Handling Rejection

Jaadyyah Shearrion ’20, Cambridge Rindge and Latin School

What’s up, I’m back again. I know some of you have already gotten your acceptance letters from ED schools, I also know that some of you haven’t gotten the response you wanted from those ED schools. I applied to Wellesley College, a very competitive all women’s liberal arts school, as an early decision student. Sadly, I wasn’t accepted and I’m pretty sure I didn’t leave my house that entire weekend. I thought my dreams of going to college were over. I’m telling you now, it’s okay to initially be upset.

To get myself out of that funk I gave myself a pep talk about how that college wasn’t ready for me yet, they need time to get used to the idea of me. After my super dope pep talk, I started to distance myself from college. I unfollowed all their social media accounts and threw away all the evidence that I was interested in the college. Once those steps have concluded, I would suggest talking to someone. I definitely needed a shoulder to cry on, maybe you won’t need someone to bawl your eyes out like me, but it’s very relieving to talk to someone about this. 

I know it’s definitely hard not to take the decision personally. You might think that whoever looked at your application obviously didn’t look hard enough. And maybe they didn’t. But it’s not the end of the world, trust me! 

Hopefully, you’ve made a strong list of potential colleges that you’ve also applied to. If not, some colleges do have a super late application date, like December 30th, while some even go into January. It never hurts to have some kind of a back-up plan, and then a back-up plan for that back-up plan. For example,

  • Get excited about your other schools. Maybe they see the real you and will be a better fit anyway.
  • Reapply next year. It may be just as hard to get in then, but it’s worth a try. And it gives you a chance to amp up your profile and application.
  • Remember that you can transfer later. If you still want to attend your dream school, you have the option of trying to transfer in, down the road.

Though rejection does hurt, take it in stride. I definitely took my rejection hard, but I took my time to process it, and now I feel like I’m ready to move on from the college that didn’t accept my love. 

No matter what you choose to do, take care to remind yourself that getting rejected doesn’t mean you’re a bad student or that your application was horrendous. It just means that the school could only admit so many people, and you happened to not be one of them.

Even though the college admissions process can feel like an uphill battle, just know that you’re definitely not alone. As we say at my alma mater, “Fight on!”

Dealing with Application Stress

Jaadyyah Shearrion ’20, Cambridge Rindge and Latin School

Hi again, I’m pretty sure we are all over school at this point. We’re all stressed out and just counting down the days until winter break. Luckily, I’ve got a few ways that can help you ditch stress and try to ride out the rest of the week. 

Watch a movie

To avoid stress about school and college apps, I love watching feel-good movies. My current faves are:

  • Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse
  • The Princess and The Frog
  • The original Marry Popins

Listen to music

I’m a bit of a music connoisseur so when I’m stressed out, I like to listen to some dope tunes. I made a little playlist to help get your mind and instead put some pep in your step, you can find it here.

Go for a walk

Another way that I relieve my stress is by taking walks. I know you may think that’s crazy based on how cold it is, but sometimes the cold helps. Breathing in that cold crisp icy air for me is a bit cathartic. It frees my mind of all negative thoughts and brings me a sense of clarity. Just be sure to bundle up so you don’t get sick!

Hang with friends

Your friends are probably just as stressed as you are. If you make some sort of group activities –  whether it’s having a snowball fight or just chilling in your jammies – having fun with those you care about will definitely help lower your stress levels. One time before midterms, my friends and I watched this Studio Ghibli film called Ponyo, and got our minds completely off school. It was bliss, even if it was for a short time. 

I hope that you will be able to take some of these suggestions and utilize them. They work for any situation. Even if you are waiting to hear back from colleges, have a major test, or just have a ton of school work, taking the time for your mental health comes before anything else. De-stress before vacation and then continue forward in that relaxed state. Have a wonderful winter break!

Next Steps after Rejection

Sometimes, in the college application process, you aren’t going to get the answer you want. It can feel awful, especially after all the work you put into your essay, supplemental writing, and classes in general. But you can and will move forward. You just need to take the time to breathe, think, and take the next step in the process.

Take care of yourself

Whether you want to admit it or not, you’re probably dealing with some pretty negative emotions after getting rejected. That is totally, 100%, absolutely normal and valid. Let yourself process those emotions, however works best for you. Watch a movie. Eat ice cream. Go for a run. Scream into a pillow. Pause and let yourself feel whatever you’re feeling. Then, once you feel better, you can move on.

Take stock

Where else did you apply? Are there still schools accepting applications? Are there colleges you applied for that want to interview you? Lay out all of your options, because you still have plenty. 

Reflect

What did you like best about the school you applied to ED or EA? Was it the environment, the academic programs, or the location? You can use this information to decide which of the other colleges on your list might still be a great fit for you. Many colleges offer similar programs and opportunities, so while you might have loved certain qualities in the one school you didn’t get into, don’t think you can’t find a comparable experience somewhere else. 

Be positive

The one thing you can control in this process is your outlook. If you interview with other schools but make it very clear that they weren’t your first choice, they might not take that very well. There is still so much to look forward to no matter what school you end up at. Look for the bright side and focus on that.

