It’s never too early to start preparing.
SATs and ACTs… they are pretty much the bane of my existence. Though finishing your testing before senior fall is ideal, sometimes reality hits you in the face with a frying pan. If someone had suggested I study a little sooner (cough, cough, summer before junior year), things would be a whole lot easier now. Also, a note to all the underclassman out there: you can take these tests any time. That means if you are a good reader, it’s totally okay to take the SAT 2 Lit test during sophomore year. Ignore the eye rolls you get from your friends. They’re the ones who will be stressing when there aren’t enough testing dates left before they apply.
Don’t try and be something you’re not.
There are two things colleges want to see in your essay. First and foremost, they want to know that you can write coherently and use proper punctuation. Secondly, they want to see passion. If I’m being blatantly honest, the topic itself isn’t even important. If what you say isn’t genuine, it will crash and burn. Every time I sit in on a college informational session, the admissions officers have explained that their favorite essays have been simple and beautiful: like riding a bike or eating breakfast a certain way. It’s weird, I know, but write from your heart.
Find your “thing” and follow through.
The not-so-secret goal of the college office is to tie you up into a pretty little package deal. Not that you should play into everything they say, but it’s true that to get into college you don’t need to join every activity available. If you don’t have a diverse, lengthy list of talents, that’s OK! One of the best things you can do in high school is to find your niche, and stick it through. Commitment and leadership earn you major points.
You might not fall in love with a school.
After visiting your tenth college, you may start to panic. Why didn’t any of them seem perfect? How come you didn’t love with the campus? Will you fit in anywhere? Here’s the truth: that heart-wrenching “this is the place for me” feeling might never come. Between the tour, brochures and hours of research you still won’t know what it feels like to be an actual student. Trust your instincts on this one. You’ll find yourself happily adapting to wherever you go.
It’s important to have an outlet.
There will be tears. You will throw objects. Don’t let the stress and expectations suffocate you. The way you avoid hitting overdrive is by finding an outlet that allows you to cool off. I tend to channel all that frustration into poetry or binge on Breakfast at Tiffany’s and coffee ice cream. Excessively working will psychological burn you out, do yourself a favor and find an escape.
Don’t go on interviews until you’re prepared.
May day! Alert! Alert! What is the biggest mistake you could make? Showing up to a college interview uninformed. I learned this first-hand when I walked into one at the beginning of junior year. The meeting was painfully awkward, simply because I could not tell the person why I liked their school. You should wait until you are closer to applying before scheduling an interview. That way, you will have a better understanding of what you want and how to get it. You will also be fresh on their minds when it comes time for them to decide!
Have a teacher who knows you beyond the classroom.
Towards the end of junior year you will have to consider which teacher is going to write your recommendation. This rec is not to be taken lightly. If someone is going to speak on your behalf, make sure that they are going to fight for you to the death. “Hardworking” and “good input” is not going to make you stand out from 20,000 other applicants. Schedule a lunch to discuss what is important to you outside of the classroom so that the teacher can speak holistically. It is OK to be direct about what you want colleges to learn.
Sometimes, a “mental health day” is necessary.
Don’t mistake this tip for having anything to do with relaxing on the couch while watching the latest episode of Breaking Bad. A mental health day is the emergency eject button of high school. If things get too insane — you have two tests, an essay and a SAT tutor coming over tomorrow — you might just need space and quiet to get things done. No, it is not acceptable to make “playing hooky” a part of your weekly itinerary or to use it to avoid finals. This get-out-of-jail-free card should be handled with care.
What you think you want and what you actually want are two different things.
I recently had a college-search identity crisis. Everything that I thought I wanted -– to leave the northeast, the cold and the small school drama –- all of a sudden seemed limiting. This realization changed the way I look at my past, present and future. It’s allowed me to add schools back onto my list and it’s also made me question where my opinions have come from. Have an open mind about where you should visit. Some of the best experiences come from the unexpected.
Time works in mysterious ways.
Does it feel like your life is flashing before your eyes? Mine does. Someone pressed fast-forward and forgot to let go. Here we are, on a never-ending roller coaster ride, blurring the colors and experiences into one adrenaline-pumping vein of time. Where I’ll turn up, I cannot begin to predict. All I can hope is that I have made the most of what I’ve been given. Search for that pause button. High school will be gone before you know it.