Preparing for college is a lot like growing a beautiful garden. It takes time, patience, and the right combination of nurturing and independence to help the seeds of college ideas grow into bountiful plans. 9thgrade is the ideal time to start cultivating those sprouts of college dreams, as it gives students time to mature and explore subjects and activities that interest them, and that will eventually grow into education and career goals.
Just as with gardening, it all starts with identifying exactly what you want and what those goals need to flourish.
Acquire Some Tools
Can you imagine creating a garden using just your bare hands? It would be crazy to launch into this project without the proper tools—a shovel, rake, trowel, maybe a wheelbarrow. But this is exactly what many students do with their schoolwork. The added rigor of high school academics, compared to middle school, hits many students by surprise. Freshman year is a good time to assess whether you have the right tools for the job.
Some of the biggest pitfalls students fall into are procrastination, disorganization, ineffective study habits (including distracted studying), and not seeking help. Students need to become disciplined to attain the grades they need in order to achieve their college goals.
Organization is critical to success: face your disorganization, find a system that is foolproof, and stick to it. Some students spend hours studying, but still don’t see results. Embracing smart study habits, including putting away ALL electronics and studying in focused chunks of time, followed by short breaks, will make a huge difference.
Many bright students find it difficult to ask for help—to tell teachers that they don’t understand something or to seek out a tutor for subjects that are challenging. Get in the habit as early as possible in your high school career to never be too proud or embarrassed or lazy to ask for help. This “tool” will pay off in spades as the material gets more challenging throughout high school and in college.
There are self-help books and professional coaches and tutors that can provide excellent advice for ways to tackle these common issues and to arm yourself with the proper tools for success.
Pull the Weeds and Plant the Flowers
Freshman year is an ideal time to reinvent yourself or to intentionally choose activities and friendships that align with your interests and values. Middle school years are tough and you may have found yourself in social survival mode. It usually gets better in high school! Now is the time to fully be who you want to be.
If your current friends think math club is for dorks, but you have secretly been working on math puzzles in your free time, have courage and go to a math club meeting. If you have always wanted to play a team sport, but your siblings are all bookworms, go to tryouts anyway. These specific examples might not resonate with you, but consider the ways in which you are living according to someone else’s values and agenda (even your parents!) Do an inventory of the components in your life and begin shedding parts that don’t genuinely reflect your best self and your goals. Now might be a good time to explore sides of yourself that you have kept hidden or have just discovered. The sooner you live fully and openly in the reality of who you really are, the happier you will be and the more success you will have in your activities.
Add Some Fertilizer
Give a plant some water and sun, and it will usually eek out a meager existence. Add some fertilizer to that plant and it will thrive, producing stunning flowers or delicious fruit in abundance. It’s the same with people. Don’t neglect to add some fertilizer to your life in addition to the essential water and sun, if you want to thrive.
The thriving student is inherently interesting, the type of student who will never go out of fashion in the ever-changing world of selective college admissions. The key to thriving is to delve deeply into the academic areas and extracurricular activities that genuinely excite you. Do not be a follower! Just because other students have been accepted into Dream School by winning prizes in science fairs and doing certain summer enrichment programs doesn’t mean that you should take that path to get into Dream School. Get off the hamster wheel, and take a step back to figure out what truly interests you and what truly matters to you.
Read as much unassigned material as you can; watch documentaries; pursue hobbies; seek out adults who know something about a subject that you’re curious about and learn from their experience. I can’t stress enough the importance of the time you spend applying this kind of “fertilizer” to your mind and heart. Keep an open mind, these explorations will lead you to a good place, maybe not the place you expected, but the right place for you to blossom to your full potential.
It’s never too early to start nurturing college dreams, so start now! Give those bulbs of plans and goals time to grow healthy and strong, and keep cultivating new pursuits as you get further into identifying the things that really interest you and shape your ambitions.
We recommend students start college preparation as early as possible, as colleges examine all four years of high school academics and activities.