You’re halfway through your senior year, and you already want out. You’re counting down the hours until you walk across that stage, diploma in hand. You want those easy A’s, then to peace out.
If this is you--if you’ve “checked out”--then it’s time to check back in.
I’ve written before about three big differences between high school and community college--mainly that it’s harder. Like, a lot harder. And whether you go to community college or direct to a four-year school, you’re going to be facing similar challenges after high school.
The good news is that there are things you can start doing now to prepare for this transition.
1) Challenge Yourself.
In college, you might be pushed outside of your comfort zone. But if you expand your comfort zone now, you’ll be better prepared to handle anything that comes your way. There are many ways to grow your comfort zone, even in high school. The two biggest ways: through academics, and through extracurriculars.
“Expand your comfort zone.”
Grow your comfort zone through academics. If you’ve only ever viewed high school classes as a way to get into college, it’s time to switch your perspective. Now it’s time for you to use your high school classes to help you succeed at college.
Take hard classes, like AP or Honors classes if your school offers them. Take extra classes in math and science, even if you hate math and science. Get tutoring and help in your classes, and ask for extra work--yes, ask for extra work. Take on additional research projects, even if they’re not assigned. Bug your teachers for more to read outside of class, or additional problems to practice.
Grow your comfort zone through extracurriculars. Getting experience outside of the classroom looks good on a college application -- but the skills you develop can be valuable tools to you once you actually become a college student, too.
Join a club, a sport, or a cause, or a committee -- or double-down on increasing your involvement in extracurriculars you’re already involved in. Say “yes” to opportunities that come your way. Work different jobs and pick up different skills. Overwhelm yourself. Go above and beyond, just for the sake of it.
2) Be “That” Student.
Let’s clear the air about something first: popularity doesn’t matter. So if you’re worried about what people will think of you, don’t. That’s not your priority. Right now, your priority is to practice challenging yourself beyond what you thought you could do.
It’s in our moments of struggle--where we’re required to cope--that we become who we are.
Those are the moments when we learn, “yes, actually, I am capable of handling this. I’m capable of finding solutions through these problems, and handling a large workload. I’m capable of persisting and learning and growing.”
That kind of self-knowledge is worth just as much as the knowledge you learn in the classroom.
If you don’t get used to struggling now, then struggling will hit you hard later on. Stay ahead of it. Start becoming its master. Years later, you’ll see just how much you grew.
3) Be Insatiably Curious.
At this stage in your life, being bored is the worst thing you can be. Boredom is a plague; a black hole. And you should run from it like the wind.
The world is at your fingertips, and there is so much--too much--to learn, and so very little time.
You should constantly ask yourself:
What am I interested in?
What geeks me out?
What could I spend two hours learning without even noticing the time going by?
How can I take this seemingly “boring” thing (a class, a project) and turn it into something fascinating?
How can I learn from whatever it is I’m doing, even if I hate it?
How can I connect the dots to a bigger picture I haven’t yet seen?
As you go about your day, make a list of awesome things about the world. Create a Big Questions journal. Jot down topics you want to know more about. Spend time--lots of time--researching them just because.
In every course you take (whether that’s in high school or college), walk away from each class with 2-3 good questions about it. Ask your instructors for more literature about whatever you’re studying. Find ways to make it intriguing enough to dig deeper. Never settle for surface level understanding.
“In the long run, it’s not the facts you learn at college that matter.”
In doing so, you’ll cultivate a habit of inquiry. It’s so important to do this now because that’s what will stay with you for the rest of your life, not the facts you learn in a class. Plus, instructors love to see true curiosity in their students.
It shows that not only are you taking their material seriously, but you’re wrestling with it at a level deeper than mere memorization. (And memorization is NOT the same as learning.)
Creative inquiry--the art of asking good questions--is what will move you forward. It will keep you discontent. (And that’s a good thing.)
4) Read… a Lot.
I wasn’t a reader in middle or high school. I was slow at it. It always felt awkward. Plus, I hated the thought of sitting in one place for an indefinite amount of time with my nose in a book.
Then I got to college and realized that it didn’t matter that I wasn’t a reader by nature. I was still expected, per week, to read for hours. And hours. (And hours.)
It wasn’t easy reading, either. It was complex stuff. It took time to get through. I didn’t understand much of it either.
“In college, it didn’t matter that I wasn’t a reader by nature. I still had to read.”
This was really hard to get used to in the beginning. But then--after months of slugging through it--it got easier.
I got faster at it. I learned to read strategically (AKA “skim”) when it was necessary. Eventually, I was able to get through a few hundred pages a week without wanting to throw my books out the window.
You too will be required to read a lot in college. Prepare yourself by starting to read now. And I don’t mean reading John Green (although there’s nothing wrong with John Green.) Or Twilight (there might be a few things wrong with Twilight.)
I’m talking about classics. Pick up Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Or Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (my favorite.) Or--gasp--even Shakespeare.
Do it, even if it’s unassigned. Actually, do it because it’s unassigned. One of my English professors in college once told me that the unassigned literature one turns to says more about that person than anything else. As a college freshman, I raised an eyebrow at the comment. But now, I completely understand what she was saying.
Reading is the best way to increase academic comprehension. Study after study shows that the more you read, the more understanding grows. It’s also great practice for CC, because no matter what classes you take, reading will be your primary source of outside class work. Better to cultivate good reading habits now before it hits you later, like it did me.
Plus, there’s nothing like finishing a difficult piece of literature--even if you didn’t understand every line--and come away feeling changed.
So There You Have It.
Even now, as you finish up high school, do challenging things. Be insatiably curious. Read lots.
Or you can be insatiably curious about the challenging things you read. (That’s probably even better.)
No matter what, don’t let yourself fall into a state of complacency. Keep pushing yourself now and you’ll be ready to succeed at college.