Many high-schoolers picture big lecture halls and pulling all-nighters with a pile of books in the library when the term college academics comes up. The fact of the matter is that few high schoolers have any idea what to expect from college, and end up pretty shocked for most of the first semester.
In college, the keys to success are independence and flexibility. This is way different than high school, which values habits like showing up on time every day, staying quiet during class, and completing homework on time. These aspects of high school education prepare you for college to some extent, but education is a very different experience once the training wheels come off.
If you can work on becoming a more independent and flexible student in high school, you’ll not just prepare yourself for the style of work demanded by college, but you’ll start doing better in class and on tests as well. That can end up making a big difference on the quality of your college application and demonstrate to the school of your dreams that you’re not just a bright person, but really prepared for the ways that a great school will challenge you.
How to Be a More Independent High Schooler
Inevitably, there will be classes that you struggle with in college. Everyone struggles in a class at some point, and sometimes there are classes where everyone struggles because the department is trying to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Successful college students don’t just grin and bear it, but take advantage of their professors’ and TAs’ office hours. When you go in and talk to these people, they’ll often lend you valuable insight on how essays are graded or what kinds of questions will appear on an exam.
Taking that kind of ownership over your own academics will help you a lot in high school too.
Make time before or after school, or even during lunch, to go talk to your chemistry teacher about the upcoming test. If you’re really struggling putting together close-reading analysis in English class, go to your English teacher with questions about the last essay you wrote.
Yes, these habits will help you improve your grades. But there’s another benefit too. Making some time outside of class to get help from your teachers will help you build real relationships with them. Those relationships can be invaluable when it comes time to get some great letters of recommendation to attach to your college apps. Schools will love to hear that you’re the type of student who asks for help, because it means you’re the type of student who is devoted to great academic performance.
The Value of Flexibility in High School
We’ve talked on this blog before about the growth mindset. It’s an approach to learning where you say “I can improve at this thing I find difficult” instead of “I’m just not good at this thing!”
Once again, you’ll encounter a lot of new subjects and ideas in college, and you sure won’t pass a class if you resign yourself to not getting it.
Developing a growth mindset — that a class may be hard but you will figure it out — is essential for getting good grades and, even better, developing new passions.
That philosophy class you take might seem impossible the first few weeks, but it could end up being an introduction to your major.
Learning how to confront difficult material in high school is essential for one crucial component of your college app: standardized tests. The vast majority of your classmates find the SAT or ACT difficult in one way or another. The point of these tests is to be boring and difficult!
Doing well on these exams doesn’t really mean you’re a genius, it means you’re good at taking these tests. The reason that colleges value, for example, the SAT is because someone who gets an amazing SAT score probably put a lot of work into improving at it.
So if you took the PSAT and got a disappointing Math score, don’t just look at that and say “Oh no, my Math score is going to keep me from getting into a good school!” Put the time into reviewing the content that you don’t remember as well and taking practice tests to track your improvement.
That growth mindset that is going to make you a great college student will also make you a great college candidate.
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