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Miss Marin County- MAO and the College Process

Hello! My name is Isabelle Gardner and I am Miss Marin County 2015. With college admissions decisions being released this month, I have decided to dedicate this blog post to two important aspects of my life at the moment: the college process and the Miss America Organization.

IMG_2091I have been involved in the Miss America Organization since my junior year of high school, when I was crowned Miss Marin County’s Outstanding Teen 2014. It was my positive experience as a teen that led me to compete again this year as a Miss, and I was honored to be named Miss Marin County 2015 last fall. Around the same time, I embarked on another journey that actually turned out to have a lot in common with my new title: I started my college search.

Ok, confession time. Since last fall, I have actually applied to 18 colleges. I know exactly what I want to study – public policy – but I’m still not sure exactly where I want to study it. And, yes, California colleges are most definitely among my top options!

IMG_3156It was actually the opportunity to earn scholarship money for college that led me to MAO in the first place. However, I truly did not realize how much my experience as titleholder would prepare me for the college application process. As I prepare for college, here are some of the many ways the Miss America Organization has prepared me for what will be the biggest step in my life so far:

1. Interview/communication skills. Thank goodness for MAO and the heavy emphasis on interview and public speaking. I don’t think I will ever forget how nervous I felt sitting down for my first college interview. It was last September, and I had received an email the previous week from one of my top-choice schools about regional interviews in my area, so of course I was quick to sign up. When I met my interviewer at a coffee shop a few blocks away from my high school, I was shaking so badly that I thought my hands were going to spill my latte all over the front of the dress that I had so carefully selected for the occasion. I could still feel butterflies in my stomach when my interviewer asked me: “Isabelle, what is one world issue that you feel is the most important today?”

Instantly, the shaking stopped. My butterflies disappeared, and I tried not to look too excited as I thought to myself “I’ve answered this question so many times in pageant interview. I know exactly what I want to say – and how to present my argument.”

Thanks to the prep I have done throughout the past year with my amazing committee, I now feel extremely comfortable answering questions in any setting – either over coffee or on stage. These communication skills have also given me a heightened degree of critical thinking. I have gained the ability to think on my feet and present my argument in a clear and structured way.

2. Scholarships Ok, this one seems kinda obvious, but it is so important and such a wonderful aspect of MAO. Like I said earlier, I applied to 18 schools, which has required a lot of research on my part. My findings? College is expensive. Through the Miss America Organization, I have been able to help finance my college education and look for different scholarships that reward specific accomplishments. And once I started really looking into how many awards MAO offers, I was amazed. Involved in community service? There’s a scholarship for that! Passionate about academics? There’s one for that too! But perhaps the most appealing aspect of scholarship for me is the fact that the contestant who walks away with the crown is not the only one who walks away with scholarship money. Rather, there is a guaranteed scholarship for everyone who competes. Every young woman is a winner, and when the prize is scholarship money, victory is that much sweeter.

3. Confidence While this may sound like a little bit of a cliché, one of the things I am most grateful to the Miss America Organization for is the confidence it has given me over the past two years. And though I didn’t realize this at first, confidence is something I’ll really need to have in college. When I entered high school, I would never have imagined myself performing on a stage or answering questions in front of a judging panel. Yes, there is a significant difference between walking across stage wearing a swimsuit and giving a presentation to a class, but both actions require the same thing: confidence. Like many of my peers, I find the thought of potentially moving thousands of miles away from my family, making new friends, and sharing a room with someone I’ve never met before a little bit daunting. But knowing that I have a strong sense of confidence makes putting my best foot forward a little easier.

IMG_3659At the moment, I don’t know where I will spend my next four years. (OK, so maybe applying to 18 schools was a little excessive). But, I do know that wherever I end up, the skills I have acquired and the second family I have met through the Miss America Organization will be with me through my college years and beyond. As for now, I just need to figure out where exactly where that will be.

Until next time,
Isabelle Gardner
Miss Marin County