th grade. I did a lot of research into American history, especially the Civil War. I then wrote original articles about the research I did; I won a national prize for one of them.
So was this all part of an organized Candidacy Building effort?
Yes, though it wasn’t super formal. I had the three branches I focused on: academics, athletics, and arts. Academics was my grades and the independent research. Athletics came through my devotion to tennis, and I explored the arts with my viola.
Did this extend to standardized tests as well?
Oh yeah, I studied long and hard for the SATs. Doing practice tests every weekend, grueling study sessions. *Laughs* It paid off though. I got a 2190 (editor’s note: all SAT scores used to be out of 2400, this score is approximately a 1500 today).
So how did you handle college applications when it came time?
I had no idea what college applications would entail, or even which colleges I had a reasonable chance of getting into. I also had no real sense of scale, so I applied to 15 colleges. Doing all those essays was a lot of work. I applied to all the Ivies plus a number of other top schools as well.
How’d it turn out?
I got accepted into every school I applied to, and decided to attend Harvard.
What did you study there?
I concentrated in Government, which is Harvard’s term for Political Science. It’s the standard track for students interested in current politics, or international relations, who want to go on to be lawyers or politicians. I was more interested in the philosophy of government and took a number of very niche classes to pursue that end. I ended up in more than a few classes with a very old professor, who was notorious for harsh grading. After a few courses with him though, he ended up being one of my academic mentors.
What did you enjoy most at college?
In high school, I was one of the “smart kids,” which was fun, but sometimes isolating. Once I reached Harvard, everyone was operating at that level, and I wasn’t a big fish in a little pond any longer. This was humbling in some ways, but also helped me grow a lot as both a scholar and a person. Being able to connect with peers, and enjoy intellectual discussions, was one of the best experiences of my life.
What do students have to look forward to in college?
You get to learn how to stand on your own. This can be scary and is often disorienting for the first semester or two. In high school, I was like a guided missile, pointed towards the goal of college. Once I reached college, I found myself in charge of my own scheduling, and study habits, and every other aspect of my life. It was liberating, and a little overwhelming. It was a very good experience for me overall though, as I learned how to be an adult, and take charge of my own experiences.
Every student at college will have to grow up some, and that’s one of the things I think students should look forward to the most. It’s scary to be in charge of yourself that way, but it’s also very freeing.
So what do you do in your position at Ivy Scholars?
I do a number of things, all related to helping my students. I am the head of the college advising arm at Ivy Scholars, which means I am mostly involved with helping students who want to apply to colleges. I also help students find and apply to summer programs, decide which standardized tests to take, with general academic counseling, and with finding leadership positions.
That sounds like a lot, are you sure you know what you’re doing?
*Laughs* You could say that. I have my own experience and success applying to college of course, but I also have 6 (almost 7, now) years of experience in helping students with their college applications, and with mentoring and tutoring. I know the in and outs of applications, and specifically what colleges are looking for in students.
So what’s a typical day for you at Ivy Scholars?
My days revolve around the students I advise; I’m usually either preparing for a meeting, actively advising a student, or doing back-end work to further student’s applications, like editing essays and researching programs.
Advising goes beyond just college planning as well, I also work with students on their general academic development, and help them grow as both students and scholars. These things take time, but it’s a very fulfilling work.
Has Ivy Scholars helped your skills grow at all?
It’s made my approach far more standardized and regimented. Previously, I just kept everything in my head; after all, I knew when everything was due. Ivy Scholars instead puts everything down in one place, where all the stakeholders can see it. This is much better for students, and for parents. The students can see what they have in store, and checking off tasks as they complete them gives a sense of accomplishment. Parents can check in at any time to see how their students are doing. This helps me as well, as I can spend most of my time focussing on students, with the plan as a guide.
I’ve also gotten better at managing the process, frontloading the more difficult and time consuming tasks, so students and I don’t get stressed as deadlines draw near and important tasks are uncompleted.
Finally, are there any mistakes you see a lot, that you think parents should know about?
Non-profits. There was a time when starting a non-profit was a valuable way to spend your time, and colleges would be duly impressed by it, but that stopped being true almost a decade ago. Now colleges will see that a student started a non-profit junior year, and assume it will be abandoned as soon as they set foot on campus.
Instead, if students really want to get involved, they should work with existing organizations. Students can still find leadership and development opportunities within pre-existing organizations and are more likely to have a noticeable impact. Starting a new non-profit is almost never worth it.