The following article features CollegeAdvisor.com’s Carolyn Herrera (Stanford ‘20). For more information about our programming and personal guidance about the college application process, head to CollegeAdvisor.com and sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.
As the college application cycle winds down, several of CollegeAdvisor Admissions Expert Carolyn Herrera’s advisees can rest easy – they’ve already made it into their top Early Decision university.
“More than anything, I’m thrilled for my clients!” she says. “They’ve worked incredibly hard throughout this process and I’m glad I was able to guide them through it.”
Before joining CollegeAdvisor.com, Carolyn – now a graduate of Stanford University – had already had several years of experience guiding students through the college application process. She had worked as an informal college advisor all throughout college, helping friends of friends and students at her high school.
Carolyn is from Moorpark, California, where she currently lives with her family. Since she was a kid, Carolyn has wanted to be a doctor. With a degree from Stanford in Human Biology, she is currently studying for the MCAT to achieve that dream.
Higher education was very important to Carolyn’s family while she was growing up. Her father was the only one of his siblings who could attend college because he was raised in Moorpark, whereas his siblings were raised in rural Mexico. Carolyn’s father saw the difference in financial stability between his siblings and his collegiate peers, so he worked to instill the importance of a college education in Carolyn from an early age. In elementary and middle school, her father’s story inspired Carolyn to excel in her learning. In high school, however, she found herself reflecting on why she wanted to attend college.
Carolyn knew that one day she wanted to attend medical school to help the Latinx community. “Socio-cultural understanding in medicine is really important,” Carolyn told CollegeAdvisor, and she was frustrated by a lack of Latinx doctors. Following this realization, she began volunteering and, later, taking leadership roles in various school organizations. Carolyn became a part of her local National Honor Society (NHS) chapter in high school, but she didn’t approve of how her fellow NHS members would do the bare minimum to get credit. When she became the president of her local chapter in her Senior year, she worked to promote a better spirit of volunteering among her peers.
Carolyn was also involved in the Spanish National Honor Society and was a part of her church youth group for most of high school, connecting with her Latinx community and mentoring students who needed help. This mentorship and community involvement helped Carolyn understand the importance of forging bonds with others, which aligned with her dreams of working in medicine. In college, she started helping at a free clinic as a Spanish interpreter and continued that work throughout her college career.
Carolyn says that her biggest struggle with the college application process was her own anxiety. Her anxiety made her stall on completing her essays and hesitate to share her personal story, feeling as though it wasn’t impressive enough to constitute a personal essay. In spite of that, she strove to “be true to herself” and so she shared her story through her essays and how she’s grown as a result of her experiences. By the end, she wasn’t as anxious about her application materials. Still, she acknowledges that it’s a very stressful process, no matter how confident you are.
Through this anxiety and self doubt, Carolyn was most helped by her precalculus teacher and a Latinx counselor. Her precalc teacher’s patience and support helped Carolyn combat and overcome her anxiety surrounding her schoolwork and applications. The counselor’s commitment to educational equity led him to encourage Carolyn to be authentic, demonstrate who she was, and share her Mexican-American heritage through her essays. The support from these two informal advisors enabled her to grow into her confident, authentic self.
For anyone currently struggling with these same anxieties, Carolyn would encourage students to pretend as though they’re writing their essays to share a story with a stranger. “If you were to talk to a stranger,” she says, “you wouldn’t necessarily list your resume, you would just tell them what your story is.” She says that the essay should answer the thoughtful questions that a stranger might ask when they hear your story. She asserts that you should stay true to yourself when writing your common application essay, and not try to be someone else.
As an advisor, Carolyn enjoys being “an older sibling to others,” striving to connect with her clients and develop a mentorship approach that supports students through both essays as well as application stress. She emphasizes that “this is a journey that involves not only them but their entire support network, which includes their family, their friends, and their academic support at school,” as well as everyone at CollegeAdvisor. She loves it when students have a ‘lightbulb moment,” discovering clarity amid all the strategizing and planning and preparation to apply to college.
Finally, she encourages students to not obsess over grades and test scores – they’ll only get you “in the door.” Instead, she highlights the importance of essays and being articulate about who you are. “Finding mentors who can provide helpful feedback is super important.”
This article was based on an interview with CollegeAdvisor.com’s Carolyn Herrera (Stanford ‘20). If you want to get 1-on-1 help with your college applications from a CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expert, register with CollegeAdvisor.com today.