As a high school student, you will go through your unique experience. Your actions and decisions will be influenced by your parents, peers, teachers and the environment that surrounds you. You will have older students to look up to, and classmates your age to experience your last years at school with.
The following are a number of advice that I wish I could have been sure of back at school. It could have saved me from a lot of insecurity and emotional instability. The list of advice that I have written down are from a point of view from an ambitious girl who was rejected to all the 12 competitive colleges she applied to. So I’m writing as someone who’s aiming to do the best she can for her future. I’m aware that not every one is as ambitious or career-focused as I am, and that’s alright. This is just me.
But before you read them, the best advice that I can give you now is to follow your gut. As much influence and power that someone has over you (your teachers, parents), only you know yourself best, and if you make a wrong decision, ultimately you can’t blame anyone but yourself.
1. The concept of well-roundedness is overhyped.
You might spend many years at school exploring your passions and challenging your interests by involving yourself in a wide range of activities. This is something that you should do, as you will allow yourself to step out of your comfort and learn to thrive in different situations.
However, the ultimate purpose of going to college and choosing a career means that you will need to specialize and focus on a few things at a time. And that’s what you should aim to do. It’s better to do few activities and master them, than do a wide range of activities shallowly.
2. Your activities should be both career-oriented and hobby-related.
By focusing on activities that are related to your career of choice, you will be showing universities your genuine interest and commitment to that subject. My career-oriented activity was leading a sign language movement at my school and volunteering at a deaf school, which reflects my passion for languages, disabilities, and community service.
Similarly, by following your hobbies outside class (music, art, sports) you are also demonstrating your uniqueness by committing to other passions. My hobby was playing the cello, and though I have never planned to pursue it professionally, classical music has shown me that artistry and aesthetics will always exist in this world.
3. Choose your courses based on your genuine interests.
If you’re doing the IB or AP program, make sure that you choose the courses that you actually like, and not due to someone else’s experiences. This was the worst mistake that I ever made in high school, because I didn’t choose my IB courses based on my interests. I had my family behind me, including an older brother with very distinct interests, but I was still convinced to choose classes and the difficulty of the classes based on my brother’s experience.
But two years of classes that you don’t enjoy enjoy, while you remorse over the fact that you could have chosen other classes, will be your suffering. Don’t get me wrong – always be open to suggestions, but if you don’t feel it’s the right choice, then it probably isn’t.
4. Prioritize your academic studies, especially if you’re planning to apply abroad.
I decided to apply to US universities, which require several standardized tests: TOEFL, SAT and/or ACT and SAT Subject Tests. These are important, and the number of tests that you need to take depends on the colleges that you apply to, but please: don’t make these tests more important that your academic performance at school.
I let these tests affect my performance in my senior year, and my grades suffered the consequences gravely. Going to these test centers for over 10 times, sometimes to retake twice or three times a test in order to improve my scores, was not worth it. They should be important, as they assess you on a level playing ground with all the students globally, but they shouldn’t overshadow your performance at school, which should be the primary thing on your list.
4. Enjoy high school.
I spent my last few years at school worrying about grades, competition, universities, and… I let it eat my life away. Yes, you should worry about these things, and yes, education and college and everything else are a competition, but not to the point that it affects your mentality and outlook on life. I was so daunted by the idea of not going to a prestigious university because of the influence and pressure that I had surrounding myself, but I think the most important thing you should know about yourself is that you are going to be okay.
Your satisfaction in life is going to depend on how you approach everything that you do, and not on whether you get into one of the top 10 universities in the world or get a job at the most profitable company right now.
What really matters is your attitude. The way you approach things. How ambitious you are towards your goal. The people you surround yourself with. That is what will determine the outcome of your life.