Choosing Your Dream College: “Get Real and Get In” by Dr. Aviva Legatt

Who Am I?

Have you ever asked yourself the question “Who am I?” Unfortunately, you can’t answer this question quickly in a superficial, BuzzFeed-quiz kinda way. It’s not just a list of the top three things you like: “I like Marvel movies, chocolate almonds, and reading.”

Or a laundry list of things that you do: “I’ve danced competitively for 12 years, I have the highest GPA in my class, and I volunteer with the ASPCA on weekends.”

“Who am I ?” is the question teens need to answer as they think about where they want to apply to college. (Twenty20 @ilona.shorokhova)

Those qualities are nice, but all they do is scratch the surface of the iceberg that is YOU. Who you are—your essence—is about so much more than the “you” you’re used to presenting to the world, the you that most of your teachers and friends and classmates (maybe even parents) know.

Dr. Aviva Legatt is author of “Get Real and Get In: How to Get Into the College of Your Dreams by Being Your Authentic Self.” (St. Martin’s Publishing Group Aug, 2021)

And I’ll be the first to admit—getting in touch with your true self and honoring your unique voice above all others is hard. And it isn’t another “resume builder” that I’m adding to your to-do list. (I promise.)

So let’s start answering this question of “Who am I?” Rather than doing more, I want you to think back to a time when you did less. Think back to when you weren’t consumed by the pressures that you’re facing today—when you weren’t worried about your GPA, going on college visits, or cramming for standardized tests.

Find a time in your memory when you were carefree—maybe playing outside with friends at recess in elementary school or hiding under the covers with a flashlight and book long after the time you were supposed to be asleep.

I’m about to ask you to do something that might feel a little silly or immature. But it’s actually really important. Just trust me on this and take it seriously. Think back to that little kid—the one who was so excited to be playing, who didn’t know the meaning of the word stress. What did that little kid get excited about? What was her biggest dream? What put a smile on his face? When she played pretend, what did she play? When they were having the most fun, what were they doing?

To get in touch with who we really are, we have to re-connect with that part of ourselves that didn’t take on the weight of others’ expectations. Remember when life was just about having fun—not filling out financial aid forms or stressing about your future college major? I know—it seems like it was forever ago! But that little kid is still inside you. Here are a few questions to help jump-start your brain so you can re-connect with that person:

Exercise: When I Was Little

1. When I was little, I wanted to grow up to be ________

____________________________________________.

2. That seemed like such a cool thing to be, because __

____________________________________________.

3. My favorite game to play was ___________________

____________________________________________.

4. As a kid, I was always _________________________

____________________________________________.

5. What got me more excited than anything was when

____________________________________________.

6. What I wanted most of all was ___________________

____________________________________________.

7. I wanted to learn more about ____________________

____________________________________________.

Maybe you’re thinking: “What’s the point of this? When I was little I was obsessed with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and I wanted to grow up and be a roller coaster test-rider. How will this information help me get into college?”

I’m going to hit you with two truths. One: life is about a lot more than getting into your dream college, even though this book is designed to help you do just that. College is important—but it is far from everything.

Think about it: college represents such a tiny fraction of your life. Four years, a few more if you go on to graduate or professional school . . . that’s not a lot of time! Who you were as a little kid matters; who you are today matters; who you’ll be when you get out of college (sooner than you can imagine) matters, too.

Which brings me to the second truth: knowing yourself well will set you up for success today, in college, and beyond. So back to the example at hand: let’s say you were a Ninja Turtle–loving, roller coaster–riding seven-year-old whose highest ambition was to ride every coaster at Six Flags. What can that tell you about yourself? How can the information you learn get you closer to your dream college and a life that makes you feel proud?

Let’s follow the breadcrumbs. Did that love of roller coasters morph into a love of the outdoors as you got older? Do you like thrills—whitewater rafting, rock climbing, zip-lining? If so—did you know that plenty of colleges provide abundant opportunities for just this type of activity? As you explore colleges with your future major in mind and look for the program that will set you up well for a career, are you taking into account the social life of the college, what opportunities it provides for fun?

Take a deep breath and repeat after me: college is supposed to be fun! The college application process may have you guzzling Starbucks and pulling your hair out, but the goal is to find a college where you’ll thrive and set yourself up beautifully for what comes next. What’s the point of agonizing over where you’ll spend the next four years if you don’t enjoy those four years? This is higher education, not a prison sentence!

I’ve got good news: when you commit to learning more about yourself, there’s no bad news to be found. You’re not meant to be like anyone else. Maybe you’ve got certain tapes on repeat in your head: “I’m not athletic enough,” or “It’s too hard for me to focus, there must be something wrong with me,” or “I wish I was more outgoing, like __________” (your sister, best friend, dad).

It’s all too easy to get caught up comparing yourself to others, or to think you need to be someone else’s version of “perfect.” Maybe you’re thinking: I don’t want to learn more about myself; I’m afraid I’ll find out that I’m not enough.

Know this: you don’t have to be like anyone else to be worthy. All those “less-than” thoughts are things that you’ve absorbed from your culture, your family, your religious community, TV—everywhere—but where they came from and how those thoughts got stuck in your head doesn’t really matter. What matters is this: those thoughts aren’t the truth.

Getting in to your dream college is just the beginning—what happens when you’re actually there? You’re still going to be you, with all of your likes and dislikes and pet peeves and oddball interests. The better you know these things, the more you’ll be able to find a college that helps you to live up to your full potential.

The purpose of this book is to help you discover more about yourself, determine which college would be the best fit for your unique personality and talents, and help you set a course to discover what type of work will be exciting for you to do in the world. But in order to figure out what you want out of college and out of life, first you have to know who you are.

From Get Real and Get In by Dr. Aviva Legatt. Copyright © 2021 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.

About Aviva Legatt

Dr. Aviva Legatt is an admissions expert and founder of Ivy Insight, offering college admissions consulting for undergraduate applications. An in-demand leadership and college admissions speaker, Dr. Legatt has been hailed by the New York Times as a trustworthy expert on college admissions, and recognized as an expert in corporate culture and diversity as a faculty member for Coursera and the University of Pennsylvania.

Read more posts by Aviva

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