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The last four years of high school are the most important. Not only are these years spent working your way towards college but they are the years when you start discovering new shades of your identity and making important decisions accordingly for new career explorations. I thought it might help to impart some advice to those starting their high school journey and preparing to build their profiles for college and beyond.
Please keep in mind that this advice is subjective (and applies more to building a profile for a US university), based on my personal experience, and may not apply to your particular case. The general timeline I provide is merely a suggestion. Please do not get overwhelmed if you do not follow it or plan your journey in this way. My high school journey was certainly not planned in a conscious manner. This is just a couple of things I think that one can be doing at different parts of the high school journey; it’s a set of suggestions I wish I had had when I was starting my high school journey.
These two years are crucial because in this time students often build a strong academic base. Focusing on board examinations (or any other main examinations) is the main priority. Besides this, it helps to try new activities and figure out which extracurriculars appeal to you. Try something you’ve never done before. Maybe try learning a new instrument, new dance style or new craft — any creative project or service work for a new social cause . Who knows? You might just like it.
In addition to this, continue to explore your existing interests. Also try doing as many competitions as you can (in any area of your interest be it academic or beyond) as they look good on an application. Maybe start a research project in a subject you find interesting or continue service work for a cause you are passionate about. Consistency is important in profile building. So while you can have a plethora of activities you partake in, it helps if you stick to most of them for a long time.
The Summer after 10th Grade
The summer after 10th grade can be extremely useful if you utilise it the right way. It always helps to start SAT preparation earlier if you are applying to a US university as then you can sit for your first try of the exam in August. In addition to SAT preparation, use the summer to perhaps look for a research opportunity under an expert in your chosen field as that not only ensures that your summer is productive but removes one thing from your list for college preparation.
Also spend the summer thinking about your subjects for 11th grade. Don’t stress too much about it. In my experience, most of my friends and I panicked about subject decisions as we thought that such decisions would permanently set us on a road for a particular career type and limit our possibilities. However, that is rarely the case. Most US universities are extremely understanding that teenagers are perceptible to changing inclinations and do not take your subject choice as binding or fixed in any way. That being said, by the 11th grade, you probably will have a rough idea about the subjects you like (you don’t have to know what career that will lead you to!) and making decisions based on the areas you hope to study in the future is a good strategy.
11th Grade is possibly the most stressful year because everything culminates in this year. If 12th grade is the finale then 11th grade is the day before the performance — it has all the energy, the anticipation, the fear that the audience won’t like it and much more. Of course, the academics are much harder and you have the additional stress of studying for the SAT. Try and finish taking the SAT in the 11th grade as taking it in 12th is cutting it too close to the application deadlines, especially if you have to take it more than once.
Additionally to further strengthen your academics, see if you need to and can take exams like the AP (Advanced Placement) so that they can be an add on to your application. 11th grade is also when you start prepping your extracurriculars — creative works, service work, competitions and research. Now is the time to do the big projects that show off all the skills you have been developing in the previous years as it’s the last year for profile building before you apply.
Summer after 11th Grade
In the summer holidays, try and spend some time researching colleges. Look at their academic programs, the faculty and the course selection they offer. If you are interested in several different subjects, you might want to look at colleges that offer more freedom in the first year and are not too stringent on the rules of declaring a major. In contrast, if you are the type of person who has a fair idea of exactly what you want to do and want to get into a particular department (such as engineering or medicine), look at colleges that are known for their academic rigour in the subject of your selection. Beyond just academics, also think about finances, location or geography and other factors that may affect your choices.
Start collating your research for all the colleges in one document. Discuss with school counsellor, your parents and friends and use their help to narrow down the list of colleges. It’s generally recommended that you apply to 10-15 colleges, though of course it depends on your school’s rules (some schools cap the number of colleges you can apply to) and also your own aims. If you have the motivation to apply to more than 15 colleges and are not intimidated by the workload you can, proceed with caution as too many college applications can overwhelm students, especially as they have to be worked on parallelly with their 12th grade studies. Once you have the colleges shortlisted, you can proceed with the applications.
If you are applying to US colleges, the first step would be to finish your Common App application at the beginning of 12th as it goes to all the colleges. As soon as the Common App prompts are released, start discussing each of the prompts with your friends and family and try to figure which one speaks to you the most. Once you have chosen the prompt and run your idea by a couple of people, you can start writing your first draft. You will go through several drafts, so do not try to make your first one perfect!
Besides the common app essay, if you are thinking about applying to the UK, you can also get started on working on your personal statement for the UCAS application (especially if you are applying to Oxford or Cambridge as the application deadline for those two is much earlier). Also start planning your college essays timeline depending on due dates of the applications and whether you are applying early or regular decision. 12th grade can be extremely hectic if you leave your essays or applications till the last minute as they may then coincide with examinations or other parts of your academics that you do not want to disturb. My advice would be to clearly plan out when you are doing each essay so that you don’t panic and don’t make anyone else panic either (like your parents!). If you do plan well, however, most of 12th grade should be smooth sailing and all those years of profile building would pay off in the finale!
I think planning some things in advance is always beneficial, which is why I thought I’d sketch out a general timeline for your high school journey so that you have some idea of what to expect each year. It’s the timeline I wish someone had given me when I was facing all this because I thought I was facing it alone, freewheeling without any destination in sight. This is just one of the timelines you can follow, but at least it’s there as an option so that won’t feel as completely at sea as I did.
While an overall takeaway could be to plan some things in advance, it’s important to have some balance. High school is also about embracing uncertainty after all. When you are building your profile, not every activity is consciously directed towards applications or resumes, but rather towards finding yourself. You can’t plan everything, so leave room for error, leave room for change. The improbability may become probable and when you reflect on it later, you might just find that it helped your profile in ways you never imagined. So take risks when necessary.
Remember whatever your profile ends up looking like in the end, it’s yours. You created it and you should take ownership of it and be proud of it. Good luck! Your high school journey may be scary and at times really stressful, but trying all these new things for profile building and for yourself will also be really fun, I promise!