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IvyWise Inspiration: Strive to Be Both Open-Minded and Patient When Applying to College

By McGreggor, IvyWise Premier College Admissions Counselor

Like many of the students I work with, I have no idea what I want to do when I grow up. Every time I think I know, something very different and very interesting pops up, and my trajectory changes considerably. Once, while I was in my first year of medical school, I binge-watched David Attenborough’s The Life of Birds, then promptly went to the Dean of Students and asked if there was a specialty that would allow me to combine medicine with a newly found fascination with ornithology. Her bewildered look answered my question immediately.

My mother instilled in me the dual need to be both open-minded and patient, and I am exceptionally fortunate for her guidance. Otherwise, she counseled, I risked being too set in my ways, and not open to the fascinating, oftentimes formative, pathways that seem to reveal themselves at just the right time.

My mother never attended college, and I know it was important to her that her son had opportunities she could never have. When the pathway to MIT opened up my senior year of high school, she gently pushed me to consider college, even if it was 3,000 miles away. When I was accepted to Harvard for medical school, she was even happier than I was. And, in my last year of medical school, when I said to her that I didn’t think that medicine was right for me, and that I wanted to take this crazy job with MIT Admissions, she told me to do what felt right, and that whatever pathway I took in life, she would be proud.

Many years later, after a wonderful experience working at MIT, I am back in medicine as a pediatric gastroenterology fellow. My mother’s lessons are even more salient now, and on a daily basis, I see just how right she was. I have such an amazing job as a doctor-in-training, working on hospital safety initiatives, and helping my favorite babies to grow and thrive despite their complex medical conditions. I couldn’t be happier.

When I work with my students in IvyWise, I try my hardest to channel that guidance from my mother.

Should I start a math club? Sure, but only if that’s what you want to do, and only if your heart is fully in it.

What if I want to go to a tiny liberal arts school and not to Stanford, like my parents want me to? Well, you’ll be the one going to college, not your parents, but make sure they know how you feel, and you should definitely have a list of good reasons to support your decision.

I’m having a tough time with my English teacher, and I don’t think she likes me very much. Well, I think it’s time you met with her and talked about how the year is going for you. Perhaps you and she can have lunch together this week and hash it out?

After several years of working at IvyWise, helping students from all around the world to make some of the most important decisions of their lives, and answering innumerable questions like the ones above, I have learned many lessons that my mother has likely known for her entire life.

As we head into the thick of application season, and as the decision deadlines loom on the horizon for many families, the stress that students and their families face will undoubtedly increase, and that guidance comes back into the fore.

  • Students, get your essays done, and don’t leave everything to the last minute! Get good sleep, and definitely ask for help, because you will need it.
  • Parents, don’t micromanage the editing process; let your child’s voice be what is heard, not yours. And make sure that your kids know that you’re there to support them. It’s okay to ask if they need your help, and keep asking (gently, though!)
  • For families, make sure to talk to one another, and make sure to have dinner together, without any cellphones. If there are any disagreements, they need to be brought up, not allowed to simmer below the surface.

Take a deep breath, because in a few short months, everyone will know where they are headed, the rest of senior year will go by in a blur, and new pathways, both expected and unexpected, will appear.

Want to learn more about McGreggor? Read his biography here!