Written by: Jennifer Schaffer
This week, students around the world received the modern-day equivalent of the “thick envelope” – college acceptance emails! If you’re one of them, it’s time to take one big breath in and one long exhale out:
You’ve made it.
Well, you’ve made it into college. And right now, that feels like a huge accomplishment; in many ways it’s what you’ve been working toward for the past, say, decade and a half. So yes: breathe in, breathe out, and pat yourself on the back.
Then, move on. Yes, you’ve gotten into college. Yes, it’s time to enjoy your senior spring without the burden of ever thinking about another standardized test or personal statement or letter of recommendations (well, at least for four more years). But it’s also prime time for doing the kind of soul-searching, relationship-building, and self-teaching that will allow you to take full advantage of the opportunities to come. These shouldn’t be stressful “to-do” items; instead, think of this as one of the rare times in your life where the future is fairly certain, allowing you to more intentionally approach your present.
Consider a gap year
Getting into college can be so exciting that the idea of postponing those golden years can seem ridiculous. But students who take a gap year--whether to travel, volunteer, or just to avoid burnout--have higher graduation rates, GPAs, and levels of satisfaction once they do step onto campus. Now that you have an acceptance or two under your belt, you can seriously consider the option of postponing enrollment by a year. Whether or not you ultimately decide to take time off, you’ll be glad that you at least weighed your options. There are a lot of different options out there. Take some time to research those that might be right for you.
Craft your mission statement
The process of applying to college demands a certain amount of self-reduction: you boil your experiences, your achievements, and your dreams into 1000 words, all with the aim of impressing distant admissions and financial aid officers. By the end of the process, some of us are closer to understanding ourselves and our goals; but many of us are worn down by the mandatory posturing. It can be liberating, post-acceptance, to sit down and write out what you really, truly care about and what sort of difference you want to make in the world. This is just for you, this time. The grammar needn’t be perfect, and you don’t need to impress anyone. Take the time to reflect on where you’ve come from and where you’re going, and write out a clear mission statement for yourself. Your choices will vary from year to year, but your mission statement can serve as something to return to every so often as a reminder of what your end goal is, who you really are, and who you want to become.
Reach out to teachers
They’re not just recommenders. They’re your mentors, your friends, and the ones you’ll really miss the most once you leave school. Trust me: you’ll keep in touch with the classmates who matter to you. But keeping in touch with teachers is much tricker. Spend time and energy on your relationships with teachers and adults who have helped during your high school years, now that college worries are mostly off your plate. According to Chris Kelly of UnCollege, learning how to maintain these types of relationships is a skill you need to start learning at a young age. “Learning how to develop and maintain relationships over time is not just a trait of a social person; it’s one that is essential to the success of all people in the professional world.” So don’t wait until you are a senior in college to reach back out to these people – start now!
Read, for goodness sake!
You know how there are people who say “I wish I had more time to read”? Well, if you don’t, when you get to college you’ll know plenty. Lots of folks lament the fact that they don’t have time to read books “for pleasure.” Well, now is your opportunity to build the reading habit--which, in case you need convincing, will not only make you a more empathetic person but also build your intelligence and your decision-making abilities. If you’re looking for a great list, here’s a great place to start.
Sort out your finances
It may not seem like a fun way to spend your senior year, but you’ll thank us later. Sign up for a debit card and open a savings account with a bank that has branches near your university. Have frank conversations with your family about what they can and cannot help you with once you move out, and try to take on responsibility where you can. Figure out your financial aid package: don’t give up if you haven’t received what you need! Many universities will acquiesce and give you additional funding if you make your case to the financial aid officer. If yours doesn’t, seek out other sources of support: local scholarships, national awards, and essay prizes can all help contribute to your tuition. If you are going to take on student loans, start thinking seriously about your plans for repayment. Be open-eyed and honest with yourself about the decisions you make now: they will impact you in the future.
Focus on your health
Start doing yoga. Make sure you get your cardio exercise. Eat substantial, proper meals each day. These seem like basic suggestions, but if you can build the habits of healthy eating and exercise now, you can avoid things like the freshman fifteen and the sophomore slump. And make sure you see your doctor for a physical, get all your documents in order, and figure out what sort of health care plan your school will provide.
You’ve gotten into college. That’s fantastic. You’re clearly doing something right! Now go and enjoy yourself (in responsible ways, of course). Enjoy your friendships, your relationships, your hometown, your family. Soak in everything around you and live each day with intention and joy. If you’re up for a summer internship, seek one out in a field you really love (not one that “will look good on your college application”). If you’re tired, rest. You can take a breather. You deserve it.
About the author: Jennifer is a writer and editor living in New York. She once broke her ankle while traveling alone in Latvia, and survived. Her great loves are literature, linguine, and shelter dogs.