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Alumni Spotlight: Ben Wong (’15)

August 15, 2017 / Catherine Nicholas / Blog

How do MLWGS students choose where to apply to college and ultimately where to attend? How do they handle the transition from high school to college? Our youngest alumni have the freshest perspectives on college applications, admissions, and selection. Ben Wong (’15) is one example. He is getting ready to start his junior year at Yale University. Ben shared some of his insights and advice below:

What advice would you give to current Maggie Walker students about college admissions and picking a college?

Write authentic essays. If you try to inflate yourself to meet the perceived expectations of admissions officers, your essay runs the risk of sounding contrived and overwrought. So what should you write about? Anything that sincerely matters to you. Do not fret if you haven’t accomplished anything “exceptional” in the conventional sense. Admissions committees don’t expect prospective students to have saved the world by the age of 18. Rather, they seek individuals with the maturity and capacity to draw and reflect upon their life experiences; to ask incisive questions about themselves and the world; to extract meaning and insight from the seemingly mundane; to identify problems in their community and effect positive change of their own volition. Self-awareness, candor, and genuine reflection will make your essays truly remarkable.

Come decision time, try to keep in mind that where you go to college largely does not matter. Regardless of where you end up, if you enter college with an open and inquisitive mind and an eagerness to gain new experiences, then you will be poised for success and personal fulfillment. It can be easy to fall into the trap of overthinking how others will perceive your college decision and the impact it will have on your future. Do your best to ignore those external pressures and remember that your pedigree matters far less than your attitude and work ethic in the long run.

What has been easiest about college? What has been the most difficult?

Thanks to Maggie Walker, acclimating to heavy course loads has been the easiest part about college. The study habits I developed in high school have proven invaluable.

One of the most challenging aspects of college has been learning to manage uncertainty. The freedom of college life is both liberating and terrifying. With so many options of how to spend my time, I often find it paralyzing to choose even one because the opportunity cost of every decision seems huge. It has taken me a while to realize that there is no “right” decision in many situations and that I simply need to take a step forward in any direction to make progress.

What’s the best class you’ve taken so far?

Asian American History was the first class that opened my eyes to the deeply personal and emotional dimensions of the study of people and politics. Feeling represented in the historical record served as an entry point for me into a deeper exploration of my own racial and ethnic identity and what it means to belong (or not) to certain communities. Asian American History profoundly shaped both my academic pursuits and personal development.

Who’s a particularly interesting professor you’ve had?

George Chauncey teaches one of the most quintessential Yale courses that hundreds of students take every year: U.S. Lesbian and Gay History. His lectures are so engaging and his disposition so endearing that class invariably ends with a standing ovation from students. Chauncey has made major contributions not only to student life and learning, but also to the advancement of LGBTQ civil rights in America. Most notably he testified as an expert witness in Lawrence v. Texas and Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the CA Prop 8 case concerning the legalization of same-sex marriage. Plaintiffs in both cases eventually won in the Supreme Court, representing tremendous victories for the LGBTQ community and allies.

What advice would you give to someone about to start their first year of college?

You can’t have everything you want at the same time. And if you try to, your efforts will come at the expense of something, such as your health, your relationships, or your grades. By trying to take advantage of everything at once you may paradoxically waste your time. Do not expect to juggle as many classes, activities, leadership positions, and social events as you have been able to up to this point; college will force you to reckon with your mental and physical limits. Learn to say ‘no!’ I promise you that your time in college will be much more fulfilling if you are selective about how you spend your time and where you devote your energy. When in doubt, think Charmin: less is more. Opportunities are boundless in college, but that does not mean you have to seize every single one in order to make the most of your undergraduate years.

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