College and Beyond: Be Open to the New by Dr. Aviva Legatt, author, Get Real and Get In (Book Excerpt)

From Get Real and Get In by Dr. Aviva Legatt. Copyright © 2021 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.


Chapter 11


  • Pursue things just because you’re interested in them. When Joshua was a high school and undergrad student studying languages, he couldn’t have known that he was preparing for his eventual career as a world-renowned choral conductor. Yet a firm grasp of languages is a skill of key importance for the vocal arts, given the vast repertoire of works in German, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian . . . understanding the language is key to understanding the music. Joshua liked languages, so he studied them. Period. He had vague thoughts of a future career, but Joshua learned languages for the fun of it.
  • Do you have “just for the fun of it” hobbies? Often, we hold ourselves back from pursuing our curiosity because we don’t see how a certain activity will fit into our life plan. Yet there’s an invisible thread that runs through our lives and connects one thing to everything else. We can’t see the whole tapestry, how the development of one skill leads to success in a completely unrelated field. Some hobbies are just for joy—and that’s wonderful, too. Pursue your interests now; you’ll have fun, and you never know where they may lead.
  • Impostor syndrome is a liar. Have you ever heard of the term “impostor syndrome?” It’s the belief that you’re unqualified—that at any moment, someone will see through you and pull the plug on your dreams. Joshua dealt with it. He wasn’t pursuing a “real” music degree and surely lacked the talent of people studying formally. (Or so he thought.) Yet Joshua’s teachers continued to urge him on toward musical leadership. They saw his skills clearly, despite all the reasons Joshua had created in his mind about why he wasn’t qualified to lead. Clearly, Joshua’s teachers were right; he went on to get a master’s and a doctorate in music and now leads choirs all over the world.
  • If a mentor or teacher sees your gifts, suspend your disbelief. Others are often able to see clearly what we are unable to see in ourselves. Let the confidence of trusted mentors be louder than the voice of impostor syndrome.
  • Personal relationships and ingenuity count for more than a college degree. When Joshua was nearing the end of his undergrad degree and realized he wanted to switch course, he leveraged his relationships to help him fill in his missing skill set. For $20 an hour, Joshua essentially got a second degree! (Google current tuition rates per hour at your top-choice college—$20 an hour is the steal of all steals.) Joshua and his teachers ingeniously cobbled together a music degree in spare pockets of time. Joshua could have done things the traditional way—start from zero and get a second bachelor’s at a different university. Yet Joshua utilized the network he had built at Georgetown and made it work. He had the skills, even though he didn’t have the music degree to prove it. Joshua continued his education via private lessons when he was back in San Francisco—he was fully committed to pursuing music and threw himself into learning. This unofficial education was good enough for Joshua to be accepted to grad school (with a scholarship!) in an exciting program.
  • The lesson: you have so many more assets than you realize. There are people in your life who will jump at the chance to help you, just as Joshua’s teachers did for him. If you’re at point A and point B seems a million miles away, yet you’re determined to get there . . .get scrappy! Use your imagination and your network. There may be less distance to travel than you realize.

Think you might go into music as a profession someday, or maybe even produce a movie? For an incredible story of the prolific Pitch Perfect producer, Deke Sharon, visit


Jon Youshaei: A Lucky Encounter With a College Tour Guide

Jon Youshaei grew up a first-generation American, his parents having immigrated from Iran during the revolution. After graduating from college, his father built a successful business selling Oriental rugs. Jon said that even though his family immigrated and was unfamiliar with most aspects of American culture, they had heard of the school Jon would eventually attend: Wharton, the business school at the University of Pennsylvania. A dream school for many of my students, both from the United States and abroad!

Although Wharton was Jon’s dream school, he said he had little hope of actually getting in. However, Jon was surrounded by a group of high-achieving peers who encouraged him to go for it anyway. Says Jon: “I really believe in that saying that you’re the sum of the people you spend the most time with.” Jon’s peer group was focused on elite colleges; Jon focused on this goal, too. He worked hard on his application, and was hopeful despite the low probability of acceptance.

One day Jon and his father were on a tour of Penn’s campus. They were assigned to one tour guide, yet Jon’s father was captivated by another. Jon’s dad suggested they switch groups and go with the guide who seemed so confident. “That guy really knows what he’s talking about,” said Jon’s dad. “But they’re tour guides—they all know what they’re talking about!” Jon was convinced he and his father would get in trouble for switching groups. But they made the switch anyway—thus, Jon was introduced to someone who would become incredibly influential in his life: J.J. Fliegelman.

J.J. told Jon about the Huntsman Program, in which students could gain a liberal arts and business degree at the same time. This is exactly what Jon wanted to do. Jon was an eager listener and asked lots of questions, and J.J. was happy to give advice. He even accompanied Jon and his father to a campus restaurant after the tour and continued to share his knowledge. During the application process, Jon submitted his essays to J.J., who offered feedback. Says Jon, marveling at the experience: “This guy that I met for one afternoon took me under his wing.” That was a sign that Jon had found the place he would call home for the next four years.

J.J. continued to be an important mentor to Jon well after Jon gained acceptance to Penn. Jon joined J.J.’s fraternity. J.J. helped Jon navigate the career landscape; after college, J.J. helped Jon weigh his early career options. Today, Jon is recognized as a top marketer who, according to Inc. magazine, has “cracked the code for going viral.” In addition to being a marketing guru, Jon is a business writer, cartoonist, and speaker. In fact, NPR named a speech Jon delivered as one of “The Best Commencement Speeches, Ever,” alongside speeches from luminaries such as JFK, Steve Jobs, and Sheryl Sandberg.1

Had Jon’s father not followed his hunch, Jon may have had a very different trajectory. This is so often the way life works; we have a chance encounter with someone and a gut feeling. In these moments of fate, lifelong relationships that alter the course of our destinies are born.

Dr. Aviva Legatt is the Elite Admissions Expert and founder of Ivy Insight, the gold standard in college admissions consulting for undergraduate elite college applications. An in-demand leadership and college admissions speaker with a fresh perspective, Dr. Legatt has been hailed by the New York Times as a trustworthy expert on college admissions, and recognized as an expert in corporate culture and diversity as a faculty member for Coursera and the University of Pennsylvania. Visit