This is the time of year that is often most nerve-wracking for high school seniors: on top of all the school stressors that have been fairly consistent over the past three years, we have to consider where we’ll be a year from now. For the majority of us, that place will be on a college campus.
Thinking about college, while a good way to stave off senioritis, can also be just another aspect of a busy student’s life that is a source of worry. As exciting as being a college kid looks in movies and TV shows, plenty of to-be freshmen feel anxious and apprehensive about leaving home and the friends they’ve had for years, and the prospect of writing admissions essays and filling out applications just serve to bring the entire scary process into 3-D.
And although thinking about college may be easy to push to the back burner, there are plenty of ways for students to become more comfortable with the idea of being independent for the first time.
Find Your Focus
Your first step in the college search process is to decide what to focus on. Even if you don’t have a particular major in mind—and there’s time for that, since chances are you won’t have to declare one officially until your sophomore year—try and become aware of what your strengths and weaknesses are and what you’re passionate about.
A good way to do this is by writing a detailed resume which outlines all your academic information, like what school you’ll be graduating from, your GPA and class rank; what you’ve been involved in; what awards or special recognition you’ve gotten; and what community service you’ve done throughout high school.
Not only will this give prospective colleges a sense of how you stand out from the crowd, it can also be a good tool for you to notice what interests you and what you’ve been consistently active in—and you may even see a pattern on paper that you’ve never noticed before!
Start Transitioning ASAP
Starting to gather up the things every college kid needs and wants is a fun way to envision yourself enjoying campus life. Start combing ads, catalogs and garage sales for coffeemakers, storage containers, sheets and blankets, dorm appliances like microwaves and decorative pieces that will make school feel more like home.
Although it may induce a little bit of a freak-out, the absolute best way to ease your nervousness about going to college is to get more familiar with everything about it. Printing off applications to practice filling them in instead of completing them cold is a good practice run and will help you get a feel for what each school values in an applicant (if one college asks specifically about your volunteer activities, for example, or another asks for all your leadership experience).
Getting started on your admissions essays will have the same effect and, of course, will prevent the night-before-it’s-due scramble most of us know so well. Visiting different schools
, especially those that are close to home, will help you get a taste of what college is like on a day-to-day basis and a glimpse of the school that you won’t be able to find on the website or in a pamphlet.
Do What’s Best for You
And, of course, there’s no shame in going to a college that’s close to or in your hometown, or even in attending community college for a couple of years to get your feet wet before diving in headfirst. If you reluctantly jet off to a faraway school right after graduation, you may feel overwhelmed, get off to a rocky start and end up regretting the school you chose; nobody wants to have that feeling.
One of the many perks of being in college is being able to design your own experience—what classes you take, what activities you get involved in and who you spend time with outside the classroom. You are in control, and while that in itself may be overwhelming, it means that nobody can tell you wrong. This isn’t the ACT—there really is no incorrect answer except for the one that doesn’t suit you.
So, class of 2012: take a deep breath and start small. Get a firm grounding in what you may want to focus on first and then build up your college search. Maybe ask for a lighter work schedule or skip a practice here and there to work on gearing up for next year. But above all, remember that whatever makes you most happy is what is best for you.