As soon as we wrote our blog post that included excellent advice from freshmen and sophomores for eighth graders, we knew we had to interview older students, too. We spoke with Michael, a senior, and Emma, a college freshman. As we expected, they offered insightful guidance for high school students. Their tips will help you maximize your high school years!
Both Michael and Emma talked about what a difference it makes to plan ahead and avoid procrastinating for both short and long-term goals. Michael listened to people older than him who encouraged him to put his best foot forward freshman year, rather than waiting until later to kick it into gear. He echoed their advice, “Put in the effort freshman year. The earlier you understand that, the better your GPA will be, and you’ll present yourself better in class.”
Buckling down freshman year will pay off in a few ways. As a senior now, Michael appreciates that his solid GPA and good study habits make it possible to go to the college he wants to, not just one he can get into. For other students, setting up a good foundation freshman year means they can participate in internships or win scholarships or simply not have to play catch-up down the road.
Emma discussed the importance of planning ahead when it comes to two essential pieces of the college admissions process: the ACT (or SAT) and application essays. Regarding the ACT, she found it really helpful to take a practice test with Nurturing Wisdom. The experience and score analysis showed “what I needed to do moving forward. I also had an idea of what score I could get. I didn’t go into the actual testing environment without knowing what to expect.”
Looking back on her experience writing college applications and essays (for thirteen schools!), Emma recognizes now that starting earlier would have been beneficial. “I wrote a ton, so it took a while. I wrote when I had free time. Most of it was done over one month. I know people who started earlier and had extra time to edit.” We back Emma’s recommendation to give yourself plenty of time for all of the essay writing you’ll have to do – even if you apply to fewer schools than she did. Starting over the summer, well before school starts, makes it a much less stressful endeavor.
As mentioned above, Michael looks to those who’ve already been where he is for advice. He appreciates having older siblings who had the same teachers and can offer tips for succeeding in their classes. He also noted, “My sisters set very good examples for me. Once I got to high school, I realized they were in their rooms studying, and that I had to be more like them!”
Michael has also noticed that many students see learning as taking in information just to regurgitate it on tests – their only goal being to get a good grade. He knows that’s not truly learning. “I want to know about the material. It’s easier to understand in the long run.” Agreed! When you strive to engage with what you’re learning rather than simply memorize, you’ll comprehend at a deeper level. And guess what? Good grades will follow! It’s also a much more interesting way to learn.
Emma avoided just going through the motions as she worked through the college admissions process. She was fortunate enough to have a college counselor at school, and with his assistance, she had a more complete understanding of the pieces of the puzzle. “Whenever I had a question about any part of the process, I could go to him. I utilized it a lot, and it was really helpful. I knew my counselor knew what he was talking about, and he made sure I had a varied list of schools.”
By the time she was a senior, Emma had more choice in the classes she took. She made the most of this by curating a course load that would help her grow. “I don’t like history, so I took a challenging history class to learn how to study for a class I wasn’t really interested in. I’m really interested in science, so I also took an AP science class. I had to work a little bit harder to do well in the more challenging class.”
It’s not only the class content that will help you develop skills. Emma learned from the different kinds of students in her classes, and she gained experience with new ways of learning. This will serve her well in college. “In AP classes, it’s a lot of teaching yourself information.” Often students initially struggle in classes like this, but when they persevere, ask for help, and integrate new strategies, they come out more confident learners.
Michael talked about balance in the context of extra-curricular activities. “A lot of high school students are athletes. Everyone says, ‘School before athletics!’ And, yes, school before athletics; but also: be competitive in athletics, clubs, whatever. The more dedicated you are to anything, the more dedicated you’ll be to school work.”
Finding this balance can be difficult if you don’t have strong executive functioning skills (everything from organization to study skills to self-advocacy), so seek out support if you need it. These skills can be learned, and they will improve all aspects of your life, not just the school part!
One final piece of advice – and it’s a big one. When you’re in the thick of the college search, it’s very easy to fall in love with one school and believe it’s the only place you’ll be happy and fulfilled. Emma saw this with several of her friends.The catch? They weren’t accepted to that one and only school. Thankfully, now that the initial disappointment has worn off, “they’re so excited about their schools. Just trust that something will work out. In the end you’ll think, ‘I’m glad that worked out the way it did!’ It’s what you make of it.”
There may be no doubt that you’ll get into your top choice school. Still, don’t let it eclipse all of the other schools that will be a fantastic place for you to learn, meet new friends, establish fresh interests, and become who you will be! We’ve talked with many students who changed their mind after visiting their dream school. Others realized another school actually lined up much better with their top priorities (for example, their major, class size, or tuition assistance).
We hope these insights from Emma and Michael inspire you to make the most out of your high school years. Don’t be shy about asking your family members and friends for their advice. Then figure out how to integrate it into your life!