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  • Writer's pictureKellie O'Callaghan

Be Who You Are

Updated: Dec 1, 2021

I have spent most of this decade with teenagers. As a tutor, coach, admissions counselor, athletic parent, volunteer, and all my other various roles not a day has gone by without me being with teenagers. I have learned a lot over these years about teenagers. My single best piece of advice for getting into college – Be Who You Are, the rest will figure itself out. I get asked a lot should my child take this AP class, should they volunteer x amount of hours, what does their ACT score need to be, do they need 4 years of a foreign language? The list of questions goes on and on and the weight put on our teenagers gets heavier and heavier each year. My response is nearly always the same. They should do what they love and enjoy and then find a college that appreciates them for that. They should look for a college that will help them grow from the person they are now into the person they want to be. For some that may mean an Ivy League University, for others the local community college, for some the state flagship university.

For a small set of particular careers, college choice may truly matter. If you want to work for a law firm that only hires Harvard graduates, it is true you close that door by not working there, but you may also open other doors attending a different university. I can not tell you what school is best for you or your student – what I can tell you is there is no “perfect school” there is no “one and only school” for any student. There will be schools you like more than others initially, there are schools with better professors, better research facilities, better sports teams, better med school placement rates, better financial fit, and guess what those are all different. It is rare school that will be the best at everything your student needs or wants, so why do we let ourselves believe that? So what is a student to do to better his or her chances of getting into a good college? Take a mix of challenging and enjoyable classes in high school, join activities they love or want to try, pursue leadership on a team or activity that they are passionate about, work part-time to grow as a person, just work at becoming who they are. If it sounds too simple, it is that simple. The reality is the best college applicants did what they loved, not what someone told them to do.

We came up with guidelines that worked for our family, but each family will have different approaches that work best for them, their children, and their values. Personally, we encouraged (and at times required) our kids to be involved with some activity: any organized school, community, or athletic organization. It really did not matter to us what activity, just that they chose something and stuck with it for the entire length of the season/commitment. One of our children has been fully engaged in one activity for 10 years, another child bounced from one activity to another, trying a wide variety of things. Our final child never found anything they really loved so they created an organization, got others involved, and passed it on when they were done leading.

Three very different approaches, all fell within the spirit of the guidelines we set out. All will/have yielded successful college entrances that fit that particular child’s interests, abilities, and passions. When it came time to apply to colleges the older two, both college-aged now, had plenty of success with college admissions and scholarship opportunities at schools that fit their personalities, future goals, and were financial fits for our family. The schools were drastically different from each other, but my children are also drastically different from each other

I have worked with many clients in my years as an ACT Tutor, Study Skills Coach, and College Admissions Consultant and have seen students end up at a diverse list of colleges, each settling into a school that fit them well for the person they are. The only true secret I can share: don’t try to fit yourself into someone’s box, pick the school that celebrates the person you are and the person you hope to one day become, even if no one else has heard of it before you. Go to a school where you belong, not one where you have to work to fit in.

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