The date of our high school graduation was a date to which my classmates and I had been counting down since we were in the ninth grade. Looking back on it now, it all seems over-the-top and ridiculous, but the idea of finally living by ourselves and making our own decisions had everyone way too excited, leading us to harbor rather unrealistic expectations and unattainable standards.
Most of the time, unfortunately, things never seem to quite turn out the way we expect them to. However, this is okay because how else would we learn to grow? On the other hand, if a magical wand-waving fairy were to suddenly materialize in front of my eyes and send me back to my last year of high school, I don’t think I’d mind too much.
Despite all those years of breathless anticipation for graduation, considering everything that I know now and have experienced, it’d be a second chance of sorts, an opportunity to correct my mistakes and to better prepare myself for all the curveballs yet to come.
Purely statistically speaking, though, the chances of my witnessing the sudden materialization of a wand-waving fairy is just a little too low for me to reliably depend on it happening any time soon. So the next best thing? Sharing genuine, good advice with all current high school seniors, of course!
1. Stop stressing over your application.
It’s January. Your college applications have been completed, edited, perfected and submitted. All that is left now to do is to not think about it too much. There’s no use tearing out your hair and losing sleep at night, wondering whether you should have written your essay on your piano performance rather than your culinary talent, or whether you really should have included that last paragraph, which is now beginning to look suspiciously redundant.
Breathe. What’s done is done. You know you wouldn’t have submitted that essay if it really was that terrible. And it’s not. Stop overthinking and regain that pre-submission confidence you had back in November! Time and dedication always pay off, and you worked so hard on your application. So don’t worry – in a few short months, I’m sure you’ll be receiving some very good news in your inbox.
2. Stay off college forums.
In addition to not beating yourself up over your college application, please stay far, far away from those college forums as well! I’m talking especially about those 90-page long posts where everyone uploads their weighted and unweighted GPAs, SAT and AP scores, extracurriculars, academic awards, athletic achievements, etc., begging other users to comment on their chances of being accepted at a certain school. Seriously, the level of statistical analysis that occurs on those forums deserves to be a science on its own.
Honestly, though, those posts are a giant black hole. So many high school seniors get sucked into it, spending hours and hours poring through them, comparing their accomplishments to those of other students, second-guessing themselves and wondering whether or not their own applications would be good enough to beat out the competition.
Unfortunately, all this ever leads to is misguided stress and wasted time. Please remember that almost all of these posts are made by other high school seniors such as yourselves – not college admission officers! Only they would definitively know whether someone has been accepted or not. All the other forum users are simply speculating.
Also keep in mind that many, many schools are now taking a holistic approach to making admission decisions. This means that they are no longer just looking at cold numbers, such as grades and test scores, but are now heavily factoring in more personal factors as well, such as difficult life circumstances and your overall personality. Needless to say, these are things that cannot be realistically conveyed in a single College Confidential post. So get off your laptop and stop comparing yourself to other students, who are just as nervous as you are!
3. In a week, you’re not going to care how your hair looked for prom.
I don’t even want to think about how much time we spent agonizing over what to wear for our senior prom. Dress shopping began sometime around the summer, reached its hysteria in October and by the end of November, everyone had their dresses fitted and ordered. And by Christmas time, everyone had their hair, makeup and manicure appointments all booked and ready to go.
Can I just reiterate that prom was at the end of June?
I’m not saying that prom is overrated or that it’s not special. Far from it! It’s a celebration of all that you have accomplished in high school, and all that you will accomplish in college. It’s a chance to say your thankyous and goodbyes, to hug all your peers for having made through this journey with you. It’s one last hurrah, with good food and good music, before parting onto separate, equally spectacular paths.
In short, prom is about the people and the moments. Sure, it’s fun to dress up and look fantastic, but our superficial wants should never take precedence over the things that truly matter in the end, such as our friends, teachers and teammates.
And in all seriousness, in less than a week after prom, you will neither remember nor care whether your hair was up or down, or if you wore pink lipstick or red lipstick.
