Believe it or not, the rest of your life is about you. I know, shocking. We have all heard that college is the gateway to the rest of your life. So, why shouldn't your college search and admission process be about you too? So much emphasis is put on what colleges and admissions officers want. However, you need to think about yourself and what you want. You don't necessarily need to have a plan laid out for the rest of your life, but you can't be a carbon copy of a "What Colleges Look For" article list or YouTube video. Being a carbon copy would make you, well, not you. You don't have to have the best grades or best standardized test scores, you just have to be the best you! This doesn't mean neglecting the academics and requirements needed for your dream college, but leaning into the interests, passions, and hobbies that make you unique. Here are some ways that you can develop personal pursuits but still demonstrate all the things that colleges want to see!
I know that your first instinct is probably to join as many clubs as possible. However, no one benefits from that. Neither you, nor the clubs. Pick a few organizations you are passionate about and be super involved in them. Instead of being a member of eight clubs, try to be the president of one. If there isn't anything you are super interested in, form a new club! This year, I founded a film club for my school. We meet once a month to watch and discuss a movie. While you are doing all of this, consider what type of clubs you might want to join in college. Where ever you go, they will want you to be a true member of the community. A good way to show that you will contribute to the community is by contributing to your high school and hometown communities.
Out Of School Activities
I know it may sound a little repetitive, clubs and then out of school activities. But I promise they're different. Clubs are school sponsored, while out of school activities are, well, out of school. You may be limited based on what your town or city has to offer, but you should explore the kind of things you can do when you aren't doing school work. This could be doing a club sport, volunteering, or getting a job! I do competitive dance, volunteer when I can, and I also obviously write for The Teen Magazine! If you have an idea of what you want to do for a career, it could be helpful to explore internships or job opportunities in that field. If you want to be a writer, find a website to write for, if you want to be a doctor, become a CNA and get a job at a nursing home. While it is important to try out new things, if you know what you want, go for it!
This is a bit more specific to actually applying than some of the other advice, but really work hard and put your best foot forward on your personal statement. I was in an info session with an admissions officer recently and they said that if "your name was blacked out, your mother and your best friend should be able to pick yours out from a pile." It's important to remember that you are an individual and should present yourself as such. Take some time and put some effort into your personal statement. The admissions officer also gave advice to write it when you are in a good mood. If you just broke up with your boyfriend or girlfriend, failed a huge test, fought with your best friend, or anything like that, you should take the time to cool off before you start writing. Your state of mind comes across in whatever you write, so be cautious and make sure to proofread.
I don't know about you, but lately I've been hearing a lot about passion projects. A lot of people hear about them and take it as they have to start a business or publish a book. However, you don't have to go for something that big. Sure, your project should have some sort of tangible process or conclusion, but it doesn't have to be so big. You could start a tutoring program for kids in your school system, or maybe lobby for a piece of legislation to be passed in your city or state. This is a great way to work on something you truly believe in. I'm in the process of trying to start a program for students with disabilities to get more peer-to-peer interaction during the summer. It's something that I am truly passionate about and want to see in my community. Just think for a moment and find something that you really care about. Now try to come up with a way to promote that thing or find a solution to it in your community. There you go, now you have your passion project!
In my experience, authenticity always wins out. Of course, I'm not in college yet, nor have I applied to one. However, I have spent the better part of my life panicking about the admissions process, so believe me, I have done some thorough research. Everything I have ever heard or read says to be yourself. I know that may seem hard. I have done so much comparing myself to others. I read about people that do all of these amazing things in high school that go to my dream college. Sometimes that can make me feel discouraged. However, I just remind myself that everyone is on their own journey. I just need to be the best version of myself, and so do you. Being yourself applies to everything from what you say in your essays to what colleges you even apply to. Don't apply to a college just because of a name or low acceptance rate. Take the time and really do the research on where you want to go. Applying to just random places based on what you hear about them will not set you up for a good future. I know it's hard, you just want to go to what you think is a good school, but there is a match for everybody. You need to stay true to who you are and what you want, and I promise you, things will work out.