Choosing your university…can be more difficult than you thought…
I met with one of my “families” today who are based in Asia. They are expats in their host country, one parent European, the other Southeast Asian. My student, Marie, was accepted by all five of her UCAS choices (that’s the UK) and managed to get two massive merit scholarships from top universities in the US—one at over 30K USD per year—along with receiving acceptances from her first choice schools. (Her very top choice rejected her in the ED round. She will realize that that was a great thing…in fact there’s no love lost on that university by Marie anymore, but that’s not what this article is about albeit a great topic I’ll get to in another post.) After almost two years of working her tail off throughout this process of university admissions, the time comes to take that final decision. Who—and how?—do I accept back? Not as “easy” as you thought…and certainly not a decision to take lightly. (I’ll get into the finer details of this process in my book—you bet there is a process for doing this correctly!--but for now I think you’ll be able to relate to this anecdote.)
The idea of today’s meeting was for Marie to share with me her final decision. By now I know this family so well when we saw one another I did a little “yay!” dance as Skype linked us in, so happy to see them all together with Marie front and center. Ready to announce her decision to all of us.
And yet with a worried look on her face. Uh oh.
I knew this look. I knew Marie. She was uncertain.
So I told Marie I had gone over her pros and cons worksheet that she sent to me prior—the parents do one, too—and wanted her to highlight and reiterate to me what her needs and wants are for university and, well, to tell me which she’s chosen and why. Easy, right? Her needs and wants have not changed for the past 8 months. She took a while to figure this out but once it clicked, she knew what she wanted and needed. That was part of who she was and made up a huge part of her application. But what I was seeing here during this Skype call not clicking was her connecting those needs and wants to what she ultimately unveiled as her “final choice”…and she did this all with a bit of a frown and with hesitation in her voice.
Marie’s needs list—something that came out of months of work and holistic self-evaluation—had much less in common with this university she was saying was “right” for her against the others that had accepted her and were top of her list. I think she was realizing it as she was going through the exercise with me, her parents in the background showing on their own faces that they were thinking what I was.
Marie’s needs and wants? Diversity. Collaborative community. Experiential learning. Opportunities to study abroad. Small classrooms with debate. Being “evaluated” in myriad ways—ie: not just one final exam. The list does go on.
The university of her choice ticked off a couple of the boxes. There were a couple of unis that ticked off all of those boxes. Seamlessly. What was going on with Marie?
I turned it over to her parents and asked for their remarks. It was her father who brought this up front and center: “I am not sure if Marie is being totally true to her heart and to herself when she has gone through this pros and cons process. I feel there is something she is doing for us, but not for herself.” This father clearly knows his daughter and has throughout this process asked his daughter to take the decisions. “Happiness is the key”, he said. He articulated beautifully what I saw as soon as we started the call.
Of course working with teenagers requires time. Things are not necessarily discovered or understood in the moment. Marie had a look of stress on her face. Does this mean the decision has not been made? That I still have to go through more of this agonizing process? (Did I mention that Marie does not like taking the most difficult decisions? Not easy for an 18-year old, I might add.) These were the questions showing up through the expressions on her face. Wanting this whole process done with was really what Marie was after—even though intellectually she understands just how important this moment is, this phase of finally taking that final decision. She’s tired and stressed and has only been on this planet for 18 years. It’s a lot to ask.
But, yes, I asked for more. We decided as a group it would be a good idea for Marie to speak again with some current students at both of the final candidates on her list—one was in the US and one in the UK—and specifically about her needs and wants, asking pointed questions about these to the actual student. She agreed. (Again, her expression was unchanging; stress was present and she also had to catch the bus—we were talking before school.) I think she was annoyed with me—this happens…a lot—but I wanted to make something very clear to Marie: this final “activity” in this whole convoluted process carries benefits throughout life. Taking decisions as heavy and important as the one she is about to take—and with a family that gives her that freedom of taking that decision on her own, and that onus—only begins today. Marie needs to learn to listen to her gut and not be afraid to own up to what it’s telling her which is, in the majority of cases, telling her the “right” thing.
I’m confident Marie will cut through the weeds on this but let’s see. She’ll have opportunities and success wherever she chooses to go for university but it would be a pity to not actively reflect in these moments on all that she accomplished along the way to get to where she is now having a strong understanding of herself and where and what will give her the best opportunities to thrive with happiness.