I started teaching SAT prep when I was 19 years old, back in 1999. I am currently a manager with a graduate level private tutoring company. The people it has been my privilege to mentor have all come to me at very transitional periods in their lives. My 15 year experience of their successes and failures is the inspirational basis of this article.
1) Whatever you do, commit to it
I am one of the few who earned a degree in English and managed to both use it and not go broke. I did this by cultivating two gifts throughout my youth: teaching and writing. I began as a tutor for Kaplan but somewhere along the way I also began writing–at first nothing more than test questions for my employer. After earning a TESOL certificate, I taught abroad and became a travel writer. Travel writing gave way to technical writing and journalism. I am now a manager at an up and coming graduate level test prep company. Throughout my career I’ve always taught and I’ve always written and I’ve become consistently better at both. The main lesson I’ve taken away is that it’s better to be really good at one or two things than it is to be a novice at many.
2) Choose your own career path
Our parents want what’s best for us but they don’t have to live out the rest of our lives. If you are thinking about pursuing law or medicine or some other highly competitive and technical field merely because that’s what your parents want you to do, think again. There are so many highly gifted and dedicated would-be doctors and lawyers out there and if you aren’t particularly adept at the skills of your chosen field or you don’t have that gleam in your eye, you probably won’t succeed. 10% of the people who take the GRE get a perfect score in the math section. The average GMAT score at Stanford Business School is somewhere around 720. Every year there are a few people with perfect 800’s who apply and still don’t get in. I’m not trying to discourage those with dreams but rather to dissuade those without them who are just going through the motions.
3) It’s what makes you different that gets you hired
There are so many college graduates these days who are extremely impressive based on grades and standardized test scores that employers and graduate-level schools can be quite picky. Secondary skills and attributes like knowledge of a foreign language, dual citizenship, writing ability or a past of athletic achievement can often be the difference makers when applying for a job or to graduate school. So try to do more with your youth than just study. Don’t give up your hobbies or passions. Try studying abroad or perfecting your Spanish. Hike the Appalachian Trail. Put both a face and a story to every application you ever submit.