An interview with Jennifer Ann Aquino

Jennifer Ann AquinoSome time ago, we ran a series of excerpts (“Understanding How the US Admissions Process Works” and “Formulate a Standardised Testing Plan”) from the book, The International Family Guide to US University Admissions by Jennifer Ann Aquino.

We did this because we think the book is really worth checking out. In fact, it has been chosen as a winner in the International Book Awards 2018 (Education/Academic category)!

So we decided to catch up with the author for a quick e-mail interview. Here are her responses:

Tell us in one sentence what you do for a living.
I work with institutions, schools, families, adults and young adults to help them better understand themselves and guide them to their best-fit educational and/or career goals.

What inspired you to write the book, The International Family Guide to US University Admissions?
Easy! Every family or student or principal would come to me and ask, “What’s the most important part of this process?” and hope for a quick, soundbite answer. To be fair to them and to all of those families who want to truly know and understand, I sat down and wrote this book. (There is no soundbite answer for such a complex, subjective, multi-layered process and we’re doing a disservice to anyone by giving them such.)

What are some misconceptions people have about the college admissions process?
That it’s one dimensional. That it’s a science. That it’s based on statistics and numbers. If we’re talking about the US university admissions process, we’re talking about something very subjective, firmly based on fit (it’s like a relationship and goes both ways), and not dependent on one or two factors. That’s what makes it difficult to grasp. We as humans want quick and very definitive answers. There are few regarding this process. But, once you understand how it works–and you will if you take the time and make the commitment to do so–you have the potential to become a very strong candidate.

It makes no sense for a student to be thinking of what she is going to write for her college essay when she has three years to go until she writes an application.

The book places a lot of emphasis on milestones. Why is this so important?
Critical. If you’re not following the university admissions timeline (something set for us, not something we control), you’re really wasting your time, energy, probably money and also not understanding how the process works. (And, you have to understand how it works to be successful with it.) It makes no sense for a student to be thinking of what she is going to write for her college essay when she has three years to go until she writes an application. There’s a time and a place for this, and every major step in the process, to be worked on and to come out strong. Same goes for standardised testing, for seeking recommendations, even for determining and confirming which universities you’ll apply to. One of the worst things a student can do is “lock in”– as I call it– too early–I’m going to apply to X university or I’m going to write my essay on Y. The student will stunt her own growth when she does this, not be open to new experiences and possibilities. Milestones prevent this from happening and also make sure that things are completed when they should be to allow for maximum creativity, thought, and awareness (of the process and self) and that the process is well-paced, spread out. When my students, schools and institutions do this, it’s a sure “win” for the students and families.

In your book, you wrote about the importance of parental involvement in the college admissions process. Given the proclivity of parents to overparent, how do you think this will backfire?
Backfire in terms of on my own book? I have no worry about it. There is some level of overparenting to every parent I have worked with. It’s the reality of our times. I don’t judge it. But, I have yet to have a parent who, once understanding how the process works, how their child will (or will not) be selected for university, and how over-involvement of the parents in this process can actually hurt their child disagrees or doesn’t take a step back. It happens at different stages and in different ways for all of the parents with whom I have worked. They’re smart. They know what is happening and why it is happening. And, they want the best for their child–and for their child to flourish and thrive in an independent life.

And, for the parents who find a challenge to their overparenting offensive or crossing the line, this is not the book for them.

I have a lot of students returning for break with whom I speak and I always ask them about [the Trump administration]. They are learning to become more vocal, active, and developing their own arguments and critical thinking. It’s encouraging and powerful to see.

What is the greatest challenge for students in this part of the world (i.e. Asia) who wish to study in the US under the Trump administration?
No doubt he and his administration have [temporarily?] stained so many of the foundations of what the US stands for. I am convinced this will pass–but don’t get me started on US politics! Surprisingly, however, I have not had any families or students change their mind or not consider the US because of him. Again, these parents and families are smart. Once you start discussing higher education, their child’s needs, and how higher ed works in different countries, what student services are available, how majors and specialisations are both taught and selected, academic advising, extracurricular options, professor involvement in an undergraduate’s career and more, parents and students look beyond a [transitioning] administration and make selections and decisions based on quality of education, full stop. I have a lot of students returning for break with whom I speak and I always ask them about this. They are learning to become more vocal, active, and developing their own arguments and critical thinking. It’s encouraging and powerful to see.

If there is one thing that an applicant must get it right for college admissions, what is it?
There’s that “one thing” question! To be frank, it’s to be true to who they are. Don’t try to be someone else. Don’t try to tell or show the admissions officer someone or something you’re not. Be genuine. Be authentic. It’s so easy to spot when you’re not. We know this as adults. This is a great time to be teaching this to our young adults so that they carry this through them throughout life.

What other plans do you have in the near future?
Immediate? Holiday! I’d like to write another book–perhaps on careers/jobs and how to pursue what is truly a fit for you and also work further with institutions on the connection of the true self/being genuine and success/fulfillment. It’s a proven connection but we as humans can struggle with it.

Here's my two cents...

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