Tips and advice to underclassmen about college apps from a graduating senior 


Image via USA Today High School Sports

Adriana Agic, Entertainment Co-Editor

Welcome to part two of valuable tips and advice to all the underclassmen from a graduating senior! Part one contained many tips about how you can make the most of your time at school while this article contains tips that go into depth about college applications, ways to look better for college applications and other important information regarding yourself, your emotions and how to minimize your stress with schoolwork. I only hope all these tips and advice help you throughout high school like they helped me because high school is a rollercoaster and if any of these help you ride out the lows much more easily, then I call that a success. 


Participate in as many clubs/societies as you have time for

One thing you should participate in throughout your high school experience, without a doubt, is a club. While clubs help students get into colleges, they also provide a means outside of a student’s typical classes and school day where they can meet other people with similar interests and where they have opportunities to get involved in their community. Being involved in a club allows students to participate in events they might not otherwise have known about while also teaching them important life skills like communication, teamwork, leadership and collaboration. 


Below are just a few examples of clubs that you should consider at South Lakes:

Students who enjoy reading books: Book club

Students with a passion for medicine and helping others: Pre-med club

Students who have an interest in math: National Math Honor Society (must be a junior to apply)

Students interested in feminism and giving more education and opportunities to young girls: Girls Learn International

Students who want to be more involved in their community: National Honor Society (must be a junior to apply)

Students interested in politics: Young Democrats

Students who want to protect their environment: Environmental club

Students that love animals and care about their best interest at heart: Animal protection

How Important Are High School Clubs? | The Princeton Review
Image via the Princeton Review

Learn how to self-advocate 

Self-advocating is one of the most vital skills you’re going to need throughout high school, college and life in general because there are going to be instances in your life where you’ll need to speak up and fight for yourself so you can get what you want. Self-advocacy is a skill that’s harder for some to form, but it’s important to try and get out of your comfort zone during high school in order to practice this life skill and there are going to be many occasions in which you can self-advocate for yourself during your high school experience. 


Asking a teacher for an extension on an assignment? Standing up for yourself when points were unreasonably deducted from a homework assignment, project or assessment? Telling your group project members that they need to contribute their equal share of the work because it’s not fair for you to do all the work on your own? These are all examples of how you can self-advocate for yourself!


College is going to be a fresh start for students where they’re able to be more independent and self-reliant meaning there aren’t going to be many adults there to help you through every step of the way, they’ll be there when absolutely necessary but they won’t hold your hand and treat you like you’re a kid anymore. You’re going to need to find your voice before attending college because the only person that can consistently stand up for you and have your back is yourself which is why the earlier you practice self-advocacy, the better.

Self-Advocacy Skills and Self-Determination for Students with Disabilities  - NCLD
Image via National Center for Learning Disabilities

Don’t take all IB and honors classes if you’re not ready, pace yourself

Because South Lakes High School is a specially certified IB school, numerous students opt to take as many honors and IB classes as they can to show colleges that they’re capable of taking more challenging and advanced courses. Honors and IB classes require a lot of work, commitment, dedication and time, which is why students should start out slowly when it comes to taking these types of classes. 


As long as you feel like you’re challenging yourself but not pushing yourself over the edge with the level of difficulty and amount of coursework assigned, that’s the most beneficial thing you can do for yourself in terms of caring for yourself, your mental health all the while showing colleges that you’re not intimidated of taking a few challenging classes. The full diploma isn’t for everybody.

International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (DP)
Image via IB

Time-management is one of the most crucial things 

Teachers, counselors, sports coaches, famous athletes, Youtubers, celebrities and CEOs have talked about the importance of time-management in their lives, but are they right? Absolutely! 


Think of it this way: high school is your trial run before college to learn how to manage your time more efficiently because once college rolls around your life is going to be much busier and it’ll be extremely difficult to find a balance between studying. 


Possibly one of the most important tips written in this article, real life isn’t a “procrastination nation,” and a skill you absolutely have to develop throughout high school is learning how to balance everything you need to get done to avoid procrastinating. The best ways you can teach yourself to stop procrastinating are: sticking to a schedule or routine so you don’t spend too much time on any one thing, limit distractions in order to increase your productivity and keep yourself woking, creating a checklist of all the things you need to get done so you can feel more motivated to get things done more quickly, take breaks so you won’t deprive yourself of taking some time to relax and most importantly, never push yourself to finish an assignment if you’re feeling drained, tired or unmotivated. That’s not procrastination, that’s prioritizing yourself and knowing when to stop. 


You could use schedules to determine how your day will look after school, you can set a certain amount of time that you’ll spend on something, you can create a daily calendar for yourself where you write and plan things down ahead of time, you can create a to do list in which you first write down the most pressing things you need to get done, the somewhat pressing things you can put off finishing for a bit and the least pressing things you can get done later. There are many methods to time-management and all you need to do is find the one that best suits you. 

Time Management - A Major Aspect Of Goal Setting - The Yellow Spot
Image via the Yellow Spot

Don’t delay the college application process, start rough drafting your essays ASAP

The college application process is going to be a key part of your senior year and, hopefully, the summer after your junior year as well. Because many colleges have decided to become test optional with the pandemic – transcripts, recommendation letters and especially personal essays are going to hold much more value when it comes to whether or not you’re accepted into the college you’ve applied to. The first step you should complete before you begin your senior year is to create an account on one of the college admission websites (CommonApp, maybe the Coalition App, etc.) and select the colleges where you plan to apply. When you choose your favored colleges you’ll then be able to see the different essay prompts, requirements and how many recommendation letters are needed to complete your application. 

