How can a parent (or a student) know what dividends they might reap from an MPA education?

All they need to do is listen when a bunch of alumni come back to share their experiences and answer questions from their former classmates. This is what happened Jan. 6 when we welcomed nearly 20 young alumni back to talk to Upper School students about what to expect and how to succeed in college.

The alums shared a lot of wisdom and good advice — advice that probably rings more true for their peers than anything a teacher or parent could say.

Representing schools such as the University of Michigan, New York University, Loyola University Chicago, Claremont McKenna College, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, they gave students a firsthand perspective on the ways that MPA prepared them for success in college majors including international studies, computer science, music, biology and chemistry, urban planning, marketing, business, sports management, filmmaking, creative writing, and community health and economics.

Some advice was practical and perhaps hard-won, like Camrin’s advice to improve your writing skills and build up your tolerance for working on your own.

Some was reflective, as when Sabrina explained that she felt her MPA experience helped her to be more accepting of other kids and cultures than others and Vincent who felt he capitalized on skills honed in MPA’s small environment–skills that in college turned into networking and an ability to talk to people with ease.

They also offered advice. Camrin urged students to improve their writing skills and build up their tolerance for writing and working. Sounds like advice right out of an English teacher’s mouth!

Reese pointed out that at MPA, students have the benefit of teachers who are always available for help and will even track you down to insist you retake a test, etc. At college, he notes, you need to make appointments and be more proactive to get individual attention.

Zara, Angela, and Julie all recommended taking time for yourself. From making sure you socialize and meet lots of people in your first week or so, to making time for yourself on the weekends, they all made it clear that balance is important to both success and well-being. Several students had jobs on campus or in local businesses and all recommended that it can be a good thing to make money and gain experience in research, academic work, or just a fast food joint, but the hours need to be low and fit in around your work and study schedules. Noelle, a senior at an HBCU, spoke about her experiences as a research assistant.

And as Mena pointed out, if you aren’t excelling in your academics, you can’t afford to be partying on the weekend.

But beyond the advice they dispensed, they also exuded interest and excitement in what they are accomplishing in college and in the ups and downs of their journey so far.

Many of the returnees had only finished one semester of college, but several, like David, were farther along and have come to see college as one step on the way to the rest of your life. He advised against seeing college solely as a runway to what you want to do, pointing out that it is four years of your life, so choose a place, classes, and activities there that will make you happy now while also laying the groundwork for the future.

These returns, and those from other recent years, then show that MPA grads know how to problem solve, how to network, how to learn from their mistakes and exert their own self-discipline, They know how to seek out opportunities to make friends, join groups, get help and solve problems. They know how to set aside time for work and time for play.

These are just the early returns, imagine how much their MPA education and their own experience and work will compound these dividends over the decades to come.

By Claire Concannon

Ms. Concannon teaches English in the Upper School.