Westmont Magazine Five Key Tips for Navigating the Journey to College

Valor Ahn '25 (left) and Matt Pace


By Matt Pace '16, Assistant Director of Admissions, New Student Success, and Transition Care

The daunting prospect of finding your soulmate — the one person who completes you — can create unrealistic expectations. It leaves people desperately striving toward perfect contentment.

Searching fervently for a “soulmate school” presents similar dangers. Focusing on their one true school prevents students from seeing their potential to thrive at multiple institutions and overlooks their vast versatility and robust skillset. When starry-eyed students arrive at the campus they consider the only place for them, how do they respond when challenges inevitably come their way? Discovering the imperfections of their choice can lead to jolting discouragement and a lack of resilience.

As an admissions counselor, I’ve noticed that many students fall into this trap. I’ve also encountered many who navigate the college journey incredibly well, creating realistic expectations and allowing God to steer the ship. Valor Ahn ’25 is one of these students.

His story begins in a small high school in Honolulu, Valor’s home. As a senior in high school, he asked himself deeply purposeful questions to lead him in the right direction. How can I better myself in college? Who do I want to surround myself with?

Where is God leading me? He clearly achieved a much more advanced state than I did at his age, when
I constantly pondered: “How is the food in the cafeteria?” Valor’s thoughtful questions helped him identify his top personal priorities: academics, faith community and location.

Asking the right questions and solidifying his top priorities helped narrow the options, but Valor still encountered bumps and obstacles on the road toward college. For example, he mentions the burden of completing lengthy applications in the midst of a busy senior year. He had to balance what others wanted versus what he wanted for himself. Being a strong, versatile scholar with notably outstanding character, he had tons of great options to choose from. He likely found it difficult identifying the one “right” choice because he possessed the potential to be successful at many amazing colleges. All of them would have been thrilled to welcome him.

How did Valor choose Westmont with confidence? This expert explorer lists his five key tips about navigating the college journey well.

  1. Focus on the present. Getting caught up in concerns about the future may prevent you from living well now. This advice especially helps high schoolers who have an entire senior year to enjoy. Don’t let the distant thought of college keep you from making the most of your last chapter of high school!
  2. Discover — and expand — your versatility. You likely have more than one interest or skill. Don’t let one path define you or stunt your growth in other areas. This tip particularly matters at a liberal arts college like Westmont. We recognize students as multidimensional, and we emphasize self-discovery through wide exploration and interdisciplinary pursuits.
  3. Environment is important. Your propensity for growth largely depends on the people you surround yourself with. Valor encourages students to seek a community that will shape you in ways that foster per- sonal development. He discovered the value of Westmont’s community by immersing himself in it before he arrived as a student. Visiting campus, engaging virtually and reaching out directly to current students and leaders helped Valor feel confident about the people he would share a home with for the next four years.
  4. Present your true self. “Presenting a false image may lead you somewhere you don’t want to be,” he says. Au- thenticity is key in your application essays, admissions interviews and even in your own head. A genuine outward expression of yourself makes it easier to find the right guidance. It helps you identify your true values and priorities.
  5. Put forth your best work, but trust God with the rest. Valor believed that God had a plan that he would reveal. This helped Valor keep from overthinking his choice, granting him peace in a stressful situation.

Valor avoided the trap of soulmate ideology. He boldly stepped onto the path toward college, understanding that his gifts and passions would help him flourish in a variety of settings. He took on challenges with grit, acknowledging the imperfection of the college search. Ultimately, he trusted the Lord to guide him to a place that would catalyze his growth and allow him to flourish. Fortunately for us, he ended up at Westmont.

Best Accredited Colleges featured Matt in their November online issue, “How to Apply to College: The Ultimate Guide.”