Most of my ‘successful’ mentees have worked extremely hard to get into colleges or career paths that they are currently at. While I have constantly talked about the value of persistence and hard work in securing one’s goals, it is also important to understand that most successful students start out early. These people plan well in advance, experiment with numerous possible pathways and formulate a long-term strategy to achieve their goal.
Let us understand the value of ‘long-range’ planning in the context of admission applications. When you start out 2 or 3 year before the ‘D day’, you have time to understand the lay of the land. For instance, potentially you could make dummy log-in and check-out the various application systems that you are going to use. As you tinker around, you could find out, for instance, that you have the option of editing your Common App essays even after you have submitted them! Things like these come in handy when you are racing against time to submit your Early-Action/ Early-Decision applications; or potentially help you reach extremely high level of customization for those select colleges that you really want to get in. When competition is as tough as it is (the acceptance rate for undergrad international students from competitive geographies like India for top colleges like MIT, Stanford, etc. can be in early single digits or even lower), this becomes a formidable competitive advantage.
Planning help you figure out what you truly want. These days, students are driven by over-anxious parents or peer pressure and end up articulating extremely nuanced choices at a very early age. I recently had a student who wanted to become a bio-medical scientist focused on building alternative drug-delivery mechanisms. This person was in grade VII – I doubt whether he understood what bio-medicine or drug-delivery was, leave alone building novel procedures in that space. I am not saying that kids should not be ambitious or shouldn’t work hard. They should. However, we as parents and coaches need to be very careful that we are giving them the right guidance. Venturing forth in nuanced disciplines without building knowledge in fundamental subjects is a sure shot recipe for disaster. Log-term planning helps you lay the ground for what you truly want. Helped by psychographic assessments, subject matter inputs and inclinations, and job-shadowing (if not possible, then job assessments), kids can really understand what they want. Some of my clients have spent 2-3 years exploring nuances of different career/ education pathways while continuing to build their foundation in basic subjects. They were much clearer in terms of the path that they wanted to follow than others who started out later. While you always have an option of going to a mentor or an advisor to help you out, even his ability to support you is greatly enhanced should you start out earlier.
A client of mine had interests in Science and Mathematics. She wanted to be an engineer. Her dad was a successful engineer (from Stanford) and wanted her daughter to go down the same path. As a progressive parent, he never forced his choice. However, that was what the girl had seen in her house right from a very early age, and hence her interests and capability developed along those lines. Nothing wrong with that. However, in my conversations with her, I figured out that she was a great figure-artist as well. She had an amazing sense of proportion and perspective and could capture the tiniest details of an object in the figures that she would draw. I further got to know that she wanted to be an entrepreneur. Over the course of time that she spent with us, we built out the following pathways for her to experiment –
- Design Thinking - can she solve real problems using her thinking horsepower
- Art – does she have it in her to be a great artist? (After all, we can be reasonably sure that jobs in ‘art’ would be the last ones to go to machines...)
- Business and entrepreneurship – can she try out and really build a business. We gave her a seed capital of Rs. 10,000 to start with
- Engineering mindset – got her to play, ‘Kerbal Space Program’ and a bunch of other engineering simulation games.
She did very well in each of these pathways. It was very clear to her that she had to explore each of these fields and commit to a career later on. She also chose a very unique and ultra-competitive program to pursue her studies. She applied and got accepted into the IYA program at USC. The program is super-competitive with just 25 students getting accepted into it out of the many hundred that apply. Right now, she is studying design, computer-science, venture management, entrepreneurship and engineering! She now wants to be a change-maker – whatever that means J
Give time for your dreams to blossom. Sometimes, as in matters of education and personal growth, there is no substitute for actual experience and it is well advised to walk the path before committing to it. Long-range planning allows you the flexibility to explore your strengths and interests and help you build a pathway to achieve these goals.
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