4. It’s okay to dress like a slob once in a while.
As you may have noticed during your tours, college is massive! It’s practically a small city in its own right. While the transition from a small high school population to a student size ranging from anywhere between 7,000 and 40,000 does certainly present various challenges, it also has several nice perks, one of them being that you can dress like a slob once in a while, and that no one will notice.
Running late in the morning? Don’t have enough time to brush your hair? Haven’t done your laundry, and all you have left is a crumpled pair of sweatpants? No worries. Just like you find it hard to notice what people are wearing in a crowded mall, it’ll be difficult for other students in a packed lecture hall to notice whether you’ve been wearing the same pair of jeans for days on end.
5. Look for alternatives to coffee.
While coffee may be effective in keeping your eyes open through yet another long day, you may find yourself regretting all those peppermint mochas when you can’t sleep at night. As getting at least seven hours of sleep daily is crucial to our long-term health and well-being, it’s important to look for alternative refreshers to caffeine-packers such as coffee.
You may want to consider green tea, which contains significantly less caffeine than coffee, but still has enough to give you that much-needed energy boost. It’s also full of catechins, which are powerful antioxidants and potent disease fighters found primarily in green tea. According to some research, catechins can even burn fat and prevent cancer!
For an extra revitalizing perk, try some cooling peppermint tea. Not only does it freshen your breath and calm your stomach, it’s known to stimulate the same nerve that is activated when you revive someone with smelling salts.
However, if you find that you’re still longing for the rich, bittersweet flavor of coffee, look no further than a glass of chai. Made with black tea, milk and a variety of spices, such as ginger, cinnamon, clove and cardamom, chai has a smooth, creamy flavor that tastes just like coffee – minus all that caffeine! As a further bonus, each of the various ingredients that chai tea is made of has numerous positive health-boosting benefits! For example, ginger boosts the immune system and improves circulation, while cinnamon helps balance blood sugar and has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antioxidant effects.
6. Plan out your schedule beforehand.
This advice may sound clichéd, but it really does work. For instance, I have often found that taking the approach of “I’ll go slow and steady” without a definitive outline for the day has never ended well. What usually happened was that I ended up feeling way too relaxed, leading to an embarrassing number of hours of my doing nothing but scrolling on my phone, only to look up at the window by chance, realize that the sun had probably set a long, long time ago and proceed to panic and hurriedly attempt to finish my assignments. Key phrase: attempt to finish. Enough said.
On the other hand, planning out a strict schedule for the day (ex. 10 – 12: Ethics paper, 12 – 1: Lunch, 1 – 2: physics problem set, etc.) gave me a clear focus on exactly what I needed to do, and when I needed to do it. It’s also helped me to work at a faster pace than ever before, as just simply looking at the list of everything I had to do would stress me out and deter me from scrolling through Facebook “one more time."
7. Opt for meal coupons over meal plans.
While a meal plan may sound unbelievably convenient at first, sooner or later, you’re going to get sick and tired of eating every meal in your residence dining hall (unless you go to Hogwarts.) Honestly, even McDonalds will start to look good after a week of undercooked chicken and overcooked pasta. Furthermore, there will also inevitably be mornings when you sleep in too late, or evenings when you have no choice but to stay until midnight in the library, leaving you with no choice but to miss your dining hall hours.
Unless you are absolutely certain that you love your dining hall food and are committed to eating every single one of your meals in there, it’s highly likely that you’ll be wasting your money on a meal plan. A much better alternative for those who crave variety, enjoy eating out, or prefer to simply snack throughout the day, is a meal coupon booklet or a similar pay-as-you-go plan. While still being cheaper than what non-meal-plan holders would pay, meal coupons (and the like) definitely offer a lot more flexibility and choice. Now you can skip lunches in the dining hall and head over to the campus sushi place without feeling guilty about wasting any money!
