by Julianne Lang

Welcome to high school! The next four years of your life are going to be packed with assignments, exams, extracurricular activities, exciting new social opportunities and…most of all…a LOT of expectations. Many people will give you lists upon lists of all the things to do in high school to have the best college application, but what about what NOT to do? The following list of “DO NOTs” will hopefully provide a guide to help tackle all that high school has in store: 

  1. DO NOT Get Caught Up in College Too Soon – Advice centered around college will start coming at you, and it will happen sooner than you think and from many directions. Should you forget about college completely? Of course not (if it’s something you want to do), but, especially freshman and sophomore years, you should let your interests and passions guide you. DON’T pick classes or activities because you think they will make you look good to schools – pick them because they are in areas you love or areas you really want to explore (spoiler alert: that is ultimately what will be the most impressive to schools – a challenging course load that reflects your passions). Don’t decide where you want to go at the beginning of high school; so much is about to happen over the next four years, and the more open you remain to the many options, the easier the college process will be when you get to junior and senior year. 
  2. DO NOT Try to Do It All – Exploration is key to finding what you love, but that does not mean you need to sign up for every extracurricular under the sun and sacrifice your sleep schedule. As stated above, let your passions and interests guide you. Sure, being in student government might seem “impressive,” but if you have no interest in that work, that time might be better spent volunteering with an organization close to your heart. Letting your extracurricular life be guided by your interests will ultimately paint the best picture of you on a college application. Schools want to know you, so take the classes and do the activities that you want to try. Also? Better to do really impressive work in three activities you love over mediocre work in ten activities that you wanted on your resume.
  3. DO NOT Blow Off Your School Work – This one is pretty obvious, but don’t forget it! There is a lot of fun to be had in high school, and finding a balance of work and play is crucial (and a skill you will continue to develop through your entire life), but make sure you prioritize your school work. The fact is, if you are looking to be a competitive applicant, having a strong GPA is a must, so stay on top of your assignments. 
  4. DO NOT Play the Comparison Game – As a wise secret teenage popstar once said, “Nobody’s Perfect.” This is to say, there is no way that you are better than everyone around you at everything, so release the worry around that. Your friends might get higher standardized test scores than you or be involved in some really cool non-profit work – good for them! I promise they are on the other side thinking about how many sports you play or your incredible debate performance last week or anything else awesome that you did. Focus on you and what makes you awesome. Schools will be looking for thousands of different types of students, and you very well might be one of those students, regardless of what your classmates are doing. 
  5. DO NOT Listen to the “Shoulds” – This may seem antithetical to the point of this post, but it needs to be said: whether it’s your freshman year English teacher, your grandma at Thanksgiving dinner, or the random neighbor across the street, you will be getting an influx of advice on what you “should” do in high school to increase your chance of getting into college. You will find that the more advice you get, the more it might start to conflict. The best thing to do for yourself is to tune out those opinions. Focus on the people you really trust – maybe it’s your college counselor, a parent, your best friend, or a blog that you really love. Regardless, don’t feel the need to combine all the advice into one cohesive thought; that will be impossible. Your high school experience is for you, so, the less you can let others dictate how to do it, the better. 

As you read through this advice, you may have sensed a theme. The best thing you can do for yourself in high school? Be you. Let your desires drive you. That doesn’t mean sit around and watch TV all the time! You definitely need to push yourself (though please also do rest sometimes…that’s huge), but when it comes down to it, schools want authentic and passionate students. And the best way to do that? Be authentic and follow your passions.