Preparing for College

School Starts in August. What to Do?

I remember clearly that when I was in high school (heck, even as far back as junior high school), the waning days of August were a bittersweet time for me. I had a love-hate relationship with school. I loved being together with all my classmates who became scattered over the summer, but I hated the thought of homework, tests, and my loss of freedom to lie in our hammock under the apple tree in our back yard and lazily read Archie comic books while following Mickey Mantle’s quest for the Triple Crown.

In our neighborhood, we had a late-August ritual: harvesting apples in my friend’s apple orchard. They were the really big yellow kind. We called them “banana apples.” My friend, Sam, and I would help his parents and some neighbors fill basket after basket with these carefully grown apples. They took good care of those apple trees and after a few days and evenings of work, all the baskets were filled and the tree branches had sprung skyward, free of their fruity burden. We all took a brimming basket home as payment for our labors.


Those days are long gone and so are those apple trees. Every late August I remember the mixed feelings I had as we picked those babies. It was like we were harvesting not only fruit but also gathering or thoughts about the school year that was about to begin. If you are a high school student, even a junior high school student, maybe you share the same feelings that I had back in that orchard. Preparing to go back to school after a long (well, maybe not-long-enough) summer can be a chore. What should you do? How should you think? What will you need? How can your transition from summer bliss to homework and tests be made easier?

 

Just yesterday, I received a helpful message entitled Tips on How High School Students Can Prepare for the First Day of School. These tips came courtesy of Frances Kweller, CEO of Kweller Prep, a learning incubator specializing in test preparation. Although there’s nothing in them about picking apples, you may find a nugget or two that can help you roll out of your hammock and settle into your new classrooms. Let’s see what these tips (and my comments) can do for you.

Limit ChaosDon’t wait until the first day of school to fix your class schedule or shop for school supplies. At least 7-10 days prior to the start of school, students should get familiar with their class schedule (usually found online) and fix any mistakes to avoid chaos on the first day.  Students should also purchase a list of supplies they’ll need for the first day which can almost always be found on their school website.  Book supplements for mandatory state exams like the New York State Regents should also be bought in advance. Don’t wait for teachers to give instructions, come prepared and ready to go.

Dave says: Summer is a great time to get your scheduling straightened out. Actually, even acting a week or so before school starts can be too late since, like college, classes can fill quickly and you may find yourself unable to get a certain crucial class you need to fill out your profile, especially for competitive college admissions. Being the obsessive early bird that I am, I recommend trying to get your next year’s schedule confirmed as early as possible. Ideally, see if you can meet with your counselor before the end of the upcoming school year to schedule next fall’s plan. If you’re going to be a senior this year, you’re out of luck if you haven’t gotten things squared away. Bottom line: Plan ahead and don’t procrastinate!

Make a Great First ImpressionEveryone is expected to be a little weary on the first day of school, including teachers.  Stand out from the crowd and make a great first impression by not only having all your supplies at the ready but also dressing for success. Dressing up for school will make you feel good and ready to tackle the day. Teachers can feel negative energy in the room so be positive, sit up straight and put a smile on your face.  Be respectful.  Lay low but let the teacher know you’re there and wiling to help out. Teachers will most often remember those who gave them a hard time in the very first day.

Dave says: Although this advice may sound a bit Leave It to Beaver-ish, there is a core of truth to it. You don’t have to wear a business suit or tie to school, but don’t show up looking like something from The Grapes of Wrath. You surely know the old saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s the thrust of this tip. Also, don’t fall into the trap of keeping up with everyone else, especially when it comes to clothes. You and your family can go broke buying (literally) into all the “new” fashions that come out every year. Start your own retro-trend. If there’s one law of the land about fashion it is that what has gone around will come back again. Instead of spending hundreds, if not thousands, on a new school wardrobe, hit the Salvation Army or Thrift Store for some way-cool retro-garb. Then, show up on that first day of class with a smile and your trend-setting duds. Think Napoleon Dynamite (center, below).

Establish Good RelationshipsThe first day is the day to seek out college counselors to let them know your long-term goals.  They can help establish a good plan to help you get there. If your dream is to be a doctor, let the science teacher know. Keep your eye on the ball.  Time is your most valuable commodity and you need to use your high school years well.  Besides, if you establish good relationships with counselors and faculty early on, getting those college recommendations will be a lot easier when you need them.

Dave says: This is advice that should be carried out as early as possible in your high school career. It certainly would be an advantage to be able to tell your sophomore-year counselor that you have decided on a particular academic path for college. However, the real world usually dictates that most teens have no idea of what they want to do for a life’s work. Accordingly, my advice, if you’re one of these puzzled people, is to concentrate of the entrance requirements of the colleges that have caught your eye. You can go to the Web sites for any of these schools and see what they’re are looking for in their applicants, as far as language, math, test scores, etc. prerequisites. Then, even though you can’t say, “I want to be a marine biologist!” for sure, you can say, “I’d like to consider the following colleges and here’s what I need to be a competitive applicant.” Then, your counselor should be able to help you adjust your schedule to meet those requirements. That’s what counselors  do (or should do).

Just Say No to Social MediaConsider deactivating from social media prior to the first day of school. School is not the time to catch up on personal relationships.  It is a serious time to start contemplating and planning for your future. If you have a difficult time deactivating altogether, consider minimizing your use of social media and delete apps that focus on gossip and negativity.  Colleges do look at Facebook and Twitter to help them decide if you are a worthy candidate for their school so if you deactivate, chances are you won’t have a problem getting into the school of your choice.

Dave says: I think I have a problem with that last statement: Colleges do look at Facebook and Twitter to help them decide if you are a worthy candidate for their school so if you deactivate, chances are you won’t have a problem getting into the school of your choice. Really? “No problem” getting into the school of your choice? I. don’t. think. so. There’s more to competitive college admissions than “deactivating” from social media. But, while we’re on the subject, just let me say that, in my opinion, social media are both one of the better and worse inventions of mankind. It is true that colleges can and do look at some applicants’ Facebook et al pages to see what kinds of behaviors their applicants display. Common sense dictates that you shouldn’t post pictures of yourself chugging beers or setting cars on fire. Additionally, don’t dilute you school days (“daze”?) by covertly craning your neck checking who just texted you. I think there’s an app for that.

Don’t Get SenioritisThis piece of advice is for high school seniors who think school is over on the first day. Don’t check out mentally.  Work hard, stay focused and come to school prepared to work everyday. Have your college applications and essays ready to go before the first day that way you can focus on the school year ahead and the work at hand. Even if you’ve applied Early Decision and have been accepted to the college of your dreams, don’t check out too early. High school counselors are required to submit mid-year reports to colleges. A significant drop in your senior year GPA could rescind a college admissions decision.

Dave says: True, true, true. Every year on the College Confidential discussion forum, we see the sad tales of seniors who turned off their academic spigots and had their ED/EA and even RD acceptances revoked because of a precipitous nosedive in their school work. I always like to use the analogy of running a marathon. There’s the famous “wall” that many runners hit with just 10K to go in the 26-mile race. Look at your high school career as a 26-mile marathon. The “wall” could be your ED/EA acceptance. Once you’re in at your first-choice school, you may think that there’s nothing left for you to achieve, so you back off, maybe even stop “running.” BIG mistake. You have to keep up your effort, the effort that got you into that first-choice college, until you cross the finish line (graduation). Don’t be fooled. Colleges keep an eye on their admitted applicants. Don’t be one of those about whom we’ll sadly read on CC.

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Words to the wise. Read and heed .. and have a great school year this year. Be the apple of your teachers’ eyes!

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Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.