The International Family Guide to US University Admissions and Exclusive Interview with Jennifer Ann Aquino

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Our Parenting World Exclusive Interview Series: The International Family Guide to US University Admissions and Exclusive Interview with Jennifer Ann Aquino

Written by an experienced international educator and counselor,The International Family Guide to US University Admissions (Wiley & Sons, June 2017) is an indispensable resource for international families and students applying for admission to US universities.

“This is the first and only guide dedicated to the international applicant and family,” says Jennifer Ann Aquino. “I was inspired by the countless times I was asked, ‘How do I start the process and what do I need to do?’. I wrote this book based on exactly what I cover with my own students, all international, all different, all unique and all finding success at university.”

With the help of this book, you’ll discover how to make sense of the US admissions system from start to finish and whether you’re an international student living outside of the US or an ex-pat living abroad, you’ll find answers to all of your questions – all in one place.

Our Parenting World (OPW) is pleased to be able to interview Jennifer Ann Aquino (JAA) where she shared more about her book and her thoughts with us. Read on to find out more:

1) Please share with us more about your background and what makes you decide to be an educator and counsellor?

JAA: I come from a family of educators. My mom and dad, aunt and uncle, cousins and so on. It’s something that is, I believe, in our blood. It comes naturally-as a vocation.  And, so, I never “planned” to be an educator; instead all of the opportunities and subsequent decisions I made kept me going down this path. I always followed—and was encouraged to follow—what makes me happy and what I am passionate about.  I try to teach this to all of my students and families and this is a common theme throughout my book.

I was always encouraged by my parents to study and do what I enjoy and love. There was never a question about that, never a discussion.  I was never asked at a young age or even when I was heading to university “what I was going to be”.  The aim was to be a happy person and work hard and be passionate about what I study and do. It was just something we were taught from young. So, when I went to university–even though I knew my parents would not be able to afford it–it was a given that I would apply to attend the university that best fit me. (And, that said, taking out loans was another given–something very common for Americans as we head to university. I paid them off at 39! Zero regrets.)

At university the choice of what to study was mine. 100%. My parents never meddled in that and I never questioned my own interests. And, so, I ended up majoring in Spanish Literature (a huge passion) and Biology (again, I love Biology) with a concentration in pre-medical studies.  Some would think…whaaa?  You’d be surprised at how this seemingly disparate combination gave me incredible opportunities throughout my career.  Again, this is something I encourage my students to be very open to and cognizant of: What do they love?  What sparks their interests?  What do they want to study?  Remember one of the beauties of US higher education is that you don’t “lock into” your major/s until after your second year.  This gives ample time to explore, take risks, try new things and reflect.

Educating and counseling as a profession, again, was something that came naturally to me. Each one of us has unique innate strengths and interests, and some real passions. If my students can learn to embrace their own and champion those strengths, they come out very strong in their applications and also in their career paths.  That’s what happened to me. And, believe me, I tried a couple of times to get out of the “family business” of education but every time I went back to being true to myself and what it is I am good at doing and happiest doing.  I think there’s a huge lesson here for young adults and for parents.  As adults we have all experienced taking a decision on something but not based on our true wishes.  It doesn’t turn out well.

2) What do you enjoy most about your work? What are some of the challenges that you faced?

JAA: It will be difficult to share with you all that I enjoy about my work!  One huge part is certainly the sharing and imparting of knowledge and seeing that help develop not only my students but also families to become champions of their child’s individuality and strengths.  Their applications to universities reflect that and naturally their confidence in their own self grows exponentially. It’s incredible. 

I love reflecting on a student’s time through the process with him and his parents as they start to get their acceptance letters and plan for university.  Their confidence in themselves has skyrocketed and they are truly happy, excited, and proud with where they will attend university.  I love sharing this with a family.

I also love learning from my students. They teach me to be flexible, open minded, fun and curious.  I think we have a very mutual level of respect and I enjoy treating them as adults as we move further into the process; they take on that role very well once they are given the opportunity.  Again, this builds their confidence.

