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Insight, wisdom, lessons learned and everything in between to help you find the information you need for smoother transition between diplomatic assignments.

Big Life Plans: College Edition

It's Guest Blog Time!

Applying to college and preparing children to go on their own is a huge milestone for a family. It seems to me that families such as those in the Foreign Service which move regularly for one or both parents' work, tend to do more together as a family than those that stay in one area for the majority of their lives. We rely on our cohesiveness to get through the ups and downs of a PCS. We have varying comfort levels with moving and play unique roles during a transition.

Given the impact that college applications have on families, many of which are in transition during this process, we are highlighting a business that supports this need in our community. I invited Dr. Lauren Steed of Nomad Educational Services to share with you some tips to help your future college student begin their process for applying to schools. In addition, her suggestions are applicable to those making a career or life change as so many EFMs do time and again. You may recognize Lauren as part of the Available Worldwide Podcast duo as well. Lauren and Stephanie have been sharing the stories of family members from the diplomatic corps on this thoughtful and inspiring podcast. When you finish reading Lauren's blog, I encourage you to give Available Worldwide a listen.

The foreign service uses interview panels as part of the hiring process.
Learning to talk about yourself and your achievements is an important part of applying to college and an even better life skill.

Guest Blog by Dr. Lauren Steed

The first big life plan most students will make is: what to do after high school. It is a daunting task that is best met with a project management approach. Students will need to learn how to break down that massive decision into smaller steps, to research their alternatives, and evaluate which of those choices requires the least compromise on the various factors that are important to them.

While they are navigating this significant project, they are also learning an entirely new life skill: how to talk about themselves, to be proud of their strengths, and own their stories. That lesson is not just important for teens, though, it’s something we all need, particularly in seasons of meeting a lot of new people or applying for new jobs.

Here’s a little bit of that lesson, adapted for anyone to use, from my book College Conversations: 25 Discussions for High School Juniors and their Families. You can do this solo, or have a conversation with someone who knows you well, and maybe wants to work on their own story too.

Tell Us About Yourself

Identify Your Attributes

  • Who are you?

  • What habits and life skills come easily to you?

  • Start with this list and check off all the words that you feel definitely apply to you.

  • Ask your friends and family what words they would use to describe your strengths. What are they amazed that you’ve achieved? What skills of yours do they attribute to your success?

  • Once you have ALL of your attributes identified, it’s time to determine which ones are the most important to you. Narrow down your list to the top 5 traits that you use to create your own success.

Connect Your Attributes to Your Story

For each of those 5 attributes, make a list of times you’ve really used that attribute to achieve something difficult or important. For example, if you’ve identified yourself as Sorter, you might identify your favorite memory of organizing your consumables pantry after delivery, or a time you coordinated a large number of volunteers and assigned them to working groups based on their preferences and skills. If you’ve identified yourself as a Visual person, you might note that your last team always designated you as the chief PowerPoint creator or how your go-to souvenir is always local art.

Connect Your Attributes to Your Goals

What’s your goal right now? Do you want to enjoy your new post’s opportunities? Do you want to get a new job? Do you want to write the next great expat novel? Finish your degree or learn French cooking techniques?

Identify how your attributes might be able to help you do that. At a past post, an EFM had a goal of finishing the college degree that had been put on hold by their partner’s job in the Foreign Service. They’d spent time since then doing a lot of volunteer work and had taken some office skills training. We talked about their dream and their attributes, Easy Going, Self-Advocate, and Troubleshooter. They’d already used their advocacy to ask me for help finding a way to finish their degree efficiently, and because they were an easy-going troubleshooter, were open to my suggestions to try online programs that gave life-experience credit or credit-by-testing as a way to get ahead on their general ed or lower division classes. They were able to jump right into the classes they wanted to take, classes that didn’t feel like a repeat of things they’d learned on the job.

Where Else to Use Your Attributes

Use these attributes and moments as an answer to what you “do” or to talk up your skills to potential employment contacts. As you revise your resumé, use your attributes to help you decide which accomplishments and skills you want to list for each of your previous jobs and volunteer roles.

Strengthen how effective these attributes are for you with attribute strength-training: Bridge-builders might volunteer to be social sponsors or to serve as a school liaison. Designers might volunteer to help a local non-profit re-do their branding, or offer to come hang out at a new arrival’s pre-HHE house and have fun rearranging furniture to find a comfortable configuration. Make your attributes buff!

My students use these attributes to write their resumes and the essays they’ll use in their college applications. We also use their attributes to help guide their possible responses to common interview questions they might face in admissions or scholarship interviews. Attributes will also play a role in identifying what kinds of schools might be a good fit for them.

Portrait of Dr. Lauren Steed
Dr. Lauren Steed, Nomad Education Services

Lauren's Bio

Dr. Lauren Steed is Nomad Educational Services, an independent educational consulting service that helps expat and TCK teens plan for, apply to and transition to college and university study. She is an expert in executive functioning, student advising and project management. With over 20 years of experience preparing students for their college and professional life, she helps your family find the calm and confidence you’re looking for on the journey to college.

Students typically start working with Dr. Steed at the end of their sophomore year of high school. She also offers workshops for schools and post communities on various educational topics including: financial aid, athletic recruitment, learning differences, authenticity and motivation. You can read more about her approach at

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