Wednesday, September 7, 2016

College Advice to High School Ninth Graders

By:  Patrick O'Connor  Ph.D

It always happens during schedule changes.

“Excuse me, are you my counselor?  My name is Josh, and I’m a new ninth grader, and I’d like to talk to you about applying to college.”

Because you’re a counselor, your response is partly one of support and compassion.  Because it’s the first day of school, and you’re up to your eyes in schedule changes, your response is also one of exasperation.

But support and compassion win, and you tell the student you’re swamped with schedule changes, but if they leave their e-mail address, you’ll get in touch.

And then, you send them this:

Thanks for coming by today to talk about your interest in college.  It’s important to think about the future every day you’re in high school, and learning more about your college options is a big part of building that future.  What’s great about learning about college as a ninth grader is that discovering more about college means discovering more about yourself.  That’s why it’s important to focus on these three goals in high school as part of being ready for college.

Learn to Be a Good Student  It’s likely at least one of your ninth grade classes is going to challenge you in ways no class has challenged you before.  Some students will see this class as hard—but good students see it as an opportunity to learn more about themselves, and more about their study skills.  That’s one of the key skills you’ll need in college—when faced with a challenge, how do you respond?

The first step in learning to be a good student is to pay more attention to how you study, and less attention to your grades?  Why?  Because there are many smart students who will get As in classes where they never have to study.  They just let their natural talent guide them to a high grade, without really thinking about the answers they put down on a test, or comparing the new ideas they’re learning with the old ideas they’ve always believed. 

Good students are always asking key questions, like how does this relate to what I already know, do I agree with what’s being said, or how does this idea apply in the real world. The answers aren’t always easy to find, but in looking for them, you’re learning more than you ever could just studying to get by.

Participate in Extra Curriculars  Too many people think colleges are impressed by students who join twelve clubs, but that isn’t the case.  They see clubs, sports, and other activities of other ways to learn and interact with others.  These are key parts of learning more about yourself, and by focusing on just a few activities (including work, if you’d like), you’re making the most of these learning opportunities, and maybe even taking on some leadership positions.  That’s real growth.

Work in Community Service  Whether or not you’re go to college, you’ll need to understand more about other people, and community service is a special way to do that.  Giving to others gives you a view of the world you just can’t get in a classroom, especially if you’re working to improve the quality of life for others in your own home town. Mission work in another country is important, for sure, but don’t overlook the needs of those nearby.  In addition to making a difference in their lives, you’ll be sharpening your skills to be a member of a community—and a college is really just a community of learning and living.

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