A LETTER TO INCOMING HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS

To incoming high school seniors-

On Thursday May 26, 2016, I officially concluded my last day of high school. I not only survived, but thrived in my four year journey at Carlmont high school, metamorphosing from timid insecure freshman to confident self-assured senior. I feel an obligation to give my younger peers- namely those going into their senior year- some pieces of advice I wish I had known going into my last year of high school.

So without further ado… Get ready for the best and most exciting year of your high school career, if not your lives!! You’re on mile 26 of the marathon- only 0.2 miles left to power through! The past thirteen years of school, from the first day of pre-K to walking across the high school graduation stage, have been culminating to this moment. COLLEGE. Going to college marks the transition from childhood to adulthood- leaving home for the first time, taking on the responsibility of succeeding in an academically rigorous environment, working towards your career goal, thriving without parents by your side, building a new network of friends, many of whom will remain lifelong companions. Sounds both exciting and utterly terrifying, doesn’t it? Well, hold your horses! You’re not there yet- senior year hasn’t even started for you guys!!! We’ll climb that mountain when we reach it. As of right now, here are my greatest pieces of advice for incoming high school seniors.

  1. Don’t Procrastinate on College Applications! I’ll be honest- I feel that the college application is over hyped. If you don’t procrastinate, you will be fine! Remember that the process of getting into college is one that spans throughout your high school career. There’s the standardized test that you may (or may not) have started prepping for in 8th grade- yup, I was that kid. Then there’s the tedious task of compiling a list of college you’d like to apply to, which entails extensive research, as well as travelling to visit schools across the nation. The hardest portion, for me at least, was the personal statement. Each school requires that you submit an essay, ranging from 500-1000 words, depending on what school you apply to. In addition to your “main” essay, many schools require that applicants write several supplemental essays- Stanford had somewhere around 11 additional essays required! The good news about supplemental essays is that you can tweak or reuse previous essays to fit the given prompt. It is your main essay that matters most. The personal statement is essentially your magnum opus- the greatest work of writing you will ever have written to date. Sound scary? There’s no need to worry. Just remember: do not wait until three weeks before the application is due to start your essay. I guarantee you, whatever you submit then will NOT be your best work. The personal statement can very well be the “make or break” criteria of getting into a school or not. You can have perfect grades and SAT/ACT scores, but if your essay is half-assed and poorly written, don’t expect to be seeing very many acceptance letters in your inboxes. 2 summers ago, I attended an information session at Princeton University, and I distinctly remember the admissions officer saying that the one thing great essays have in common is that they are WELL-WRITTEN. How does one produce a well-written essay? One must write drafts upon drafts upon drafts. Your final draft essay should look nothing like what you had originally written. The secret: just write. It will be rough at first, but this is a creative process. If you allow yourself sufficient time to generate ideas, proofread, edit, and rewrite, you have all the potential to generate an artistic masterpiece.
  2. Apply for Scholarships. After college apps were in, I was absolutely done with essay-writing. Little did I know that many of my fellow classmates were still hard at work, doing scholarship applications! It wasn’t until around late February that I realized how ignorant I’ve been regarding the scholarship portion of college applications. There is A LOT of unclaimed money floating out there- you just have to search for those opportunities. If you can get $1000 towards college by simply writing an essay, then why not go for it? Any form of financial aid, especially if you want to go to an expensive, out of state private school, will help. After you’re done with applying to schools, start looking for outside scholarships! Don’t be like me and completely turn a blind eye to this important step of the game. I have a friend who recently received 5 different scholarships, amounting to a total of $6000- significant, if all it took to get that money was writing essays. Why not help your parents out by paying for some of your college? If you are financing your own education, scholarships are doubly important. Bottom line: if you are looking for scholarships, the college application process is not over once you’ve submitted all your app’s. Scholarships! Start immediately once you’re finished with applying to schools!
