Rome Wasn't Built in a Day
Aug 5, 2016
If it hasn’t already happened, it will soon: your peers, educators, and parents will interrogate you with a much-feared and much-asked question—are you going to college?
Being asked “are you going to college?” is a rite of passage for any student, and it’s often coupled with even more weighty questions, including what will you study in college? what will you do to prepare for college? what will you write your personal statement about?
I know, students. I was once one of you, moaning over my parents’ constant inquiries. I feel your pain. But all groans aside, these truly are important questions. Where you go to college will determine your future friends, and what you decide to study will affect your future career and prosperity. You should consider these questions seriously, and more importantly, consider them early.
You know how the old adage goes: Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither is a high-achieving, well-rounded, rockstar student. Colleges will evaluate applicants on a variety of factors: test scores, GPA, extracurriculars, and leadership positions, to name a few. Pro tip: you should be working towards making yourself the best applicant every single day. Should you eat, breathe, and sleep college applications? No way! I’m talking about baby steps—doing your homework every night, enrolling in clubs and activities that reflect a variety of interests, and taking leadership opportunities when they’re presented. If you plan ahead, applying to college will be way less stress-inducing.
Ultimately, early planning is the most efficient, least stressful, and most productive way to prepare for college. Trust me, you’ll be much happier if you view the process of applying as a journey rather than a task to be completed.
Give Yourself a Competitive Edge
Colleges are becoming more and more selective. For example, Columbia university admitted only 2,220 students out of 36,350 applicants, giving it just a 6% acceptance rate. Yikes! Applicants have to be well-rounded, and when selecting applicants for admission, colleges consider a variety of factors. Do you demonstrate maturity? Academic prowess? Participation in various extracurriculars? Most importantly, do you utilize opportunities as vehicles for further growth and success?
Here’s the good news: it’s easier to present a well-rounded portrait of yourself than you think. Let’s take a look at the graphic below.
As you can see, Ronnie Rockstar is not represented by one piece of “pie,” but many. Ronnie is a basketball dynamo, so he practiced every day after school, working his way up from the freshman team to varsity. He spent his summers at basketball camp to fine tune his game and eventually ended up as captain of the Varsity team. He’s also an academic dynamo, enrolling in an average of 3 AP classes per semester. After taking AP Physics his junior year, he discovered his passion for science and decided he might want to pursue the subject in college. That summer, Ronnie volunteered at Caltech’s research lab and even built his own robot to compete in a robotics competition!
I can hear you groaning again: “Ronnie is an academic rockstar. I’m not.”
First, yes, you are a rockstar, you big silly! Take a look at yet another rockstar student, Susie Superstar.
Susie Superstar didn’t know what she wanted to do when she got into high school–she just knew she wasn’t great at math or science. She enjoyed reading and english, so she put her best foot forward in English 1. But when she saw the Spring Play, her passion ignited. She sat down with her counselor immediately and signed up for Theater class as her Sophomore year elective. Theater became Susie’s life: she joined the Theater Club, worked as a T.A. for her Theater teacher, volunteered and auditioned for local productions, and even got a part-time job at a local theater. And that’s not all! Her hard work in English 1 paid off as her counselor bumped her up into English Honors and AP literature classes. And finally, even though math and science classes were never her forte, she made sure to do her homework every day and try her best, maintaining A’s and B’s. What a superstar, right?
So, the most important lesson is that Ronnie and Susie are both involved in activities that they’re passionate about—they don’t view college as a sort of video game where they have to collect “extracurricular,” “leadership,” and “good grades” trophies. Their activities have unfolded organically and over a sustained period of time, giving them the best chance at getting into their top college. When senior year rolls around, Ronnie and Susie won’t have to worry about squeezing in an extra involvement to make themselves more competitive applicants—they’ve already done so, and it’s smooth sailing from here.
In addition, Ronnie and Susie have given themselves the opportunity to test out various activities. A fundamental aspect of high school (and your entire life!) is exploration. It’s kind of like what my parents used to tell my picky-toddler-self: why don’t you at least try it? So, I encourage all you rockstars to get out there and try something new. Try your hand at lacrosse, or sit down and bang out a beat on the drums. Most importantly, stick with the things you love. That passion will undoubtedly shine through when you begin to write your college application essays, as colleges love passionate individuals.
So, learn from Ronnie and Susie’s example—plan and sample classes and activities ahead of time, and most importantly, enjoy yourself along the way. You’ll thank yourself when it’s finally time to apply!