8. Decorate your dorm.
In the summer before college starts, everyone sketches out pages and pages of elaborate interior decorating designs for their dorm rooms. These plans, however, usually fall through the cracks after move-in day. It seems as if once the suitcases have been unpacked and the clothes have been hung, students often push aside thoughts of all menial labor, such as tacking up photographs and stringing up patio lights.
I know the hours of work doesn’t sound fun, but trust me – after you’ve slogged through, your room will look and feel so much better. Instead of a sterile, impersonal space, you’ll now have a warm, inviting oasis you can look forward to at the end of a long day. What better way to unwind and finish up your assignments than under a string of fake glowing stars and a fluffy striped comforter that just so perfectly matches your fluffy striped rug? And what better way to reminisce about your glory days than by gazing at your wall, proudly plastered with “candids” of you and your friends? Try to apply the same enthusiasm to dorm decorating as you would to decorating your house for Christmas!
9. Don’t be afraid to initiate new or awkward conversations.
For some inexplicable reason, several of the most awkward conversations that I’ve ever initiated had led to some of my most long-lasting friendships. For example, a couple years ago, I thought I recognized a girl whom I had seen tagged in a bunch of my friend’s photos on Facebook. Note, however, that we had never met in person before. Regardless, I confidently went up to her, and with no prior greetings whatsoever, asked her if her name was [full first name and last name]. She stared at me for about five minutes, then slowly backed away.
She was a little creeped out, to say the least (and claims she still is), but that initial creepiness was the start of a beautiful friendship. I’m not sure what exactly had been going through my mind that day, but I do know that if it hadn’t been for my ridiculously awkward overconfidence, we probably would have never ended up as close as we are today.
Moral of the story: Being awkward does have its benefits sometimes.
10. Nothing’s wrong with changing your major.
Absolutely nothing is wrong with changing your major! According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 80% of students in the United States end up changing their major at least once. Furthermore, on average, college students change their major at least three times over the course of their college career.
Changing your focus of study to reflect your changing interests is the absolute best thing you can do! Never feel that because you came into college thinking you want to graduate with an English degree that you necessarily have to stick to it. Who knows? Maybe after exploring various different courses in your first and second years, you’ll start to feel that you’re much better suited for astrophysics. Or perhaps it will be a slightly less radical change, such as from economics to statistics.
As long as you’ve completed all the required courses, making the switch is usually as simple as an email to your department. Note, however, that should you wish to change majors in your third or fourth year, it may take you an additional year or two to graduate, depending on how many more required courses you then have to complete.
The bottom line is, do what you feel is the best for you. Your degree is what you will use to apply for grad schools and jobs. Do you really want to be doing something which you’ve lost interest in as your career for thirty years?
11. Some things will be disappointing.
As I’ve previously mentioned in the beginning of this article, not all things turn out the way we hoped. Who doesn’t want the biggest room on campus, a 100% on their final exam, and a coveted spot on the executive team of that notoriously exclusive club? But sometimes, despite all our efforts, even our best-laid plans don’t work out.
Don’t give up hope. Setbacks and disappointments happen to everyone, even the best of us! According to Business Insider, some of the world's most successful people have failed — sometimes more than once. For instance, Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because his editor felt he "lacked imagination and had no good ideas." Oprah Winfrey was publicly fired from her first television job as an anchor in Baltimore for getting "too emotionally invested in her stories." Thomas Edison's teachers told him he was "too stupid to learn anything." And in one of Fred Astaire's first screen tests, an executive wrote: "Can't sing. Can't act. Slightly balding. Can dance a little."
Weaker people may have given up. Instead, these individuals, determined to push past their rejections and prove themselves to the world, stayed focused on their goals and have subsequently gone on to become indisputable success stories.
And so can you.
So there you have it. A compilation of the top eleven pieces of advice that I would give to any graduating high school senior, including my past self. Sadly, without a magical wand-waving fairy, the rules of physics state that it is simply impossible to go back into the past. However, we can go into the future. And we can go into it prepared, strong and determined.
If only someone could have told me all this when I was a high school senior!
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