Parent called. What should my 9th grader be doing now for uni admissions? Nothing.
One of my former clients called me today. I had checked in a week ago to see how the family was doing and knowing that their daughter is finishing up her first year in the US. (The family had never been to the US prior to their daughter being “dropped off” from Asia by the four of them last August! Jaya had never seen snow…and did she ever see a lot this year…) Anyhow, Ajay wrote to me telling me how Jaya was getting more and more interested in a new field based on her first year—I love hearing this; it means the student has tested, tried, dabbled, been inspired, changed her mind, …--and that she was coming home to Asia for the summer. Everyone, especially her younger brother, is excited to have her back for a few months.
Then Ajay started a new paragraph. “When should we start your services for Arun? He’s finishing up 9th grade as you know and it looks like US university admissions is getting even more competitive…”
Jaya, their daughter, I will remind you, has a month to go to finish her freshman year. The family is just less than one year out of going through this process and the anxiety is already mounting for their son. This is something I see and hear everyday from families. Anxiety and fear. And, Arun is only in 9th grade. Can I help?
No. Well, yes. I can help but it has nothing to do with the logistics of university applications. Actually, it has a ton to do with it, but nothing to do with the process. My advice? Focus on academics in school and focus on what’s fun and interesting to you outside of school.
Of course that needs to be explained to a parent with a bit less fluff and a bit more direction. But, truly, there’s nothing like hearing from someone who has a passion. Here’s what I am telling Ajay:
The key thing that Arun needs to be “focusing on” is working hard at school—the best he can—and also “working hard” on himself. He should be exploring life, trying new things—I don’t care what they are but they should be true to him and get him out of his comfort zone—and starting to understand himself better. What does he like? What’s he good at? What would he like to take a stab at this summer or during the next break? And, I don’t mean tuition (that’s “extra help” to some cultures) or taking more summer classes at a university campus. Arun needs to get out of his comfort zone and see what lights him up, perhaps what does not. And, there are myriad ways of doing this. (Something I will go into in depth in my book.) And, really there is no right or wrong way. The further you go off the beaten path (think taking courses at a university campus you pay $$$ for vs. knocking on the door of a local organization and asking if you can help build their social media because you love using Instagram or take photographs of their people in action because you love being behind a camera while volunteering within their community), the better. The less you’re doing something to check a box, the more powerful…and the more useful.
Useful for what? For life. For learning about yourself. For broadening perspective and mindset. And—gasp!—for a university application. It makes logical sense—and then practical sense—that if you’re focusing on a holistic self and working hard at that once it comes time for university applications, that “better”, more holistic, more thoughtful self will come through in your applications and you’ll be presenting the strongest candidate you can be. Sitting in classes all summer each summer brings out…bad posture and a very limited perspective on what’s out there and what you can do.
So, I’m telling Ajay just that. It’s difficult for parents not to get caught up in what everyone else is “doing” for applications but be careful and be smart not to jump on bandwagons. I’m quite certain that Ajay won’t. Many of you will hear about something called The Coalition soon—shrouded in secrecy we know very little even about this “new” application signed on by over 80 universities to presumably increase access and affordability for students applying to university (in the US). I will be attending a webinar on it next week but I am skeptical. Students can start logging things in their “locker” by 9th grade, to eventually be used for college admissions. Sound like the start of a larger rat race? I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and wait to see what I hear. I’ll report back.
But, my advice on this won’t change. Arun needs to be a kid and learn to work hard and also spend some time “exploring”, learning to listen to his gut and finding his true passions and interests, taking some risks along the way. Stuff you can’t put into “a locker” but experiences that will have bearing and impact on Arun’s life ahead. No one is interested in hiring a boring person, let’s be honest…