  3. Second Semester Senior Year is Still HARD. I know- this may come as a disappointment to many of you. There’s this popular notion of spring of senior year as a time of total relaxation, zero homework, minimal school attendance, and carefree bliss. Yeah, I thought so too. The truth: it’s not. Just because college applications are in does not mean your senior year teachers will slow down their curricula or become more lax. The coursework itself does not change. Rather, it is the senior’s attitude towards schoolwork that does. There is admittedly less pressure to get straight A’s, as most colleges do not look at second semester senior year grades when considering admission. By then, you’ll have already submitted your college apps, and it is simply a waiting game to hear back from schools. While some students may say, “Well screw it- why must I even show up to school if these grades don’t even matter?”, I will remind you that colleges could potentially rescind your acceptance should you let your second semester grades drop too far. That being said, getting a couple B’s here and there is harmless. So here’s the rub. It is tough for a lot of high-achieving students to suddenly stop trying to get A’s, for they’ve been conditioned to do so for the past 4+ years! It’s tough to break routine, to see your grades slide, even just a bit. So for students who still care about keeping their grades up, be it for personal satisfaction, keeping up momentum, or pleasing overbearing parents, spring of senior year  will not feel  all that much different from first semester, except that college applications will be out of the way (which is indeed a HUGE relief). On the flip side, if you’re a student who is completely fine with letting your grades drop a bit, then you may find second semester to be much less demanding in terms of coursework. It all depends on the individual. Just know that teachers won’t make their courses any easier for seniors, and it is up the student to decide how he/she will respond.
  4. Senioritis is Real and Inevitable. Guys, it’s true. Senioritis will happen- in varying degrees, of course- but it will hit everyone at one point or another. For some, it hits during spring of senior year. Others may have already felt it by sophomore year! For me, senioritis hit the greatest around AP testing time (first week of May). All I can say is that senioritis is totally normal, and you don’t need to feel totally guilt-ridden if you loosen your grip a little. It is OKAY to not be perfect!!! And once you’ve gotten into college, you no longer have to strive for this illusion of perfection, for you’ve reached the ultimate goal of your first life chapter! Just relax in moderation, and don’t let your grades drop so much that your college acceptance is rescinded. NEVER let that happen. I stand by what I said in my post about senioritis, A Rant on Senioritis. The drive to maintain straight A’s may dwindle, but I highly encourage students to redirect their energies towards something enjoyable and productive, like learning a new skill! Utilize the free time you have away from the books, instead of letting the time fly away. Time is precious, invaluable, and NEVER on your side. In retrospect, I wish I had spent more of my senior year on growing myself, and less of it in my room, either studying or watching Grey’s Anatomy. By redirecting your energies towards things you couldn’t do during times of greater academic pressure, you will grow yourself, open new doors, maybe even find a new passion!
  5. Senior Year Goes By INSANELY Fast. I swear, I felt like just yesterday I was strutting on campus in my pink and white Hawaiian dress, freshly tanned from the Maui sun, excited as ever to finally be a senior! With the hype of college applications, last minute standardized tests, and the added stress of senior year academics, it is way too easy to lose track of time. My advice to you- try to enjoy every moment of your senior year. Stress less, spend more time with loved ones. I know, it sounds simple, but this is your final year of high school. Your last year to spend with friends you’ve known since elementary school. Your last year you’ll be spending so much time with your family. It sounds cliche, but cherish each moment you have with those you love, before it’s time to part ways.

So those are my five biggest pieces of advice for incoming high school seniors! I really hope I was of help to some of you guys! A concluding note: for current juniors, I know the prospect of being on  your way to college in a little over a year is both exciting and scary. I am about three and a half months away from leaving to UCLA, and I will say that the apprehension does not really fade. But the excitement of it all increases with every waking moment- even now, as I am writing about college, my head is spinning in sheer excitement for all the opportunities that lay ahead. So enjoy your last year of high school, and get pumped for the very near future! Your life will soon begin.

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