A Lighter Road to College: Follow your interests, don’t run from your fears!

It’s hard to believe we’ve already come to the close of another school year! The end of the school year means graduation for many of our local students, which brings back memories of my own high school cap and gown days. I remember the relief and joy in completing my senior year with my acceptance to UC Berkeley. I also recall my sense of nostalgia in saying goodbye to the life I’d known as a child in my parents’ home with the friends and teachers I’d come to love in my community. Everything that was familiar was about to change. How well was I prepared to handle the changes ahead?

The truth is that despite my lofty grade-point average, AP and college courses on my transcript, and a myriad of extracurricular activities to color my college applications, I was sorely prepared for what was to come in college. What’s worse was that I wasted so much of my high school years agonizing about things that were inconsequential in the long run. If only I’d known then what I know now about college admissions, I could have saved myself a whole lot of stress, gotten a lot more enjoyment out of my high school experience, and been better prepared for what was to come. While I can’t go back and do it again myself, my hope is that I can share this knowledge with you and you can help your child to make the most of their high school experience and leave better prepared for college.

So many students I see and hear about today face the same pressures and worries that plagued my high school years. Guided by the fear of not being accepted to a top university, high school students chase after every opportunity to pad a college resume. They run for class office, attend youth groups, chair school events, lead school clubs, squeeze in ample community service hours, take on internships and their first jobs, compete on sports teams, practice musical instruments or arts, and keep their social lives all while grinding their pencils (or laptops) each night (and most weekends) to keep up with school work. It’s a truly exhausting effort, causing most teenages to be woefully sleep deprived.

There is a far better way to maximize chances of college acceptance – and enjoy high school years without the stress of trying to do everything. College advisors today guide students to cultivate a single passion rather than dabbling in a multitude of extracurricular activities. They help students find an interest they can stick with over time to develop depth of experience. As it turns out, this approach is rewarding both personally and in the college admissions game!

One of our high school students has a love for lacrosse. He has played the sport since middle school. While he fretted to me that this is his only extracurricular activity, he explained how he has coached youth lacrosse camps, lead his team as captain, and created fundraising events for his community around lacrosse games. This is a fabulous example of cultivating a passion! Not only has he developed his own athletic prowess, he has demonstrated his leadership, service, and enterprising traits through the different activities he’s pursued through lacrosse.

Another one of our students faced learning challenges but found a strong love and natural gift for understanding chemistry. While he spent much of his after school time throughout high school on homework and tutoring to overcome his learning differences, he focused his course schedule on the science classes that better fit his strengths and interest. He also built a home chemistry lab and was a teacher’s assistant to his AP Chemistry teacher. When it came time to do his college applications, he was clear on what he wanted to pursue and why he wanted to attend college. His essays, transcript, and extracurricular activities demonstrated the depth of his passion. Despite not having the strongest GPA overall, he was accepted into a Chemistry Major at a number of schools he applied to and has excelled in his college career at UC Davis.

There is much more joy in following your interests than running from your fears. That’s really what matters most – getting the most out of high school through enjoyment in the present without sacrificing the present for the sake of the future. When I think of the most inspiring students, it’s those that have found a passion they have directed their focused efforts towards. These are the students that shine most brightly with potential for the future.

About the Author:

Megan Cohen Trezza, M.Ed., is the founder of La Jolla LearningWorks, where she helps customize educational therapy programs for students facing learning challenges. Connect with her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LaJollaLearningWorks, or via email at megan@LJLearningWorks.com

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