Wisdom for the rising senior and college freshman


How do we know it’s officially summer? The skies are blue and bright, ice cream trucks are singing through the streets, and all around the world students are freaking out! Rising high school seniors are anxious about approaching college application deadlines and recent high school graduates are panicking about packing up all of their belongings and starting the next chapter of their lives. It got me thinking….what if we brought all of these overwhelmed students together? What wisdom would the new high school diploma holders share with their younger peers? And could the seniors-to-be possibly say anything that would relax the older students who have already “been there and done that?” I envision those heading off to college might share some of the following reflections.

For those heading into Senior Year:

1. Everyone is afraid of the same thing

99.9% of the students that I have worked with, at some point in the process, have expressed fear that they “wouldn’t get in anywhere.” Guess what? It’s never happened! I’ve never worked with a student who had no options come April. There are nearly 4000 colleges in North America. You will find a school that meets all of your needs. Don’t limit yourself to the same dozen that everyone else is talking about. Make lists of things that your ideal college “must have” and things which “it’d be nice” if it had. Stick to your list and what is important to you. A large campus with a record winning football team and tons of spirit might be great for your best friend, but if it doesn’t have the things on your “must have” list, don’t put it on your list.

2. It’s OK to ask questions

You’ve been hearing about the college application process for years already. But that doesn’t mean you intuitively know how to complete it. There are lots of pieces to consider: choosing the schools, writing the essays, deciding which teachers you want to write your recommendations, understanding the financial aid process, the differences between early action and early decision, priority deadlines, prioritizing your accomplishments and leadership experience, etc. How do you begin putting those pieces in place? Help is all around you. The more questions you ask, the stronger your applications will be.

3.They really want to learn more about you

The key to a successful college application is distinguishing yourself from the thousands of other applicants. Admission professionals genuinely want to know what makes you tick. They read thousands of essays, many of which are very similar. What story can you tell that will make them remember you?

4.You will get through it!

No one has ever died from completing college applications. Make a spreadsheet of everything you need to do for each college on your list: include the number of recommendation letters needed, application fees, whether SAT IIs are required, anything that will require an action from you. Make a calendar and set deadlines for yourself: make sure to include a buffer ahead of the school’s deadline. Your goal should be to have everything “in the mail” at least two weeks before the actual deadline. Make a list of all of the essay questions you need to answer for each school and go through it to see which you might be able to reuse or tweak for multiple schools so that you’re not spending your whole senior year typing new essays. Yes, it will take some time to create these things. But, being organized is the best way to get through this process. And, remember point two….you don’t have to do this alone! Ironically, those newly learned in how to handle stress would simply tell their older counterparts to listen to their own advice!

For those heading off to college in the fall:

1. Everyone is afraid of the same thing

99.9 of students are worried that they won’t make friends at their new school, that the other kids will be smarter, or some similar insecurity. Guess what? It’s normal! No matter how well prepared you are, college is still new and different. I would be worried about a student who wasn’t at least the tiniest bit nervous about it.

2. It’s OK to ask questions

Even if you’ve visited your campus multiple times, you won’t know everything. That’s OK. No one expects you to. Most likely you will attend an orientation program. When it’s over, you will likely have more confidence about where things are located and how to get from your dorm to the dining hall and classes; but I guarantee there will still be things you don’t know. That’s a good thing. Understanding what you don’t know and figuring out how to learn it is the point of going to college. Don’t tell anyone, but that’s how you mature and become a successful adult.

3. They really want to learn more about you

Remember how I said everyone is nervous? It’s still true. Your roommates and classmates are looking for friends, just like you are. They want to have a person to confess to when they can’t find a building, when they’ve slept through a class for the first time, or when they’ve met the perfect partner. College is the perfect time to shed your high school persona. Be yourself, be open to new experiences; and keep in mind that if people feel you are negative or unapproachable, they will avoid you and it will be a very long four years. But, if people feel that you are genuine, they will be drawn to you and you will establish life-long relationships.

4. You will get through it

No one has ever died from going off to college. When I went to college, I didn’t know anyone; and it felt like everyone in my dorm knew at least five people. I had a roommate who completely rearranged the furniture, (without consulting me) leaving me no space in my own room. I once walked into a class an hour late because I had my schedule confused. I had my heart broken. I failed a class. You know what? I survived. Many people refer to college as the best years of your life. To be honest, I think that’s a lot of pressure to put on the experience. But, it’s definitely not something to approach with fear. No matter where you go, no matter what you study, you will grow and change. You will impress and surprise others; and, most importantly, you will impress and surprise yourself! Now that you’ve reviewed these pronouncements, you may be wondering how these kids became so worldly and perceptive. That, I’m afraid, will have to be answered in a future blog! In the meantime, keep in mind that just as rising high school seniors have lessons to teach rising college freshmen and vice versa, you, too, can learn from anyone. Listen, observe, take in the world around you and keep in mind that whether you’re finishing high school or starting college, what you learn outside the classroom is just as important as what you learn in it!

Reena Gold Kamins is a former admissions officer and the founder of College, Career & Life, LLC. Reena has 15 years of college counseling experience and offers Unigo sessions on Getting In, Paying For It,  and College Life.

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