Are you about to start the next four years of high school? Or perhaps you're already a high schooler who's thinking of the college application process lurking around the corner? No matter which grade you’re in, college applications is probably floating around your mind.
Get started early rather than scrambling last minute for things to include in your application. It'll be easier to know which colleges are a best fit, who to ask for letters of recommendation and what to write about in your college essays. Here I have outlined some strategies to help prepare yourself for college applications.
1. Join extracurricular activities
Participating in extracurricular activities, such as sports or clubs, provides the perfect opportunity to figure out what you might like to study in college. In high school, I was part of the National Art Honor Society, photography club, tutoring club, and varsity basketball. Not only did these hobbies make school so much more enjoyable, but I also met some of my closest friends through extracurricular activities. After being involved in some of the clubs for some time, I became president and was able to write about my leadership style and teamwork in my college essays. I also developed a good relationship with one of the club's supervisors who was also my teacher, and he happily wrote a recommendation letter. Which brings me to my next point: develop relationships with your teachers.
2. Get to really know one or two teachers
What made my high school so memorable were my teachers. In a classroom setting, teachers might seem dull. However, I got to know them more deeply by prodding them for answers when I had questions on a topic discussed in the classroom. I found them to be very knowledgeable and had some amazing stories to tell. In fact, a conversation with Mr. Musk about the meaning of life inspired me to become a teacher. When teachers get to know you on a deeper level, they’re able to write a much more personable recommendation letters for you. There is no doubt that they played an important role in strengthening my college application.
3. Use your summers
I took advantage of my summers by attending summer camps and interning. I first became interested in advertising after taking a class at UCLA, and was able to use this experience to explore my academic interest in media studies. I was able to elaborate on this in one of my college essays.
I also overcame some of my biggest challenges while traveling abroad, and wrote about these experiences in my college essay. I decided to intern as an assistant English teacher during the summer after my junior year summer which reaffirmed my long-term goal of becoming a teacher.
4. Take time for introspection
The key to writing a good college essay is knowing yourself. Introspection helped me figure out what my values are, how I relate to others, and academic and career aspirations. In one college essay, I wrote about my visit to MoMA in New York and how Dalí’s Persistence of Memory provoked me to think about my worldview.
Introspection also makes you aware of your learning style and goals, which are important factors in deciding on the college you want to attend. I was faced with a difficult choice between a small college versus UC Berkeley (two extremes!). Although tempted to pick the smaller, more comfortable college, I thought of the occasions where being out of my comfort zone forced me to grow and ultimately thrive. It took self-discovery and honesty for me to choose the right school.
Whether you’re about to start high school, or you’re already wrapping up your junior year, these are easier and useful ways to prepare for the college application process. The goal is that by the time you apply, you will have:
- established your interests through extracurricular activities;
- excellent recommendation letters from teachers you've built good working relationships with;
- solidified your career and academic aspirations through meaningful summers; and
- developed a greater sense of self to enable you to find a college that best fits you.
Good luck with your high school journey!