by Cassie Nichols
It’s here again: that time of year when America’s collective advertising space is deluged with images of happy teens in snappy new clothes, toting cool new backpacks and booting up shiny new laptops, each heading for the coolest, most stylish school year ever, thanks to stunning deals at their local retailer.
But there’s something lurking beneath the flashy ads and frenetic back-to-school hype. As all-consuming as teen fashion and high school social mores can be, there’s a higher purpose to these four years: preparing for college.
With that in mind, here are a few important—if somewhat less titillating—things to consider as you head into fall.
Seniors – Get Started
If you haven’t started your college essays, now is the time. Many of our students have been working on their essays since June, and a few of them are actually nearing the finish line. Not to worry, there’s still more than enough time… but that won’t be the case a month from now. So start brainstorming and writing those college essays.
In fact, it’s time to start the rest of the college application process as well. Jump online and register for the Common Application. Other state college/university applications are available as well, including the University of California application. Make a list of all your applications and their corresponding deadlines. Set a weekly schedule that allows you to pace yourself throughout the application season and complete your applications successfully.
More importantly, a solid schedule will help you manage the stress of balancing the college application process with the rest of your schoolwork. Some of our students, for example, dedicate their Saturday mornings to college essays and applications, leaving Sunday free for their schoolwork.
Senior year is a special time, one that you’ll remember forever. With some organization and diligence, you’ll remember it for all the right reasons.
Juniors – Get Ahead
There’s a reason everyone says junior year is the hardest year; it is. As a junior, you will probably have a difficult academic schedule combined with a heavy extracurricular schedule and a standardized test schedule that will occasionally feel overwhelming. You can’t avoid the requirements, but you can meet them head-on with confidence and enthusiasm if you stay on top of your schoolwork and anticipate what lies ahead. The more prepared and proactive you are, the easier it will be to get through this year.
Again, it’s about organization. Know the standardized test dates and their corresponding registration deadlines. Figure out when to take SAT Subject Tests, and whether you should take the ACT or SAT.
Also, avoid forming specific expectations about college just yet. It’s absolutely okay to start talking about colleges this fall, but think more about the college experience you want, rather than which colleges will accept you. And, most of all, try not to get caught up in the anxiety of those around you. Keep it casual for now, knowing that, if you take care of business, things will fall into place.
Sophomores – Get Focused
Remember last year when you joined every club and sport and activity your school offered? Well, this is your year to start narrowing your focus. What really makes you happy? What do you find the most meaningful, both inside and outside the classroom?
For example, if you loved your physics class last year, perhaps there’s a way to explore the sciences beyond what the classroom offers. Perhaps you enjoyed volunteering for a specific organization, or fell in love with one sport in particular. Focus on what moves you. Don’t feel like you have to do “everything”; just figure out what gets you excited and pursue it with enthusiasm.
Freshmen – Get Excited
Everybody knows that freshman year doesn’t really matter. Everybody knows that colleges don’t care about your freshman year grades, activities and experiences. And everybody’s wrong.
In my experience, the students who have had the most successful college applications have been those who started out as excited freshmen. So get excited about your classes and all of the new things you can learn. Get excited about all of the activities that are suddenly available to you, and get excited about taking risks, both inside and outside the classroom.
Try new things, and don’t be afraid of the occasional stumble. Be willing, be eager, and ask questions. Your high school career will be over before you know it, and it starts right here, right now.
Make it extraordinary.