If you’ve heard anything about seniors’ experiences with college application essays, you’ll know just how time consuming and stressful they found it to be. Writing an essay in general takes a lot of work and effort but a personal essay for a college you’re hoping to attend? Crank the stress levels to the max. Creating a list of all the things you find interesting to write about will allow you to make an easier decision once it comes to finally writing the essay and you’ll have more time to really focus on getting your story across rather than blanking on what topic you want to write about. But keep in mind that colleges don’t want to read an essay about an overused topic (i.e. how a broken bone or injury changed you, a trip to another country with no emotional weight, etc..), they want to read an essay about something that’s personal to you and only you. So factor that into your brainstorming list as well and dig deep to find a story deeply connected to you so you can give college admissions officers an essay that gives them better insight to who you are as an individual.


To avoid all this added stress, start drafting your essays as soon as you create your college application account. By writing early, you’re giving yourself more than enough time to reread, restructure and make any necessary edits to your essays without feeling rushed to write it during the school year and before the deadline suddenly arrives. Remember that colleges and the Common App often change prompts between years.

College Application Season is here!
Image via College Transitions

Always prioritize yourself and your mental health

High school is going to challenge you in many different ways; whether it’s a test you stay up late studying for, a sports game where you can’t shake off the pit in your stomach while playing, checking SIS and feeling worried about a grade for something you recently turned in – there’s always going to be something challenging for you to deal with but the one thing you must remember is that nothing should be more important than prioritizing your mental health. Your mental health is the most important thing to maintain throughout high school because you won’t be able to function properly or take care of yourself accordingly if you’re struggling with your mental health. School is always going to be significant but you should take a step back if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, frazzled, burned out, fatigued, unusually emotional, constantly on edge or anxious since these are all symptoms of your flight or fight mechanism kicking in, simply meaning your mental health is screaming at you to take a break and prioritize yourself. 

If you do find yourself prioritizing school over your mental health, a wise route to take would be to take a mental day to yourself and email all of your teachers, informing them about your current situation so they can provide you with all the support and help you need. Then, when you go back to school, you should first talk to a clinician before going to your teachers because clinicians are there 24/7 to offer you a safe space if you want to rant about your problems to someone, a quiet place if all you want to do is sit and bask in silence & they can even give you advice on how to talk to your teachers or how to safely juggle your schoolwork and taking care of your mental health.

AI's Potential to Diagnose and Treat Mental Illness
Image via Harvard Business Review

Start volunteering in your community

If you’ve ever read an article or watched a video on tips to better your college applications, show you’re a well rounded student and improve your chances of getting into your dream college – chances are one of the tips you heard or read was to get actively involved in your community. Having good grades and being a member of many school clubs is also great for college applications, sure, but they aren’t the only things that exactly prove you’re a well rounded student other than the fact that they show your studious and passionate. Becoming an active member in your community and volunteering at different events, however, shows that you’re versatile and able to adapt in different situations, you’re able to work in different environments and you also gain real life experiences. You shouldn’t just do volunteer work to look better on applications, it should be meaningful!


If you’re worried that there aren’t any volunteer opportunities you’re interested in, here are just a few examples of what you can do to volunteer in your community:

  • Find opportunities through x2vol on Blackboard
  • Participate in events at South Lakes High School
  • Help a teacher after school
  • Volunteer at food drives
  • Tutoring kids at South Lakes High School or an elementary school
  • Writing letters for “Letters Against Depression” (with parental consent)
How DOs approach volunteer work and medical mission trips
Image via the DO

If you don’t end up getting accepted into a certain college, don’t be disappointed or ashamed in yourself

Something students have become truly fixated on nowadays is getting accepted into a big-name college because there’s a common misconception that getting into a name-brand college means you’ll be more successful in life or you’ll have a more successful life as opposed to attending a community college. When most students aren’t accepted into a big-name college they feel immensely disappointed in themselves and start to think, “What if I had done this..,” “What if I had raised my GPA..,” “What if I took more IB classes and participated in more clubs. Would I have been accepted then?” I can’t answer any of these questions because I’m not a college admissions officer, but what I can tell you is that you should NOT feel discouraged if you weren’t accepted into a prestigious college. 


Attending a name-brand college doesn’t automatically  guarantee you success in life and while it would have been a big accomplishment if you had been accepted, name-brand colleges just offer a name to the university you attended. Instead of feeling down because of the decision, you should feel proud of yourself. You put yourself out there and even if you weren’t accepted, you’re still going to make it far in life. Just remember, you can go to any college and be successful because it’s not about the location or name of the college – it’s the amount of work you put in, your determination and your dedication to succeeding.

Outstanding Early Results for Seniors
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Remember to have some fun every once in a while – this precious time won’t come back

Possibly the most important tip to remember when you’re in high school is to have some fun and create some memories. There’s always going to be time for you to be studious, focus on bettering your future and think about what you want to do in your life but high school only lasts four years. While four years may sound like a long time, it’s really not. Especially since the majority of your time spent in high school is going to be in class and that’s not what you want to remember from your high school experience in the future. 


You want to remember all the fun times you had with your friends, all the instances where you did something crazy like dye your hair because you wanted a new look, all the school events you attended, all the times you drove on the road and got closer to getting your driver’s license, all the times you felt infinite and all the overwhelming emotions of what it really feels like to be a teenager. High school is going to give you a fair share of ups and downs, that’s for sure, but that gives you all the more reason to enjoy yourself and create numerous positive experiences. This precious time is never going to come back to you and you don’t want to end up wasting it by regretting all the things you could’ve done.