Throughout the duration of high school, countless were the nights I would sit wide awake at my desk in the early hours of the morning, writing and rewriting essays and attempting to memorize hundreds of Spanish vocab words.
“High-strung” being the understatement of the decade to describe the way I approached high school, the thought of transitioning into college and college applications always hung in the back of my mind.
What if my test score just isn’t high enough? What if after all this time I don’t have the opportunity to go to a school I want to go to? What if I’m not ready?
Back and forth these thoughts nagged at me like a fly circling my head that I just couldn’t catch. But regardless of whether or not you share my near-constant worries, I still think most people would admit they feel some level of anxiety when facing the prospects of college and college applications.
The college process is stressful, yes, no one can deny that. But at the same time, if you have the right perspective going into it, it can be very manageable, and it doesn’t have to keep you up at night.
These are the best pieces of advice I’ve learned for keeping your mind in the right place while applying and transitioning into college.
5 Life Lessons I’ve Learned Transitioning Into College
1. You Don’t Have to Know What You’re Doing or Where You’re Going
One of the things I noticed when applying and transitioning into college is that many people seem to have a plan for their future, down to every last detail.
Maybe your best friend says she’s going to become a vascular surgery specialist after medical school at Duke, and maybe she does. But maybe she doesn’t.
In fact, most people enter high school or college with a clear-cut idea of what they want to do, and they end up doing a complete 360. It’s ok to have a clear plan for your future, having specific goals and aspirations is great!
“Explore all of your options that each school has to offer.”
It’s also ok to have no idea what you want to do or where you want to go. Sometimes, you have to take the process day by day with the knowledge that you might not know exactly where you’re going or what you want to do.
Even if you have no idea what you want, exploring all of your options and all that each school has to offer can help give you an idea of what’s out there.
2. So Many People Are There to Help You
As I began writing essays for each of my applications, I remember opening a document and staring at the blank page for far too long. I felt as though I had little idea of what a college essay typically looks like, and I had even less of an idea of where to start.
You’ve never applied to college before, so it’s ok to not know where to start. The great thing is, there are so many people out there to help you. Your teachers help students through this process every year, so they know how hard it can be.
Most of the time, if you simply ask, they are more than willing to offer guidance. Another great resource can be your parents.
While parents don’t always fully understand the stress that comes with transitioning into college, having another set of eyes read over something you’ve written can be beneficial because it offers an alternative perspective on your words.
Finally, sometimes you just need someone to understand where you’re coming from. Many of your friends are likely experiencing the exact same stressors, so sometimes it can be nice to simply talk to someone who truly understands the feeling of logging onto the Common App website for the first time– true terror.
3. What Makes You Unique?
The dreaded question. For a statement seemingly so simple, it’s nearly impossible to answer. It’s typical to hear college reps or guidance counselors tell you to focus simply on “what makes you unique”, but what does this really mean?
Not everyone has written award-winning operas or joined covert operations with the CIA… I know I haven’t.
In short, I think what colleges are really looking at when they see your resume is that you have something outside of grades and tests that you spend time on. It doesn’t have to be monumental and groundbreaking for a college to notice you.
“what makes you unique?”
Do you like sports? Join a team. Interested in technology? Try a club. Can’t find one? Start one! Even if it’s something you participate in once a week or once a month, it matters. You don’t have to do everything, just find that one activity you enjoy and run with it.
Similarly, there are a number of essays that detail this same question. It’s more than likely you’ll come across at least one essay that asks you something unique about yourself, but how does one summarize every unique aspect of their being in less than 250 words?
The secret? You don’t have to. Focus on one detail, something maybe only your close friends could name about you. I have a friend who wrote a whole essay about her love of cheese, and I once wrote an essay about my ability to quote SNL.
Even if it’s random and seemingly unimportant, if something that makes you smile, use it.
4. Take Care of Yourself First
This is something I can only say because I’ve been there. School is hard. Sometimes it’s just impossible to manage everything and you end up awake at midnight with seemingly hundreds of tasks left incomplete.
But what’s most important at the end of the day is your well-being, because what’s the use of studying so late into the night that you’re asleep during the test the next day?
If I had read this advice during high school, I would have scoffed and downed another espresso before trying to stay awake for 20 more hours learning American history. I promise it is not as helpful as you think it is.
Functioning on four hours of sleep is nearly impossible, and you end up missing information in class throughout the following school day because you’re so tired.
So when you need to stop and go to bed, do it. If you need a break, take one. If you need a quick nap in between homework assignments, grab a pillow and collapse.
5. It Works Out in the End
Someone once gave me this advice when I had started to feel really overwhelmed about where I was going. I hadn’t gotten into the school I most wanted to go to, and I felt like I didn’t have other options that would work for me.
“How do you know it’s going to work out?” I sighed in reply, my stubborn side beginning to show itself. My older friend shrugged, having gone through my pain the year earlier. “I don’t know, it just does.
In the end, you’ll end up where you belong, even if it’s not the place you think it should be.” Let me be your older friend here. Whoever you may be, wherever you’re trying to go, let me pass on this advice. It will work out the way it’s supposed to.
The period of time filled with acceptances and rejections and waitlists and deferrals will make your head spin, it’s a lot of highs and lows.
“Wherever you end up, give it a fair shot and an open mind.”
It’s ok to be disappointed when it doesn’t work out the way you thought it would, and it’s ok to be disappointed even when you don’t get into your biggest reach school and you expected the denial.
It’s hard to hear that a school won’t accept you, even after all the work you put into the process. I get that. I remember looking at my parents after being denied from my biggest reach school and all I could say through teary eyes was, “that’s just so… rude.”
But at the end of the day, it could be a gift in disguise if you let it be one. You might find that you love going to a school you never thought you could belong at. Any place with a couple thousand kids your age has to have at least one relatively fun person, right?
If you end up at a school you didn’t think you would be at, you’re not alone. It might take some time to get excited about the school, and you might doubt it for a while.
Or, on the other end of the spectrum, you might end up at a school you thought you would love and you’ve found that you just don’t. That happens too.
Just remember that nothing is a four-year commitment, so you can always transfer to a better fit if you really need to. Wherever you end up, give it a fair shot and an open mind, and you just might surprise yourself.
Written By: Bennett Ann
Bennett Ann McIver – class of 2019 at Providence Day school will be attending Wake Forest University in the fall of 2019.