Challenge number one is helping the parents and family understand that this process is not something you can learn and go through in a meeting or in a month. This is why I ask all of my families—and readers of my book—to commit to understanding the process, #1.  It is an organic one that rewards those who not only commit to understanding it (believe me, there’s a lot to understand…I had a tough time keeping my book to under 300 pages!) but who also commit to being open to all options. All of my families come to me saying they want the best for their child and usually that means a “name brand” university, first and foremost.  I get where they are coming from. And I give my families credit for being open to the process and committing to doing it correctly–meaning putting their child and his individuality first. They put their trust and confidence in me and learn throughout the months and years as we work together that their child will be successful only and if she is true to herself and by being such identifies and applies to those universities or post secondary school opportunities that will support and work for her. That’s called fit and that’s how US admissions works.  And, THAT is success. Yet this understanding takes some good time to come to. And, yet, we always get there. But that’s why it’s a process. And a long one and a very emotional one. Every child has something amazingly unique about him. It’s celebrating that and championing that. And, then, it’s identifying those universities that will “fit” him and give him all the opportunities in the world to be a success. 

These can be tough things to flesh out, discuss and conclude but we always get there.  And, this is also why I have included in my book real Case Studies of my own students as well as Parent Advice and Student Advice from my own families throughout different stages of the process. It’s helpful to hear from others who are going through it or who have gone through it recently.

I just got an email today from a student who started the process giving me a list of universities that would never have supported him and where he would have struggled deeply–his character style or academics. He insisted for months, over a year, that these were right for him.  His arguments were not true to himself.  He knew that and I knew he would realize that.  It took about 1.5 years. He started to embrace himself and be proud of what he’s done.  He listened to me more on universities I would suggest for him, unknown to him by name when we started the process.  He started getting excited and showing a confidence he had never shown before.  Now?  He’s going to an amazing university, highly selective and was one he had never heard of when we started. He and his parents are so proud. He wrote saying “what a roller coaster” this process was and “I am so proud of myself, so confident and so grateful.” 

This kid is going to be a huge success. 

Now you can see why I love my work.

3) What ignited the spark in you to start writing a book on “The International Family Guide to US University Admissions“? How long did you take to write the book and what kind of research do you do? 

JAA: “How do we even start?!”

“What are the best engineering schools in the US?”

“We’re very interested in Harvard.”

“Will SAT scores matter the most?”

These are some of the questions I mention in the Introduction of my book where I explain the impetus for the writing of it.

And yet, my writing this book was inevitable. Aside from the fact that I love to write, the practicality of it was evident for years. Simply put, there has never been a resource for international families going through the US university admissions process. Not one. And, yet if I was going to do this I wanted to do it right. That meant giving every family the opportunity to go through what I do with each of my private clients. I wanted this to be accessible to all. Comprehensive, ethical (this is critical—there is far too much preying on parent fears and unethical advising in this process, something that as an IECA Professional Member we must sign an oath on, in fact), thoughtful, well written, personal and thorough. I also wanted my parents’ and students’ voices heard as well as all US university, or “college”, terms explained including what is the culture of US university admissions. (Yes, a huge part is culture—why is community service, for instance, so highly regarded in the application process?) And voilà! It took over two years from concept to writing to signing with an international publishing house to final, bound book.  I had a lot of fun with it.

4) Please tell us more about your book and what can parents and students expect to gain from it?

JAA: If I am to be sincere, I truly believe every parent and child who is thinking of going they this process needs to have access to my book. It imparts critical information for them learn, understand and act upon if they want to be successful going they the process. I believe this 100%. 

Families will gain, for the first time, a full understanding of the process and also be guided through every step they need to take, including interviews, writing, listing activities, filling out all parts of the application…from their unique perspective and experience.  I explain why each step (Milestone, in my book) needs to be taken, what it means and what the student’s options are, if any.  I am also taking the opportunity to help teach the student to become more confident in her own self while also being a grateful and appreciative applicant.  This should come through in the process and I explain why and how.

In brief, my book includes:

  • Every action step (Milestone) the student & family must take in the process is covered.  Insider tips, comments and alerts accompany each. All Milestones incorporate worksheets and reasoning for why they need to be done, when, and how each will affect the application.
  • Every chapter begins with a Case Study of an actual student of mine. Read feedback and advice from both students and parents on specific Milestones throughout the guide – giving you the most realistic picture of how the process works, how to manage it, and how to succeed.
  • Learn what type of universities are best for you and how to determine what your fit truly is. With thousands of schools to pick from, it’s important to first figure out who you are and what you want, your interests and passions.
  • Learn what colleges want, what they care about, and what will make your application stronger (or weaker) by staying true to yourself and the fit between you and the university. A full Writing Handbook is included that covers how to write your own powerful, meaningful, and unique essays staying true-to-self and standing out to admissions.

5) What advices would you like to give to students on how to choose a suitable course and the right university in US?