Be yourself

Any school you get into is lucky to have you. You are a uniquely individual person and student that has a lot to offer. Figure out how your interests and passions can be displayed at the schools you get into, and own up to it. Will you be the best player on their team? The star of the show? An incredible artist or Dean’s List student? At the end of the day, college is what you make of it. Even if you aren’t at your dream school, you can still find outlets to be yourself and do something incredible at any college or university.

Rejection is hard, and this likely isn’t the last time you’ll have to deal with it in your life. But you can learn and grow from it, just like everything else. Don’t rush into the next opportunity without letting yourself feel sad or mad or disenchanted, but know that there are so many amazing chances just beyond this. 

Writing Supplemental Essays

In addition to your personal essay, some schools require a supplemental essay as a part of the application process. In the supplemental essay, you are often asked to explain why you want to apply to that particular school and why you would be a good fit. Here are some tips to help you out as you tackle these types of prompts:

Identify your passions 

Before you get started on the essay, think carefully about where your interests lie. In addition to studying, what else do you hope to do while at college? Are you passionate about science and want to work in a research lab? Do you love sports and plan to join an intramural soccer team? Do you enjoy writing and dream of working for the school newspaper? Write it all down and come up with a list of a couple of things that are essential to your college experience. 

Do your research 

Now that you know what’s important to you, go onto the school’s website and find out what opportunities they have in those fields. Most schools have a list of available extracurriculars and student groups that you can join when you get there. It’s also beneficial to look up different academic programs, research opportunities, internships and study abroad options. As you’re doing this, jot down everything you find that makes you genuinely excited. 

Culture matters 

Another aspect you should touch on in your essay is the school culture. Is the school’s community based around sports? A tiny liberal arts college with a small-town feel? Is there a strong religious presence on campus? In your essay, you should identify the school culture and explain why it’s a good match for you. Use as much first-hand experience as you can. If you’ve visited, mention something you learned on the tour that stood out to you. If you haven’t had the chance to visit, browse on the school’s website and look at class sizes, research the city the school is located in and read about student experiences. The more information you can get, the better.

Quality over quantity

Once you’ve done your research, you’re ready to begin writing the essay. These essays are usually short: only one or two paragraphs. Since you do not have a ton of space, prioritize quality over quantity. First, in a few sentences, explain why the school would be a good culture fit for you. Then, rather than listing out every activity you find interesting, select two or three of the opportunities from your list and talk about why you want to do them in detail. Be as specific as possible, mentioning the exact names of the programs or student groups you’ve researched. Colleges will be impressed with your attention to detail and it’ll show that you’re serious about the school. 

Be authentic 

Sometimes students write down the things that they think colleges want to hear. However, you should always be true to yourself. For example, if the school is super religious, and that’s not something that matters to you, don’t say that it is. The most important thing is that you’re happy and successful wherever you go to college. This essay provides an excellent opportunity to think critically about your values and determine whether they align with that schools mission. In your research, you might find that it’s not a good fit, and that’s okay! It’s better to know early on. 

Don’t stress 

There are no right or wrong answers for this essay. As long as you put some thought into it and do your best to explain yourself, you’re all set.  Colleges want to see you for the student you are. Look at it as a chance for them to get to know you better. Don’t forget to have fun with it! 

Filling out the Common App Activities Section

You’ve uploaded a resume. You’ve submitted a transcript. Why on earth do you need to fill out the Common App activity section as well?

The activity section is a chance for you to display your interests, commitments, and accomplishments throughout high school. Colleges and universities will look at this section to understand how you spend your time outside of the classroom. Are you involved in your community? Have you shown leadership or taken initiative? This is your opportunity to define your passions clearly and concisely, and we’re going to show you how to stand out. 

Step 1: Choosing a category

With each extracurricular you upload, you’ll have to select one of the following categories:

  • Academic
  • Art
  • Athletics: Club
  • Athletics: JV/Varsity
  • Career-Oriented
  • Community Service (Volunteer)
  • Computer/Technology
  • Cultural
  • Dance
  • Debate/Speech
  • Environmental
  • Family Responsibilities
  • Foreign Exchange
  • Journalism/Publication

  • Junior R.O.T.C.
  • LGBT
  • Music: Instrumental
  • Music: Vocal
  • Religious
  • Research
  • Robotics
  • School Spirit
  • Science/Math
  • Student Gov.t./Politics
  • Theater/Drama
  • Work (paid)
  • Other Club/Activity

As you can tell, there are a lot of options, and it can be pretty confusing, especially since you can only choose one category per activity. Make sure to choose the category that’s most relevant (i.e. for Robotics Club, choose “Robotics” instead of “Science/Math.” 

Pro tip: it helps to diversify your categories so colleges can see that you have multiple interests. For example, if you are in a math club, academic decathlon, and tutoring, don’t list all three as “Academic.” Choose “Science/Math,” “Academic,” and “Community Service” respectively to show your different passions. 

Step 2: Position and description

Now that you’ve chosen a category, you need to say what you actually do. First, you have 50 characters to list your title and the name of the organization. Try to avoid just calling yourself a “member” – you do so much more than that! If you work at a food bank, you’re a volunteer. If you’re on an athletic team, list your position. 

For the description, you have 150 characters to explain what you’ve done with that organization. