Now that the holidays are winding down and school vacation is over, it’s time to get back into a routine. While it may feel a little tough or overwhelming to return to homework and extra-curricular activities, every high school student can make it a point to add just ONE thing to their daily or weekly “to-do” list. Here are my recommendations:
Seniors: APPLY TO SCHOLARSHIPS. I know, I know, you’re still recovering from this college application business, and I understand. But trust me - you want to start researching external scholarships for college NOW (if you haven’t already been doing this). Why? Because there’s a lot of FREE money out there, so why leave it on the table? You’re going to be a college student soon and you’re going to need all of the money you can get! Moreover, think of it as good practice for college and beyond: you’ll get better at researching now as you use the web, your local library, and your guidance office to find matching scholarships. Furthermore, you’ll be able to practice your writing skills and get a resume into shape, both of which will serve you well in the future. Start with your local guidance office: they should have a list of school and/or city-specific scholarships, and and your counselors will continue to be excellent resources for help with writing essays and shaping resumes.
Juniors: START YOUR COLLEGE RESEARCH NOW. The rubber hits the road now, folks. The one thing you can do now that will make a huge difference is to START YOUR COLLEGE RESEARCH NOW (yup, I wrote that twice in capital letters on purpose - this is so important!). It doesn’t matter how you choose to begin, just begin this month. Visit a local campus and take notes on what you like or don’t like. Start some self-reflection on what you’d like to get out of your college years. Don’t know where to begin? Check out the book College Match by Dr. Steven Antonoff for a wonderful workbook on jumpstarting your college research. This is the perfect time to get this going, so that you don’t feel pressure later this year to rush through this important process.
Sophomores: PLAN YOUR SUMMER. Do you know what you’re going to do this summer? And I mean all of your summer, in specific activities? If you don’t know, then now is the time to start thinking and planning. If you do have an idea of what you will be doing this summer, does it include at least one college-related activity? Examples of college-related activities include (but are not limited to): being a counselor-in-training at your camp (it demonstrates leadership); having an actual paying job (wonderful if it’s in an industry that you’d like to explore further in college, but just having a paying, regular job is awesome, too); a paid or unpaid internship; shadowing a professional in a field in which you’re interested on a regular basis; taking a summer course (at a local community college or through a special college-affiliated program); volunteering regularly at one or multiple places; visiting a couple of college campuses to see what it’s like to be on rural, suburban, and urban schools; and so on. You don’t have to devote your entire summer to doing college-related things, but make sure that you’ve planned at least ONE college-related activity to do this summer. And right now is a great time to start planning!
First-years: START SOME SELF-REFLECTION. Seriously. I know that most 14-yr-olds will look at me like I’m insane when I suggest this, but one of the most important things that will help any young person make good decisions about college (and life!) is knowing oneself. Self-awareness comes from self-reflection, and what better time to start practicing this skill than now? One way to start is writing in a journal every day. It doesn’t have to be for hours on end - just make it a goal to write one or two pages every day (no matter whether it’s in the morning, afternoon, or evening). Doesn’t matter what you write about, it just matters that you write. After one week of consistently keeping this journal, go back and read over what you’ve written in the last 7 days. Do you see any patterns emerging? Themes? This may lead to some insights about what’s on your mind, and can help you cultivate self-reflection. Hate writing? That’s ok! Try taking one of these free online personality tests, like 16personalities.com. Answer a series of questions and learn about your personality type. What do you think about your results? Do agree with all of it, some of it, or none of it? Why? Discuss your results with a parent or close friend. You may be surprised what you discover about yourself!
If high school students did just one thing this January that is appropriate for their grade-level, they will all be well on their way to setting themselves up for success, both inside and outside of the classroom.
Maruta Z. Vitols is an independent educational consultant in the metro-Boston area. When not helping students achieve their dreams, she enjoys hanging out with her dog, exploring new places with her husband, and doing yoga.