Senior spotlight: Aidan Conner

Against all odds and numbers, senior Aidan Conner thinks back on the path to her commitment to Columbia University as an athlete and student.

Joleigh Underwood, Managing Magazine Editor

Columbia University’s acceptance rate is 6.6%. Of the 40,203 applicants, only 2,214 were accepted. And of that 2,214, how many also made their D1 volleyball team after only two years of playing? And how many lived in Scotland for all of middle school and freshman year? It’s safe to say only one, and that’s senior Aidan Conner. 

Aidan’s athletic and academic career didn’t truly start until she moved to Cypress sophomore year. In those two short years, she became a D1 athlete and Ivy-League student, but the path to that wasn’t always easy.

“I’d say the biggest challenge was probably actually sophomore year when I moved back. I used to live in Scotland for all of middle school and freshman year. So moving back here, it was tough, you know, just getting used to everything and meeting new people again,” Conner said.

Not only are the people, culture, and food different in Scotland, but so are sports. Club volleyball and tournaments aren’t a thing over there, so Aidan didn’t even touch a volleyball competitively until she was back in the States.

“I mean, I technically would like play around with volleyballs. Like I knew the basics but not much else. Yeah, the sport is so different over there,” Conner said. “It’s like, in my little school that I was in, it was nothing like how competitive it is in Texas. So yeah, I basically started when I moved back.”

Once she fell in love with the sport though, there was no turning back. At the beginning of her junior year, the college selection process started- one that included a factor she never would have considered a few years ago.

“It wasn’t really a dream until like junior year because I didn’t start volleyball until sophomore year so I had no aspirations to play college volleyball up until the beginning of junior year,” Conner said.

“It was really my dad who opened my eyes to maybe playing college sports because he played college football. So he was like, ‘No, I think this is something that you would really enjoy,’ so like I really give him a lot of credit for that.”

With volleyball in the picture, Aidan went hard to work finding the perfect college for both of her talents.

“First, I sent out emails to all the coaches at schools that were very smart and highly academic. And then we just kind of talked to coaches back and forth. So I was just communicating with the coaches to see if volleyball would work out and that’s how I landed on Columbia, because I know I’d want to go there with or without volleyball,” Conner said. 

Most colleges recruit their athletes and then work around academics, but that isn’t the case at Columbia. They offer no athletic scholarships, so Aidan had to be accepted academically before pursuing volleyball there- meaning high test scores, class rank, and GPA as well as the perfect essay.

“I had to submit my transcripts and write a little essay about me. It was stressful. It was stressful for the admission process because I had to get my ACT and SAT scores high enough, and that’s tough because I’m not like amazing tester. So it was really like I had to work really, really hard to get the test scores that I needed,” Conner said.

“I remember over the summer, I like locked myself in my room for like a week. And I just studied the ACT book from cover to cover to make sure that I could get the score that I needed. But then the admission process itself, like actually applying was kind of smooth sailing because I knew that I had worked hard up until that point and I had everything I needed.”

Columbia’s standards don’t lower after acceptance, either. Getting in is just one hurdle of many that Aidan will overcome: distance from home, a totally foreign city, challenging courses, balancing sports and grades.

“ I am just nervous about the rigor that I’m gonna have there, you know, like, I’m trying to push myself in high school and not take it easy, but I still know that it’s going to be one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done,” Conner said.

Despite all the unknowns, Aidan does know one thing. Columbia is the place for her. Walking down the street, down the hallway, down the court, she fits right in.

“My favorite thing about Columbia is the vibe that you get when you get on campus, like everyone is there to work hard and succeed and everyone’s super driven. So I just really like being in that atmosphere because it really pushes me to also work hard to succeed.”

Outside of campus, New York City is a comfortable environment for Aidan as well. Most kids and teens want to live in New York at some point, but only a special, independent, ambitious few get there.

“I think I’m most excited about the city. I love New York. I love big cities. I love just like walking around and people watching and just eating at cute little cafes like that. I’m just super excited to be there,” Conner said.

High school has been great, but there are so many things to look forward to. In a few short months, Aidan will be in an all new city all by herself, one out of 2,214 students with a story, mind, and heart like no other.

“I’m definitely excited for college. I’m always gonna miss my family the most, but high school is such a weird place to be because you’re still figuring yourself out,” Conner said. “So I think college is going to be really good for me because I just kind of want to go out there and be completely independent and be in the real world all on my own. That’s what I’m excited for.”