For my high school readers (or their parents)...
I got to college in 1994 when it cost $9500/per year to attend St John's University. By the time I graduated in 1998, it was $15000+/per year. What it costs now to attend is twice that amount (give or take, even with the Staten Island campus discount). When I was in high school, I was a decent student but never applied myself. Here is what I would have done differently:
1) Get awesome grades - I would have studied, like even a little. I spent so much time not studying, it was an art form. Math was beyond me - surprisingly, I wound up with an MBA in International Finance but I remember sitting in all of my high school math classes just lost and confused - again, all my own fault as I had awesome teachers but I just did not try. I graduated with a B average from high school and missed out on many many merit scholarships. In college, I got all A's. Let me let that sit in for a second - I got all A's in every college class I took at St John's, which means I had the ability to go to college for free on academic scholarships but I did not because I did not apply myself. As a teacher now, I spend a lot of time telling my story to anyone who will listen - I am not sure if it helps at all nor do I think it would help if I had a time machine and went back and told my teenage self that but I keep telling everyone anyway and if I made a time machine, I would even try to tell myself...
2) Seriously, study. I would say to definitely take the time to study - so much of what we study in high school seems like boredom and death and now as an occasional high school teacher, I see it - the boredom, the need to be anywhere BUT in the classroom, the interest in looking out the window and showing up and winging it. Try not to do that - try to understand that high school can help you so much in terms of where you go to school, what you study and how your life can proceed.
3) Get hobbies - get involved in your school, community or church/religious organization. Volunteer or work with your parent's or their friends or even your friends' parents - see if you can find out what you like to do either through internships or working locally or even considering traveling into NYC in the summers to work and keep track of all of these activities in the form of a resume or some other portfolio showing your work. If you have a talent, nourish it - do not begrudge those piano or violin lessons - embrace them. It is part of what can set you apart when you apply to colleges and it can help you with your whole life and people who know how to read music are statistically better at math.
4) Always plan - have an idea or a rough idea of what you want to do when you graduate in 4, 3, 2 or 1 year. Be ready for the "growing up" part of going away to school. I have helped many people write their defense letter when transferring back home after going away and losing focus. Being young is about losing focus but you want to balance that - if you know you would not follow any routine at all if you go away to school then consider commuting for the first year or two. If you are hesitant to spend a lot of money for your education (brava/bravo, if so), then consider going to your local community college for a year or two and then transferring to another school. Always think about what career you would like and then have back up plans because no one truly knows what they want to do when they are in high school and in fact many adults even do not know what they want to do but everyone knows when they are doing something they do NOT want to do. So start with that.
5) Watch what you do on social media. Use a fake name, do not use too many personal pictures - just keep your social media account as clean as possible. Colleges will google you and look at anything that is not set to private. So keep things set to private but to make things easier, try to live life without documenting it all. Every time I catch a kid trying to snap a selfie in school (not allowed), I remind them that just a few short years ago I am sure their families were following them with a camera and begging them to smile for one more picture and now all they do is take pics of themselves.
What do you think about what I wish I knew before then - what would you add? Let me know in the comments or via twitter or chat with me below. Happy Hunting!
Lisa Vento Nielsen