Commonwealth’s Director of College Counseling Sophia Meas made her way from Cambodia to California to Boston, where she found her calling guiding students and parents through the college application process with unwavering calm and caring. She maintains her equanimity, in part, by unwinding outside of work; you might find her running in the woods or playing a game of poker—and you might be surprised by how much the latter has in common with her profession (keep reading to find out what).
Here Sophia shares her journey to Commonwealth, how she approaches the admissions process, and her expert advice for anyone applying to college.
Can you tell us a little more about your early life and education?
When my family and I emigrated from Cambodia, I spent the bulk of my formative years in California through the public education system. I went to a large high school where there were two guidance counselors (but no college counseling) for about 2,400 students.
While I was in college at UCLA, I did an internship with the Department of Education in Washington, D.C.; that was the first time I'd ever been on the East Coast. I first heard about Boston when I saw the Red Sox play the Baltimore Orioles. (Boston won.)
I was thinking about graduate school but didn't know what I was going to do with my life. I knew, though, that if I put myself in an environment where there are plenty of schools, new opportunities, and rich history, that I would figure it out. That was when I made the decision to come to Boston, first for work and then to Harvard Graduate School of Education.
All of the pieces came together as I continued to explore in grad school, and I became an admissions and financial aid officer at Harvard College. What I loved about that role was getting to know people, learning from kind colleagues and friends, and serving the mission of access and affordability in higher education.
What is bringing you joy right now?
Singing and dancing with my four-year-old son and my husband, hiking in the woods, walking the beaches, and having meals with family and friends.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I enjoy running and playing poker (but not at the same time!). There's a flow to doing both: the absence of time in nature and company.
What is your favorite book (or a book that you've re-read)?
A practical choice: Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. I find it handy because Khmer is my first language, and English is a lifelong endeavor for me. I'm constantly flipping through the book, like reminding myself where the semicolon goes. I’m grateful Truss took the time to jot it down.
What made you choose to work at Commonwealth?
My full-day Commonwealth interview was the most comprehensive process that I have gone through, and everyone came across as the salt of the earth. It has been a good choice. I love the people, the support for self care, and the food!
How do you approach college counseling?
With the patience to listen closely, learn deeply, and love unconditionally. They’re the same ingredients for parenthood and even poker: listen, learn, and with a little luck, make the right call.
There are more similarities between poker and college admissions than one might think. Students need to have confidence in themselves, but confidence doesn't mean the absence of uncertainty—there's a lot of that in the college process. You could do everything right, but you have to throw your pride away when you don't get what you want. It doesn't matter how qualified you are or how good you are. Everything can change when the variables are up in the air.
Choosing the right college isn't about winning or losing, it's about making the right decision for you.
What can students do to prepare for the college application process and for life after high school in general?
We're learning and lucky at Commonwealth School; teachers prepare students exceptionally well for the academic rigor of college.
When students are thinking about what would be useful for them in the college process, one of the best pieces of advice is to know yourself, and, I would add, to find your flow. Trust that nothing depends on what college you get into, and everything depends on what you do wherever you'll go. And if you know those things, you're going to be happy with whatever comes next for you.
How do you advise parents when their children are going through the college admissions process?
Parents should know themselves, too! Understand your children, and give them the freedom to find their flow. And everything will turn out okay.
Is there anything else you want people to know about you?
Shoot straight with me, because I want to get to know you. We’ll have a fun trip together through a process of self-discovery that’ll make you feel good about being you. I'm flexible to connect with students (and families) in any way you feel comfortable: call, email, video, in person. And I’m game for a good run together.