JAA: First, one must know that US higher education does not require that the student know her course before applying. (Of course there are always exceptions to every “rule” but this is 98% valid.  My engineering students and a few of my niche students—which I talk about and to throughout the book—may need to apply to their programme during the application process.  I cover all of this.)  In fact most universities quite value an “undecided” applicant as it shows the spirit of open mindedness and willingness to learn. It’s very realistic to me.  Higher education in the US does not expect a 17 or 18 year old to know what he wants to be or do!  Totally rational!  Students in the US don’t declare their course or major until the end of their second year! There is so much flexibility, guidance, and support– something I believe is critical for young adults.

That said, throughout the process we go through a number of self-assessment opportunities and activities (these are not career questionnaires—something I do not believe in and never do with my students) to help the student start to identify her interests, passions, likes, strengths and so on.  This is critical to the process and to identifying and putting forth a strong application for universities.

6) Can you share with us, what’s your next plan and will you be working on a new book?

JAA: My immediate plan is to promote my book and try to get it into as many peoples’ hands as possible. I truly believe it will help every user like no other resource has or can. Meanwhile, I am doing more institutional work with schools—collaborating with leadership, teachers and counselors to deliver exciting guidance programs catered to their communities. 

I have not decided yet what my next book will be. I think a book for the global applicant–most of my students apply to at least three different countries–could be very helpful considering students now apply to universities all over the globe and yet understanding the different pedagogies, programmes and culture and academics of each is critical for the student, but sometimes not the focus.  It must be.

 I have also thought about writing a book for the international freshman. That first year of university in a new country is thrilling and also can be complex and overwhelming. There are so many things to navigate and I believe I could help with that—again for both the student (What’s the academic advisor for?  Approaching professors who seem inapproachable, etc.) and the parent (What’s appropriate for parent involvement with professors?  What should I expect from an orientation programme? Etc.)

7) Lastly, do you have anything to add on about your book and what advice would you like to give to students applying for admission to US Universities?

JAA: Three things:

  1. Commit to understanding the process and going through it being true to the real you. Parents, that means accepting and embracing your child’s true strengths and weaknesses. 

Because, believe me, I don’t want to see a doctor who never wanted to be one but felt forced going down that path. He won’t have many patients. 

  1. Control what you can—and know what that is—and let go of what you cannot control. This is critical.
  2. When in doubt, please don’t ask your friend for the answer. She’s lovely, I am sure. But, she’s not an expert. Get the facts from the source.  Don’t depend on heresay. 

(There are many more “rules of enlightenment” and that I ask every user to sign off on in my book!)

OPW: Thank you Jennifer Ann Aquino for taking our interview and for sharing your views with our readers!

JAA: Thank you very much! 

Our Parenting World’s Review: 

If you are looking to apply for admission to US Universities, this is definitely the book you must read to find out more and to better understand the application process to help you get admitted to US Universities. It is the first and only book for International students. 

Application to US Universities can be a stressful process for both parents and students, it can be complicated and even difficult to understand especially for International students, what’s more there are thousands of Universities in US to choose from. The International Family Guide to US University Admissions will systematically guide you into deciding which Universities is most suitable for you, making informed decision on which University to enrol, how to apply and provides valuable insights to save you lots of time and effort doing your own research. This book also shared case studies of actual students in their application journeys and it is helpful to learn about what others have gone through. 

This is definitely a practical and must-have resource book for anyone who is looking into applying for admission to US universities!

About the Author:

Jennifer Ann Aquino is passionate about education. She started her career after university teaching AP Biology at a US boarding school (The Gunner School, Connecticut).  She moved on to educational publishing as an editor for secondary and university-level foreign language and science textbooks before working in management roles as an administrator in universities in the US and Europe.  Jennifer double-majored in Biology and Spanish Literature with a Pre-Medical concentration from Boston College (US) and earned a Masters of Arts degree in Spanish Literature from Middlebury College (US).  She was accepted to and enrolled in Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Department of Romance Languages and Literature.  Jennifer worked as Director of Education Abroad (Bentley University, USA), Managing Director International MBA Programme (IE Business School, Spain), Director of International Advancement (Bentley University, USA) and Lead Recruiter, Undergraduate Admissions, Asia & India (Bentley University, USA).

Jennifer splits her time between Singapore and Geneva. She has her own private consultancy working directly with families and their children, helping to guide them to their best-fit educational goals. She has visited over 100 university campuses in a professional context and is Professional Member of IECA and Member of International ACAC.

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