Watch the Seniors

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One great way to learn something new is to watch someone else do it first. You go; I’ll just stand back and watch for a minute! Right? We have all done this when we find ourselves standing before the expanse of the unknown. Looking ahead at the scope of a big change (e.g., going to college) may be overwhelming at first, so let’s start the college search process as a spectator, quietly taking it all in, before worrying about what we should do. Keeping an eye on how the seniors work is a great way to lay the groundwork for etching out our own plans. Furthermore, simply observing what others do may give you the mental space to warm up to the task, so that you are ready to jump in when your time comes. 

So, juniors, engage in a bit of surveillance this fall and look to the seniors for help as you begin to shape your plan for college. Be curious and start right there—what you can learn from what is happening in your own high school? 

When college/university representatives visit your school, sign up to attend the session. Juniors can attend the college visits (although remember to check with your teacher/counselor), and this is the perfect place to listen to the questions the seniors are asking. In the beginning, you may not know what questions to ask, and this is perfectly normal. They have an entire year of experiences behind them that include research and campus visits, so their questions may be really helpful in understanding what to think about when looking at a college. In addition, listen carefully to what each representative says about their university and definitely ask and write down your questions. These meetings are perfect opportunities for conversations about campus life. 

Attend all the college planning events that your school has to offer, as these events are when your school’s college counselors will put forth big-picture timelines in addition to specific instructions for applying to college. Listen to conversations the seniors are having with one another. Do you hear any talk about essays or completing applications? 

As you watch the seniors balance deadlines for homework and college applications, wait for a break in their schedule and open an informal conversation about junior year. Ask for advice on how you can manage your year ahead. What suggestions do they have? What would they have done differently? Understanding their experience can be inspiration for your own launch into the college search.  

In summary, a few words of advice as you begin your conversations about college:

Be prepared and plan ahead: keep a timeline and study schedule for both school tests and standardized tests (SAT or ACT & SAT Subject Tests). Aim for good grades but be careful to keep a balanced daily routine. Ask for help if you feel challenged or find yourself falling behind. Pursue your interests in extracurriculars: do what you like well and often. Enjoy your activities and take on greater responsibilities. 

Opening up to see the college app process in action is a great way to prepare for your own app season. Remember to be curious, ask questions, and explore the many colleges/universities out there while staying true to the vision you hold for yourself as a member of the undergraduate Class of 2024.