Becoming your best self

Posted on 20th May 2021 in School News, Which London School?, Wellbeing

Victoria Mast, Director of College Counselling, describes Marymount London’s bespoke approach.

The Greek aphorism ‘Know Thyself’, inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, is a key tenet that underpins the bespoke approach to College Counselling at Marymount. In Grade 11 PSHEE classes, or Peeshee as the students have dubbed it, we start the year by reflecting deeply on a big question: Who am I? The students are given the time and space to think about a number of important questions: What strengths do you have? What are your areas for improvement? Where do you get your energy from? What values do you hold dear? What do you enjoy doing and, equally important, what don’t you enjoy doing? All of these questions need to be considered when applying to university. I don’t expect the students to be able to answer the question ‘Who am I?’ (who can?), but answering the smaller questions helps them to hone in on a course that is right for them. Of course, as individuals we are constantly evolving, so time for reflection on goals and development is factored in throughout the college counselling programme. The very wise man Leonardo da Vinci once said: “Study without the desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in”. Reading widely around areas of interest is imperative. After all, course is key.

In the words of Frank Sachs, former NACAC President, ‘College Admissions is a match to be made, not a prize to be won’. Helping each student to find the ‘best fit’ for them is at the heart of Marymount’s College Counselling programme. When the girls pack their bags for university, open their book in their first lecture, and smile, then we can be happy at a job well done. And speaking of jobs, students at Marymount learn to distinguish between a course and a career through research, fun quizzes, career fairs, and alumnae speakers. As well as lessons with me and individual meetings, we run and facilitate workshops for students and their families, which are designed to highlight myriad options available to Marymount students, and demystify the application process. Visits from university admissions tutors from colleges all over the world help the students to make informed choices. It is a delight to see our girls blossoming in confidence while speaking to Admissions Tutors. Indeed, universities often comment to me that our students have ‘great questions’, something I attribute strongly to the inquiry-based learning embedded within the IB Diploma Programme, as well as to the ample opportunities our students have for public speaking. Given our diverse, international community, it is not unusual to support applications for up to (or sometimes more than) ten countries per cohort. Discovering more about the fantastic opportunities available globally is one of the highlights of my job, as is belonging to the warm, friendly, and open, college counselling community.

Another highlight is hearing from our alumnae about their experiences at university or on their gap year. One of our School goals is to instill ‘A Lifelong Love of Learning’, and our alumnae family is a shining example of this mission lived out. It is especially wonderful to hear how well they have been prepared for university life by the IB Diploma. An outstanding and rigorous academic programme, the curriculum offers both breadth and depth. The students’ qualities as IB Learners (open-minded, risk-takers, balanced, reflective, principled) make them excellent candidates for universities in the UK and across the world. The IB Diploma is the gold standard of education and is certainly recognised as such by universities (colleges in the USA offer IB DP students a significant amount of credits, for example). Theory of Knowledge lessons hone the students’ critical thinking skills by challenging them to question how we know, or even how do we know we know (who knows?). The Creativity, Activity, Service programme is a core component of the IB Diploma Programme. Through playing sport, learning a new skill, or service to others, the girls learn more about themselves, the world around them, and their place in it. The students are encouraged to see and to understand education more holistically.

Indeed, a holistic approach is fundamental to a successful college counselling programme. A great deal of reflection, wider reading, research and open communication is necessary if one is to achieve the deceptively simple and straightforward equation: best fit course + best fit institution = a student who is happy and who thrives in Higher Education and beyond.

If I was to condense the various tips and tricks that I offer to students throughout the application process, I would be left with these words:

‘Do what you love and play to your strengths.’ You can’t go too far wrong with that.

This article first appeared in the 2021/2 edition of Which London School? & the South-East, which you can read below...