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Look Inward Before Letting Others Pick Your Path


FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2015, file photo, UCLA campus tour guide Samantha St. Germain, center, a bioengineering student, leads prospective college-bound high school seniors on a campus tour in Los Angeles.

Before future college students embark on the road to a degree and successful career, they should look inward, says one admissions officer.

“If you understand who you are,” Jennifer Simons told VOA, “you are less likely to fall prey to somebody else's vision for what you should be or where you should go.”

Like well-meaning parents or guidance counselors.

Simons is the director of undergraduate admissions and recruitment at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. She suggests that young people try to better understand themselves before making any decisions about their life path once they leave home.

In the United States, the process starts in the final two years of high school, when students are about 16 or 17 years old. They decide where to go to college and what subjects they will study.

Jennifer Simons
Jennifer Simons

With so many choices, however, these questions can seem very difficult to answer, Simons says.

Young people should start keeping a journal long before the application process. She says they should ask themselves, “Who am I?” and “What do I want out of life?” as well as, “What are my strengths and weaknesses?”

Write daily or weekly, she advises, commenting on events can help them understand the world and themselves.

The answers help students figure out subsequent and more specific questions, she says, about where to study. It can help them prepare for the essays most college applications require.

In addition, she says, students who know their strengths will better understand how to ask people how to write letters of recommendation for them.

Simons says the more young people know themselves, they more likely they will be to make decisions that bring them happiness. This includes more than just decisions about college.

The application process helps students learn to organize, too, among their studies, relationships and jobs. Applying requires them to identify schools that interest them, make information requests and prepare application materials.

Northeastern University in Boston.
Northeastern University in Boston.

Simons says balancing responsibilities is one of the most important skills anyone can learn.

“I think that you really are laying the groundwork for becoming an adult by learning how to prioritize your time,” she says.

Learning to ask for help is an equally important lesson. School counselors, older students, friends and family members who have attended college can be important resources.

And thanking people for that help is important, Simons says. A simple practice young people can learn is sending a letter or email of thanks to those who helped.

Networking and building relationships are important outside the college application process. Simons suggests students connect with teachers, classmates and acquaintances. This can help in the future as they seek jobs or additional education.

One final lesson students can take from the application process is accepting that their control of the situation is limited, Simons says. She points out that every college and university in the United States receives hundreds, if not thousands, of applications every year. Competition is fierce, so not everyone is going to get into his or her first or even second choice of school.

“There are many places where you could be happy,” she said. “I think that is human to … feel like, ‘Oh, this is the perfect fit.' And that happens in relationships, too. But, there's more than one place where you could be satisfied.”

Simons says that accepting rejection and learning how to move past it is probably the most important lesson of all.

Who chose your path: You or your parents? Please leave a comment here and visit us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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