Did you know that a goldfish has an attention span of nine seconds? The average teenager may have an attention span less than that.
With access to information, entertainment, and social connections always just a finger tap away, we are accustomed to–and expect–immediate gratification.
The college search process does not offer immediate gratification; hence, it is a process. You research universities, you consult with your college counsellors, you write and rewrite applications, and then you wait. You wait for decisions from seemingly-mysterious admissions officers.
Until this month I was one of those admissions officers. For nearly twenty years I evaluated applications, with a special focus on Aiglon and Europe, to the University of Pennsylvania.
The teacher becomes the student
Usually the decision-maker of applications, last winter I became an applicant. I submitted my application to Aiglon in consideration for a vacant college counsellor position.
Suddenly, roles were reversed. My credentials were being evaluated. My fate was going to be decided for me. Well, it may have felt that way, but it is not wholly true.
The college search process and the job search process should both be empowering. These processes should be about you, understanding who you are, what you want, and applying to schools for which you are a good match. You are in the driver’s seat of your college process until you submit your application, and then you return to the driver’s seat when it is time for you to accept one of your offers of admission.
I urge you to take ownership of this process, and I urge you to trust in it, to trust in your college counsellors, and to trust in yourselves.
As your newest college counsellor, always remember that I recently experienced being an applicant. I learned from the experience, and I hope my learnings can help Aiglon’s Year 12 and Year 13 students who are currently involved with their own search processes.
I took my first step on my path to Aiglon three years ago, long before Aiglon was seeking a college counsellor. I was ready for new professional and intellectual challenges; but what did I actually want to do?
I considered what elements of my professional life excited me most, and what excited me least. I realized that the highlight of my professional work was when I was interacting with international students in Europe, so I set out to do such every day as a college counsellor.
Likewise, before you start surfing university websites and dreaming of particular schools, you are well-served to reflect on who you are and what you want. Begin to think about your academic career at Aiglon and at other schools you may have attended: what did you like about those environments, and what was not so ideal about those environments? What did you like studying at Aiglon? What activities did you enjoy? Ultimately, you want to have a sense of what you are seeking academically, extracurricularly, and socially from a university.
Once I knew what I was seeking I referenced job postings. Some positions seemed to be appropriate, but once I read about them I knew they did not resonate with me (do not underestimate your instincts in this process!) so I did not apply to them. I applied to jobs at other schools that seemed good for me, yet when I interviewed I did not feel comfortable, I recognized the school was not the right “fit” for me.
When I interviewed with the Aiglon staff, it felt “right.” Plus, I believed in Aiglon’s guiding principles of the balanced development of mind, body and spirit.
I encourage you to be a discerning “shopper” like me. Investigate schools to which your counsellors refer you. Attend virtual events for schools that seem to meet the criteria you identified during your self-reflection. In other words, evaluate schools according to your rubric for what is ideal for you, and apply accordingly.
Just because a university is ranked by some source as number one in the world does not mean it is number one for you!
When you are writing your applications it can be easy to fall into the trap of wanting to make yourself into the person you think the evaluators want. For instance, I could have assumed Aiglon’s College Counselling Department wanted a counsellor who fluently spoke French and had done admissions work for European universities. I could have exaggerated myself into a Francophile with expertise in European higher education, but that is not me and I never endorse misrepresentation. So I was myself: an English-speaking American with a background in recruiting and admitting students to an Ivy League university.
I was true to myself and I got the job. My profile was what Aiglon was seeking. Other places I applied were not seeking my profile, so I was not invited to interview or offered a position. I was myself throughout the process, and I trusted that at some point in the process I would click with a school and a role that were good matches for me.
Be yourself as you apply to universities. You never know what that university is looking for that year–it may very well be you!
Trust the process
Covid-19 delayed my arrival at Aiglon. I felt like a student deferred from an Early Decision school. I had to remind myself that my transition to a new job was a process. It was not time to quit, nor was it time to wallow. I remained in touch with Aiglon as deferred students should remain in touch with their ED school. And just as deferred students apply to more schools, I looked at other college counsellor vacancies at international schools.
I trusted the process, that I would find the opportunity I was seeking. I was lucky enough to eventually earn a spot at my Early Decision choice of Aiglon, but not all will receive that top offer they desire, and that is OK. Trusting the process does not mean you will hear good news from every school to which you apply. It means you trust that you will have an exciting, fitting university to attend.
Remember the goldfish? Remember the average teenager? You cannot be easily distracted like them in your college search process. Roll up your sleeves for a process of self-discovery, university exploration, and presenting yourself authentically in your applications.
I look forward to being your partner in this process.
About Elizabeth Downing
Beth is an Assistant Director in Aiglon’s College and Career Counselling Department. She joined Aiglon in January 2021 after sixteen years within the University of Pennsylvania’s Office of Admissions. Beth has evaluated over 20,000 university applications, recruited students globally and spoken at international forums on higher education and admissions. She looks forward to working with Aiglon students and exploring Villars with her spirited pup, Jack.