Each year, as the month of August commences, I find myself thinking how quickly the summer has gone by and in a few short weeks we are all back to school. This year, I, like so many, are thinking about how this year is unlike anything I could have imagined and there is still so much unknown. I like predictability – maybe that is why I enjoy the field of college counseling – while things evolve and change, there is a typical predictability that comes each year that helps me as I work with my students. This year, that is all out the door. Now I realize that after more than ten years as a college counselor, my advice for students embarking on a new school year sounds so different, but yet, there is still so much that is the same. 

There is still much to learn and understand about this upcoming application cycle and what the future of higher education and admissions will look like. With that said, I thought I might share some predictable advice for students and families. Whether your school is happening in person, fully online, a hybrid model, or something else, here are some helpful tips to have a successful and meaningful school year. 

  1. Evaluate (or re-evaluate) courses and teachers. Many students already know their schedule for next year. Remember that it is important to be challenged, but not overwhelmed and taking into consideration your learning environment is very important. Teachers, counselors, and students all want to ensure an intellectually stimulating and motivating year, so be sure to adjust your schedule, if needed, so you can do your best during the school year.  
  2. Get involved in clubs, activities, sports, etc. In a normal year, the beginning of the school year is the best time for exploring interests. Even with limited opportunities to gather together, take advantage of the clubs, organizations, sports teams, musical options, and more that your school and community may promote. If you were already involved and enjoyed your experience, keep going. Take on more leadership opportunities, if possible. Remember that creating a positive out-of-class experience will also help to enhance your in-class ones too.

  3. Work hard and also work smart. Grades are one of the most important components in the college admissions process and they will place an even more important role in the years to come.  Classes are more than just doing well on a test or writing a good paper. Be sure to participate, do your homework, understand and show mastery of the content of the course, and build a relationship with your teacher. Working hard and working smart will lead to good outcomes.

  4. Try hard whether the teacher and the class are liked or not. There are some great teachers and great subjects to explore. Sometimes though, you might meet a teacher you do not click with or a subject that is more challenging that you want it to be, but do not let them be excuses to not do well. Make time with teachers, even remotely, and give them a chance to know you better. Ask friends to help tutor you on subjects you just do not like. All of these things will help you learn how to work with individuals you do not always mesh well with and speak about your character to not let adversity impact your success.

  5. Think or do something unique that is personal to you. The experience the past six months has challenged people in many ways so that is why I suggest building into your daily schedule some “me time” and use that to expand personal knowledge or develop a skill. Once you do that, you might find connections between these skills or knowledge and what you are learning in school. This can help you when you seek out internships, mentors, and opportunities for the future you might not know were possible.

  6. Monitor and be cautious about your social media participation. Time spent online has increased substantially for many of us. It is still important to remember that our social media presence can impact our future, especially college admissions. If a post is not something you would want your parents or grandparents (or the admissions director) to see or read, don’t post it. Do not allow others to post your likeness without your consent. College admissions officers have been known to deny and rescind admissions offers based on controversial posts.

  7. Maintain a positive attitude. Keeping a positive attitude should not happen just at the beginning of the year, but all the way through it. Positivity will help with your personal and academic relationships, navigating the challenges we all currently face, and will support you as you work towards getting things done. Utilize your school counselors, teachers, parents, and friends to help you when you find yourself feeling more negative or unsure of things. Your support system is there to help and encourage you along.

  8. Understand the college admissions process. No matter what year in high school, if you need help learning about or navigating the college admissions process, consider hiring an independent college admissions counselor from NYC Admissions Solutions. We’re here to help not just to make sure you have a strong application, but to determine the right classes to take, the best way to explore your interests, and how to find the right fit for a college where you can be the best version of yourself.