We get lots of questions from high school students and their parents about applying for college and university. Students who have endured high level, challenging courses, rigorous term papers and science projects, had leadership positions on sports teams and extracurricular activities like orchestra, drama, and school newspapers, and kept their grades high still find themselves full of stress when it comes to getting ready for post-high school education. Stress does not have to be a given. Stay relaxed, focused, and surround yourself with good friends and family who will support you. Then, of course, return the favor to them. Now’s not the time to be a loner.
Here are five simple reminders that can help. I’ve written about many of these suggestions before, so I’ve put hyperlinks in parentheses for you to read more if you’d like.
1. Keep up your grades and studies. Sounds simple, right? By the end of high school, many seniors can lose steam, be tempted to drift toward the finish line, rest on their laurels. Now’s not the time to do that. Set your goals high. Graduate with honors, make the principal’s list, even aim for an award or scholarship or two. There’s nothing like going out with a bang!
2. Keep yourself persistent, organized, and disciplined. Regular readers of my blog will know that I swear by persistence (December 29, 2008), advocate for keeping yourself organized (September 9, 2008, and September 11, 2008), and preach the power of taking control of your life. I’ve written about the advantage of having study buddies who can help motivate and support you and keep you sharp for tests and important projects (December 2, 2008). Make sure your extra curricular activities are meaningful to you and your possible activities in college. And most important, get help when you need it. Take a test-prep course from a reliable provider, like Sylvan Learning, so you’ll be familiar with test-taking strategies and the experience itself (July 15, 2008, and July 17, 2008). Balance your school and social life (November 4, 2008, and November 6, 2008). Choose good friends to hang out with, friends who will understand and support your choices.
3. Maintain your study skills. Focus on organization, time-management, and test-taking (October 7, 2008, and October 9, 2008). You’ll find these skills important in high school and vital in college. Keep up your reading of fiction and non-fiction. Stay curious about the world around you. Indulge your interests, learn from them, and make connections to the wider world. Life’s much more interesting when your work and your interests are the same.
4. Use your summers wisely. Save money for college expenses like food, books, tuition, housing, transportation, and, yes, fun. Try to find a job that challenges you and has some relevance to your interests or studies. Make even the most menial job a learning experience. (Someday I’ll write about working in a psychiatric hospital with difficult adolescents when I was eighteen – the hardest thing I ever did and ultimately the best training I ever had for teaching. I was able to survive anything after that!)
5. Understand the college application process. Involve your family. Talk to your parents and other significant adults in your life, and explain why you chose a particular school. It’ll be a good exercise for when you’re interviewing with an admissions dean. Use the expertise of your school guidance counselor (February 2, 2009). Know what tests you’ll need, what deadlines you’ll have to meet, the costs, and other requirements like letters of recommendation. Do your “due diligence.” Is the school’s curriculum appropriate for your needs, goals, and interests? What about extracurriculars? Sports? Financial aid? Scholarships and grants? Does the school have the special programs you’re interested in (Study abroad, interesting internships, orROTC, for example)?
This sounds like a lot, I know, but if you start early, involve your friends, family, and school professionals in your choices, you’ll avoid the disadvantages of rushing and feeling alone at a time when you need all the support you can get. There’s strength in numbers, remember.