What was so hard to figure out about college when you were in high school?
In high school I struggled with understanding the differences between schools. I borrowed a neighbor’s Princeton Review college book, a doorstop offering with a single page on almost every college in the country. I read it for weeks, bookmarking schools that sounded interesting, becoming overwhelmed with the similarities between the schools. I wish I had had someone to talk me through what I wanted out of college in the larger scope of my life rather than viewing college as the endpoint. Had I had access to a mentor, I could have made a much more informed choice and seen college as a means to larger goals. That said, finances were the biggest "black box" to me. I can’t imagine not having parents willing to puzzle through the forms with me. This type of logistical help, both with finances as well as college choice, is a big reason why mentoring is crucial to providing a fair playing field for college admissions.
What in high school did you wish you had more of as a high school student?
I wish I had access to more interview preparation in high school. Some of my college interviews were just plain awful, as I had no idea how to prepare. I interview students now for MIT and so many of them come with a mental checklist. Often they end up overdoing this rather than having a natural conversation, but even that’s better than showing up with nothing but what’s in your pockets. Like I said, this sort of thing is part of a larger practice of goal-setting and meditation on your personal values, interests, and biases. These things are incredibly hard to sort out on your own, and a simple conversation allows you to reflect and hear your own feedback to shape your decision making. With interviews in particular, answering a simple question like “What do you want your interviewer to know about you?” can help immensely. Having another person, a mentor, there to ask you these questions and follow up on your answers helps shape your understanding of yourself such that you can discover your goals and make steps to work towards them.
A national mentor network sounds pretty ambitious! Why do you want to take this on?
I think it’s pretty clear from what I’ve said so far that I’m very passionate about mentoring. I owe so much to the mentors I have in my life now, most of whom I met after going to university. I think if we can inspire a generation to start giving and receiving mentorship before that time, we can do a lot of good. I tell everybody: mentoring is a huge lever arm— with an hour here or there you can change a person’s entire life. That’s how I feel about my mentors, some of whom I see less than once a month, and even then only over Skype. Our project is one that’s ambitious, but important enough to imagine on a large scale. That said, we’re starting with small steps! “Small steps” is one of the most important lessons my closest mentor has taught me.
What’s one tip you’d like to give to your 16 year-old self?
Read more books! My life has been changed in many ways from the books I’ve read, and I’ve calculated how much time I can feasibly read every week, month, year, and for the rest of my life. It’s less than you think, something like a few thousand books if you’re lucky. I wish I had started earlier. Pick up a book, set a reading goal, read widely, and always read with a pencil— buy your books if you can so you can underline and take notes. Borrow books from the library, and use a notepad or take photos with your phone. But most importantly, just read! And challenge yourself with tough books. I think of reading like sleeping— without sleep your brain can’t function. Without books I’m not getting that quiet, focused, long-term intellectual input that I need to progress. Not blogs, not tweets— BOOKS! Read ‘em.
The college application process can be pretty complicated. What’s one suggestion you have for our readers?
I’ll cheat and give two suggestions. First of all, download a copy of the Fair Opportunity Guide, it’s truly fantastic. Next, think about the people in your life you can go to and ask to be your mentor. Be honest with them about the time commitment you would need from them in a mentoring role for you. They might say “No," and that’s perfectly fine. Mentoring could come in any form: in person, online, over the phone. Some of the best college advice came from peers or people a few years ahead of me in school. You can find mentorship anywhere you look. Good luck, have fun, and don’t forget, no matter what, to listen— not just to others but also to yourself.