Keeping an Open Mind When Applying to College
As college-bound high school seniors head into their last year of school, there’s a lot to think about. The college application process is in full swing, and in addition to applying to a balanced list of best fit schools, students need to maintain good grades, improve test scores if they’re retaking the SAT or ACT this fall, and keep up with their extracurricular activities. It can be hard to keep an open mind during this process, especially when students have such definite goals, but it’s important to explore all options when applying to college this fall.
At IvyWise we aim to make this process as clear and stress-free as possible. Often that includes working with students to expand their horizons and approach their academic and personal goals in ways they might not have considered before. In the case of Jennifer, one of IvyWise’s Pro Bono students, this meant keeping an open mind about majors she could pursue in her undergraduate studies while still preparing for medical school in the future.
It’s also important for students to keep an open mind about the schools on their balanced college list. Consider schools that you may not have heard about but that your counselor thinks might be a good fit for you. Don’t just apply to the same handful of schools all your friends are applying to. Instead, do extensive research and build a list of schools – any of which where you can be successful and happy.
We asked Jennifer to share a little bit about her college admissions experience as she heads into her senior year this fall, including her decision to work with IvyWise and what it means to keep an open mind when applying to college!
Tell us a little about your background and interests.
I currently live in Louisville, KY. My dad is from Korea and my mom is from China, and we immigrated to the US when I was in 2nd grade. Ever since I was young, I have always felt a divide between different cultures. Growing up as a Chinese-Korean in Beijing made my Chinese side overpower my Korean side, although my family did periodically visit my relatives in Korea. After coming to the US, the divide became even more prominent, as western and eastern cultures have a tendency to clash. At first, I rejected my Asian side and tried to become as American as possible to fit in with everyone else, but I had a period of rediscovery in middle school and now embrace all the cultures. I spend a significant amount of time in school and outside of school doing homework, but other than that, I enjoy playing violin (as well as other instruments), listening to music, and looking up random nutrition and health facts online. For academics, my favorite subject is probably science, but I’m pretty much interested in everything and I just like learning new things in general.
What are your college/career goals?
I remember that my first dream occupation was to become a doctor. Interestingly enough, it is still my dream. Although this makes me sound like all the other Asian high school students out there, my parents did not push me to become a doctor. My parents were missionaries and still have that kind of spirit, so I have been immersed by community service and social justice all my life. Although there are many things one can do in the mission field to contribute, I felt like medicine would be the most useful tool. Honestly, I did not have a dream school when I started my college search and I still don’t really have a dream school. I feel like there are multiple schools where I would be a “fit” and going to any one of them would be fine. However, I do have some factors that I hope will be fulfilled by the school I end up at. In particular, I would like for the school to be in a suburban/urban environment, be on the small side, have a good number of Asians and diversity, have plenty of research and internship opportunities, be far away from home, and most importantly, have good financial aid.
What have you found most challenging about applying to college?
I feel like researching colleges is like trying to find a good computer. There are some computers that almost completely meet my criteria, but then there will be one crucial factor that they don’t have, which ruins the whole thing. It’s the same way with colleges. Sometimes, I just want to stop looking into colleges and apply to the same colleges that the rest of my classmates will apply to. In addition, there are so many factors that colleges take into consideration to create a “holistic” admissions process, so it is nearly impossible to predict whether someone will get in or not. I’m just so afraid that I’ll make a bad decision and end up at a college where I feel miserable for 4 years. But other than that, I suppose the factor that scares me the most is my family’s permanent residence application. We started applying for permanent residence around a year ago, but we are not sure if it will come in on time. As someone from a low-income background, financial aid is absolutely crucial for me.
What have you enjoyed the most about applying to college?
I guess just looking at colleges is pretty fun. The prospect of becoming independent and maturing without the constant presence of my parents is definitely something to look forward to. In addition, college is a place where I can learn more deeply about my academic interests and perhaps even develop more interests. I will hopefully be surrounded by individuals who share my passions and who can drive me on.
What made you want to work with IvyWise?
One of my senior friends recommended IvyWise to me because he also applied to the pro bono program and found the guidance to be quite helpful. Since he had helped me on many academic matters before, I trusted his advice and applied for this service.
How has your IvyWise counselor help you navigate the process so far?
I have only met with my counselor once so far, but she had already learned a lot about me through the questionnaire and we were able to discuss a variety of topics in a relatively short amount of time. One of the factors that has been on my mind throughout my college search process is whether I would like to go to a research university or a small liberal arts college, and my counselor’s background, which included experience in both types of schools, allowed for her to compare the two for me in great detail. In addition, she also gave me a list of the things that I should accomplish during the summer, so it was nice to have a laid-out plan.
What advice has been most valuable so far?
I think that my counselor’s experience at a small liberal arts school was the most valuable. I think she also helped me to realize the fluidity of majors and to not have too strict of a mindset. I used to be so sure that I would pursue biology or some other typical pre-med major, but her open-mindedness has helped me to open up to options that I would not have considered before.
How have you grown/changed since you started planning for college?
I guess I’ve started to think beyond college, ironically. Ever since I entered high school, all I could think about was getting good grades and test scores and then going to a top-tier college that would make my family proud. But through the college search process, I have realized that honestly, you could go anywhere and still accomplish your goals. After all, college really is what you put into it. Because I personally want to go to medical school, I have also realized that the name of the school that will appear on my undergraduate certificate is not the most important factor; it’s what I do during my undergraduate years that will determine my chances of getting into medical school and eventually becoming a doctor.
What advice would you give to students preparing for college?
I would tell them to find schools that fit them and not just apply to the same schools that everyone else at their school applies to. I would also tell them to…focus on getting good grades and committing to extracurricular activities that they actually want to do. As for extracurricular activities, being involved very deeply in a few extracurriculars is way better than having shallow involvement in a ton of extracurriculars. This is actually one of my biggest regrets in high school. Lastly, I would tell them to not get too attached to any particular college because there are multiple colleges that they would feel happy at.
Not sure if you’re on track with your college prep? Download our free College Planning Checklist to catch up before school starts back this fall.