The college admissions process can seem like a race to the top. High school students seem to be thrown into this “race” mentality earlier and earlier, feeling pressure from their peers, parents, and schools to “prepare for college” before they can appreciate their time in high school. Social media, news articles, and even colleges themselves don’t help this notion, often fanning the flames and feeding into high schoolers’ stress.
But students can learn to block out the noise and slow this “race” down to enjoy the learning and growth that comes in high school. The refrain “better person, better applicant” rings true here—students who focus on their growth, development, and interests for the long run make stronger applicants when the time comes to apply to college. The resulting introspection and thoughtfulness that comes from meaningfully exploring your interests through classes and activities in high school will benefit you for years beyond doing something “for college” would. To help you get there, below are questions to ask yourself designed to help you slow down and think deeply about where you are at this point in your life.
What is important to you at this point in your life?
This big question can help shape the rest of your college application process in meaningful ways. Take stock of what classes you have enjoyed, what clubs and activities are important to you, and where you have felt like you have thrived in high school.
Then, ask yourself why you enjoy those things. Do the labs in your chemistry classes excite you? Are you curious about the topics covered in your Model United Nations club? Are you at your best when you’re in nature?
These answers can become the guidelines for your college search. Colleges that fit your interests and your preferred environments are the right ones for you. This skill will help you later down the road with big decisions like what to major in, where you want to apply for your first job, and other major life choices.
Are the schools on your list going to serve you well?
U.S. News and World Report regularly ranks colleges on multiple criteria. But the only ranking that should matter is your own. Entering your college search with your self-generated guidelines will help you gauge where each institution stands to fit your needs. Colleges without intriguing science laboratories, a student body focused on international issues, and access to a sprawling park system will likely not work for you.
As with any process, the college search has some give and take. Not every college will meet your guidelines, so what are you willing to forgo to have other parameters met? Take your analysis to the next level and overlay these answers with the realities of the college process, too. Are your grades competitive? Does the college have the support you’d need to succeed? Is this a good financial decision for you and your family?
What conversations have you had with important people in your life?
The best part about this process is that you do not have to go through it alone. Finding people in your life who you trust and who know you well—family, mentors, and advisors, for example—can help you make sense of your big questions, concerns, and thoughts. Communicating with people you trust in your life can help smooth out this process. These conversations may be fun and they may be uncomfortable at times, especially when talking about the financial realities of attending college.
If you are working with us, know that we are in your corner, as well— here to help you ask those questions and make sense of the answers. The college application process is not a race, but together, we can go far.