If you are like most busy high school students, the demands made on you inside and outside of the classroom combined with the pressures of getting into college can leave you feeling spread too thin. It’s a bit of a balancing act, trying to make time for homework and studying for exams; playing a sport, participating in an organization, or volunteering after school; all while maintaining an active social and family life, and squeezing in some occasional alone time to read a book or listen to music. Add to that taking standardized tests, visiting college campuses, and applying to 10 to 12 colleges, and you’ll see why it’s easy to become overwhelmed during these important four years. Relax. Take a deep breath. The experts at IvyWise have compiled the following tips to help you find balance during your high school years, throughout the college admissions process, and beyond.
Create a Strategic Plan
A little advanced planning will go a long way toward securing your future college happiness. Sit down with your high school guidance counselor or an independent college counselor as early as possible during your high school career (we recommend the start of freshmen year) to develop an academic plan. Your adviser can help you map out courses to take based on your strengths and interests and offer insight into which activities you should consider pursuing. With a strategic plan in place, you can focus on staying on top of requirements while leaving time to enjoy your teenage years.
Do Things Piecemeal Instead of Cramming
Teachers often hand out syllabi on the first day of classes, so you can prepare for upcoming tests and papers in advance. Each weekend, prioritize what you have to do for the coming week. Tests and papers come first. Plan to work on them in advance, not the night before. In fact, as soon as you get the assignment or test date, you should begin preparing incrementally. A project done the night before is never as good as one that has been gradually strengthened over time. This goes for your college applications too.
Optimize Homework and Study Time
Get the most out of your study time at home. Plan for one-hour blocks and take five- to ten-minute breaks at the end of each hour to relax or read a news article that interests you before tackling the next assignment or project. This requires discipline, but is a much more efficient use of your time. It’s important not to become distracted during your breaks. Avoid getting caught up in hour-long phone conversations or IM sessions! Consider setting a timer to let you know when it’s time to get back to work.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
It’s important to get a good night’s sleep every night, and especially on Friday nights, as standardized tests are most often held on Saturday mornings. Getting at least seven to eight hours of sleep each night will leave you refreshed and ready to face each class and activity with maximum focus and energy. We recommend going out with friends only one night a week, preferably on Saturday night.
Create an Application Checklist
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when trying to keep testing dates, essay requirements, and application deadlines for 10 to 12 schools straight in your head. Create a checklist to help you keep track of deadlines and avoid feeling rushed. You can identify which applications will take the most preparation and plan accordingly. It’s important to give yourself as much time as you can to put together an application that you are proud of and reflects who you are as a scholar and as a unique individual.
Remember Your Support Network
If you are facing anxiety about the new school year or the college admissions process, your family, your friends, and your high school counselor will be there with you every step of the way. Encourage your parents to plan family nights and other fun activities to help you relax (taking some time off may even allow you to be more productive in the long run). Many of your friends are facing the same pressures, so lean on each other and help each other keep perspective. Conversation may tend to gravitate back to your applications, but feel free to decide how much you want to share and to take a break from answering questions about your college admissions process.
Remember, high school and the college admissions process can be stressful, but it is also an exciting time to discover who you are and plan for your future. We hope you’ll put these tips to find balance to good use, and that you’ll look back on these years as some of the best of your life.