Words of Advice for Soon-to-Be College Students

By Ariann Barker

“What college are you going to?” is probably the worst thing one could ask a teenager in this day and age. With steep prices for tuition, low acceptance rates, and the harrowing decision of a major, going to college does not seem to be the most exciting thing for anyone over the age of thirteen. The phrase ‘college readiness’ has been taken to mean someone who knows and is ready for the taxing, tedious, tear-worthy process of higher education. When I first started out at my high school, the concept of college preparation was not something I was familiarized with. My school is private and situated in one of the more wealthy, suburban areas in Florida. We’re known for getting great scores across the board in all fields, especially when it came to standardized testing. At the time of my acceptance into such a school, I had no idea why until the introduction weeks of freshman year ended and the true nature of my school revealed itself. Soon, such a fixation on ‘college readiness’ (something my school drilled in through constant PSAT practice and college visits) began taking its inevitable toll on the state of my mental health. That was, until, I realized a few things.

  1. It’s okay to be scared.
Before high school, college was a concept I could never really be focused on. “We’ll get to that later,” I always told myself, ignoring the screams and cries of my friends’ older siblings, all of whom were in high school and were freaking out. Then, freshman year came and I became my friends’ older siblings. I bit my nails, fiddled with my hair, and had severe existential contemplation every night. I was a wreck, and I figured that I was the only wreck out of my group of friends, as they managed to push the idea of college behind them and live in the moment. I couldn’t. So, I did the only thing I could do at the time.

I spoke with my mom, and she gave me the best advice I could have ever received.

“It’s okay to be afraid, you know.”

The fear I felt so odd harboring was alleviated almost entirely. I realized that everyone else is probably feeling something similar, and I am not the odd one out. My fear wasn’t irrational - it was completely understandable. We are all teenagers, and it’s perfectly okay to be afraid of the final frontier. What we must do, though, is conquer that fear. We have to strap on our boots and take our first step outside.

2. We’re all in this together
One of the best things about attending a school like mine is that I get to be with people going through the same exact things I am. Everyone handles stress differently, but it is that difference that makes having friends beneficial. Understanding what my companions thought about the PSAT review or the looming college talks we had to attend made me feel far less alone in my thoughts. Since we’re all together, fighting one coming enemy (the education system), there was no need for me to keep hindering myself from expressing what I feel. This, of course, led to us helping each other out. We’d study for the PSAT together, help each other with PSAT prep work, make study guides and the like. Having a community of kids like me attempting to reach a similar goal was what almost rid me of my college anxiety.

Make a community! Get together with friends! You are not alone out there. Be sure not to compare yourself, but rather understand the differences you have in terms of college readiness and take them into account. If you’re not good at science, but your best friend is, ask to study with them! If you’re great academically, but need help with jazzing up your apps, don’t hesitate to contact a friend! You’re never alone!

3. There are so many resources available
One of the greatest things about being a millennial is that we have a world of advice at our disposal. Testimonials about college, college prep walk throughs, tutoring...Everything is a click away. If you’re getting a little bit jittery about college and fear you don’t have anyone to fall back on, look no further than the internet! On YouTube, there are thousands of videos facilitating college help, including tutoring, application tips, and much more. In freshman year, I realized I wanted to be a film major. I booted up my computer and looked up application suggestions for my dream school: USC.

Everything is right there at the tip of your fingertips. Googling ‘Yale GPA average’ or ‘Math SAT help’ takes ten seconds, but can leave an indelible impact that could last for years.

4. We all have room for mistakes
I once brought this up to a friend who couldn’t stop carrying on about the repercussions of a C as a semester grade.

“Well, if I don’t get into college, then I don’t get a job. If I don’t get a job, then I don’t make money.” Wrong!

Such a natural progression makes sense but, in all honesty, it’s only a bit short of melodramatic. If you get a bad grade, there’s nothing you can do without a Delorean at your disposal to go back and prevent it from happening. However, what you can do is pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and charge back into the battlefield with new knowledge in your arsenal. Making mistakes is something we all do - trust me, I’ve made a lot - and dwelling on them does nothing but stick yourself into a rut and mash your self-confidence into pieces. Utilizing what you have learned from your mistakes in order to make yourself bigger, stronger, and wiser is what you need to do in order to prevent the same thing from happening once more.

In freshman year, I contracted the ailment of senioritis from some senior friends I had at the time. This, of course, meant I would not study for classes, nor would I do any of my homework that required me to pay attention for more than ten minutes. In the subjects I was good at, such as English and social studies, this didn’t do much. However, in math and science - specifically science - I didn’t do so hot. I ended up with all A's and two B's. This wasn’t bad, but I sat down and realized that if I had studied, I could’ve had a 4.0 GPA, instead of the 3.6 unweighted I had at the end of my first year.

Now, I’m a sophomore and I can easily say that knowing my mistakes has made me a better person academically. Around this time of the school year, my freshman self was still trying to pick up her low grades in many of her classes. This time, though, the majority of my grades haven’t strayed from their A-plus stature.

I’m not saying it’s not fair to be upset over making a mistake. In fact, being upset about it is the first step to doing better next time. Don’t criticize yourself for a simple mistake. Instead, be glad it happened - a shove in the right direction can help anyone straying into dangerous territory.

5. We are more important.
College is not that big of a deal. We as teens are much more important to ourselves than  a flimsy piece of paper. We have to put ourselves first and foremost - college should take the backseat in the drive that is our lives. I know I’m only a sophomore, but understanding this is what’s almost totally removed my constant anxiety over the steady shadow of college looming over me.

The blood pumping throughout our veins signifies that we’re alive, and we shouldn’t need to hack at ourselves to death. Don’t think about college too much. I know it’s hard, but it’s something you must do. Don’t push it off, but just set it aside and focus on things you’re passionate about, things that move you. Understand that you are the center of your own universe, and while it may throw things at you that you may feel are impossible to overcome: you will do it. Take a deep breath and don't worry. College is worlds away for me, and even if it’s not for you, it’s still something no one should stress over.

I’ll make it. You’ll make it.

You’re behind the wheel of your own life.

Don’t let college be a backseat driver.

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