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Get ready for college with the advice of Aviva Legat, college admissions expert and author Get real and enter.
By Kim Douglas
Long before becoming a university admissions counselor, Aviva Legat walked a challenging and stressful path to access higher education. Although her efforts earned her a place at the college of her choice, her solo “obsession” with “jumping through hoops to get in” also led to a case of pneumonia. I graduated with a degree in the music industry four years later. But the internship experience prompted the switch to higher education. She became a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania and eventually joined the Wharton School of Admissions Board, where she continues to teach.
Eight years ago, Legat founded Ivy Insight Consulting to help parents and students negotiate and maximize the application process. I wrote a book on this topic: Be Realistic and Get In: How to Get into the College of Your Dreams by Being Your Authentic Self (Griffin, 288 pages).
What do you think of the college application process?
My goal is to help young people know who they are and what they want on their journey to college – not just to get into their chosen college, but to get where they want to go in life. Intuition is the basis of that process. The process you developed is about gaining experience and expertise in a subject prior to applying to college. These experiences help students discover what they like. Diving more deeply into gaining experience becomes experience. Ideally, this experience becomes a passion that the student uses to serve others. I call these the “X factors”.
College-bound high school students often end up making a lot of additions to their schedules—following arbitrary checklists and doing things to fill out their resumes. It’s a risky way to go to college, and they may lose themselves in the process. There are no guarantees – so you can also do this process in a way that makes sense for you.
What is the best age to start thinking about this process?
It depends on the maturity of the student, but usually sophomore or junior year is a good time to start. Once they are in the midst of applications, it is very difficult to get them to exit.
“High school students going to college often end up making a lot of additions to their schedules—following arbitrary checklists and doing things to fill out their resumes. It’s a risky way to go to college, and they may lose themselves in the process.”
What about students who don’t know what they want to do?
It is better to choose something for now. Applying to college is an opportunity for students to think about what they want – beyond the culture, the media, or even your family that says you want it. I knew what I wanted – and it worked for my college degree.
If you love history or computer science, go for it. It’s also good to be financially motivated. Don’t let people talk about you apart from your experience. Students have to experiment and gain experience in a topic. If they like the topic, [they can] Turn it into experience. This helps them see who they really are and how their values and goals align with the college’s priorities. We guide students in it and help establish connections for them in the experimental process. Part of that involves researching colleges, but it’s not just about ranking or geographic location – although these are important factors. It’s like getting to know someone. You talk to people in the departments that interest you.
This looks like networking.
Networking is a whole part in itself – exploring college, meeting people, getting things to talk about. Get real and enter It has an entire chapter to help students with this – samples of what to say and how to make a small application. In my practice, I help them make connections and coach them. Do conversations come easy? Does what they say resonate with you? It’s an unconventional way to see how someone might fit into college – and how college might fit them. It requires weakness.