Twelve WAB students from Grades 11 and 12 entered with their lunch trays in hand and sat down quietly at the front tables. Four chairs positioned at the front of the room under the white board were already occupied by three girls and one boy talking quietly amongst themselves. During this regular Tuesday lunch period in September, in this very unassuming classroom in the WAB High School, a very important conversation was about to begin.
The demure guest speakers for this optional lunchtime talk were four WAB graduates, each early into their post-high school experiences, available to these fortunate current WAB students for fifty minutes to answer any questions posed about the transition from WAB to university. The small number of current WAB of students present for the talk, while unfortunate for those who opted not to join, made for intimate and informative conversation for the twelve eager to hear the 'before and after' tales of university admissions.
The session began with HS Counselor, Aleka Bilan, posing a question to all of the alumni. "If you could introduce yourselves and tell us what you are doing now, and also talk about what were your thinking patterns about university while you were at WAB and what is different now?" The responses from our four WAB Alumni guests, in summary:
- Tiffany Tan, WAB Class of 2010, is studying Economics and Philosophy at the University of Chicago in the US. She applied to university in both the US and the UK.
- Christine Liang, WAB Class of 2010, is just completing a post-WAB gap year and will soon be starting university at the London School of Economics (LSE). As a trained musician, Christine considered attending conservatory, and then she contemplated law, both in either Australia or the UK, before ultimately deciding on studying economics in England.
- Cathy Zhu, the "oldest" alumni on the panel as WAB Class of 2009, is about to begin her junior year at Stanford University in the US following a mid-college gap year. Cathy initially applied to many schools in many countries, but admitted that Stanford had always been her "dream school." Currently a public policy major, Cathy has already changed her major several times, so is not making any long-term guarantees on this one either.
- Ivan Chik, WAB Class of 2010, is getting his law degree at the University of Warwick in the UK. He always knew he wanted to study law, but struggled between attending school in the UK or in Hong Kong, between which there is a "major cultural difference." He feels he made the right decision for himself in selecting Warwick.
With the impressively diverse and articulate graduates introduced, the lunch session was opened up for conversation. The first several hands that went up all had questions about the application process; it was obvious just what is weighing heavily on the minds of these high school students. "What did you write your essay about?" "Which SAT subject tests did you take?" "How did you organize your time?" "What applications tips do you have for us?"
Tiffany's advice on the application process: "Do your research." She recommended going to school websites and reading up on everything you can about the schools in order to pick up on the qualities of each school that are most important. Not, however, to try to make yourself seem a good match for that school in your application, but to see if that school is the right match for you. "It has to be a mutual matching," she emphasized.
Cathy adamantly concurred, "It is not about getting in. It is about 'what do you want to do with your life, and for the next four years? Is this college a good college for you?'" Proud of the thoughtful and confirming answers of former advisees, Ms. Bilan added a clearly oft-said and very WAB mantra: "You just need to find what is best for you."
"So why is Stanford a good college for you?" came the obvious question from a WAB student, one of the six out of twelve WAB students present applying to the prestigious California school. "Stanford is a place of innovation," Cathy replied confidently, "a place to break the dogma." She recounted how inspired she had been my Steve Job's Stanford commencement address and his adage, "Stay hungry. Stay foolish."
A few more questions were raised about the value of gap years taken by both Christine and Cathy. Christine's gap year immediately followed WAB and Cathy's between her sophomore and junior years at University. However, both used the time, as Aleka put it, "refocusing" their goals and trying out internships; both now express increased clarity of purpose and an appreciation for what the gap year afforded them. Even if what you learn is what you "do not want to do," as Christine learned through one rather difficult internship experience.
It was interesting to hear how few specific application tips were offered as all of the grads chose to impart more philosophical and personal words of wisdom to those following quickly in their footsteps. As Cathy summarized, "Apply to your schools with blinding confidence." After all, if you have indeed, following Tiffany's advice, done your research and found a mutual match, you will only be applying to schools where you already know you belong.
For those still worried about the application process details, Ivan, as the only one of the four who did not apply to any US colleges, did cheerfully add that, because they employ a common application form to apply to multiple universities, "the UK application process is much simpler than the US one!" Sorry, Stanford applicants.