Alizeh Atif began her education in Pakistan, her home country and has since studied in Turkey and the UK, completing her MSc in Strategic Marketing at Imperial in 2017. With her international experience it is no wonder she is determined to support others achieve their personal and professional development goals when it comes to studying abroad.
In 2018 Alizeh set up Be Guided Now, offering personalised support and guidance counselling to those looking to apply to top tier universities. The bespoke service, tailored to each individual, focuses on effective CV writing, interview preparation, public speaking and interpersonal development.
Alizeh discusses her journey to becoming a successful entrepreneur, how she overcame her own self-doubt and the impact of COVID-19 on the students she coaches.
When I moved back to Pakistan I was applying for marketing roles across several industries. But when I went in for an interview to a high school, I vividly remember the energy and positivity I felt being around students. I intuitively knew the environment was going to be the right one for me from a personal satisfaction level. After spending a year there as the College and Careers Counsellor for over 600 students, charting out a student self-awareness and career exploration strategy, I knew this was an area I wanted to specialise in.
So I took the risk, I left my job to set up my own college and career consultancy for students and young professionals.
Was this something I always knew I wanted to do? Not really. But in hindsight, there were moments in my time as a student which were reflective of my career choice. During my time at Imperial I was the Careers Leader for my programme and part of the Student-Staff Committee. And during my undergraduate I worked in the university's Writing Centre conducting CV and Interview feedback sessions. But it was over a long period of time, with career twists and turns, and lots of risks and challenges that I discovered my own passion and career choice.
I am lucky to have a career which I love, where I get to instill hope and positivity in others about their future. I love enabling others to independently learn how to get to know themselves better, set goals, work hard and with honesty when it comes to achieving their dreams, and leap towards growth, self-awareness, and opportunity.
I think there were two key challenges I faced initially. The first one was of self-doubt. Early on when someone asked me what I was doing, I would find it hard to clearly explain that I was a young female entrepreneur. To overcome this, I had to work on my mindset. I began to reassure myself, internally and intrinsically to trust my skillset and believe in myself first, to have confidence in my offering and take pride in what I was doing.
The second challenge was struggling to figure out the right balance between hard work and rest. In my first two years, I was constantly working, and did not take a formal break, or follow strict working hours. I thought that was ‘normal’ for a budding entrepreneur when setting up a new venture. However, I am now actively working on maintaining a balance when it comes to working and giving myself a physical and mental rest, and keeping my emotional and mental health in check too.
COVID-19 has also presented a whole new set of challenges. Students are facing a lot of uncertainty with a completely new mode of learning and education going online.
When it comes to international higher education, for most young people especially those applying from developing countries, one of the main challenges is cost. Owing to foreign exchange rates, studying abroad can be very expensive. I think very talented and capable students can find funding their studies a barrier as they cannot find adequate scholarships or external funding options to make their studies a financial reality.
Another challenge young people face is being overwhelmed at the sheer number of study abroad options, as well as different regions having different criteria, timelines, and application processes. This can lead to students putting together hurried applications, feeling stressed and regretting they didn’t start their research and preparation earlier.
The last challenge they face is realistic goal setting when it comes to their university shortlisting and admission chances. It is good to be positive and aim high, but I often think students are not given the right tools and awareness of how to create an overall balanced university list, where they can be ambitious but also understand the kind of universities they would realistically be a good fit for.
COVID-19 has also presented a whole new set of challenges. Students are facing a lot of uncertainty with a completely new mode of learning and education going online. They are confused, overwhelmed, and nervous about their future job and overall life prospects. COVID has shaken us all in different ways but for students, in particular, they are having to rapidly settle into a very digital and connected, yet sometimes a very isolated, world. They are trying to maintain normalcy in their grades and academic milestones, but it is a very stressful time for them. Especially for students who do not have access to a reliable internet connection or dedicated study space, which could affect academic performance, further adding to their anxieties.
In response to this, I believe overall universities and academia has done a stellar job when it comes to understanding the need for a more humane approach to crisis management and unprecedented volatility. They have kept open a two-way channels of communication, adapted rapidly, and offered support in terms of mental health and trauma support through university facilities.
Ideally I would love to see a bit more flexible with entry requirements and testing criteria, as well as a more holistic approach when it comes to evaluating student profiles, giving weightage to more personal elements to really get to know the student beyond their grades and academic data points.
Imperial and beyond
My degree at Imperial has been one of the best investments of my life and gave me the exposure and a way of thinking that was certainly ahead of its time. I feel the professors, the classroom discussions, the overall ambience really refined me to become someone who likes to innovate, to bring real value into the lives of others, and to take baby steps to solving global problems in a local manner at the heart of the process.
The Imperial experience doesn't just end on graduation day, rather a new phase begins. I certainly see my relationship with my Imperial friends as a lifelong connection which is very precious to me.
As for the future, I see myself combining areas of international higher education, social equity, entrepreneurship, and content creation. I think social media is a great tool when it comes to solving problems for students, reducing barriers of achievement and facilitating equity for students from different income and social brackets. If used mindfully, it can help students really discover who they are, what makes them unique, and explore their passion, personally and professionally. I also can’t wait for the time when travel restrictions are over and I can catch up with my Imperial alumni in person!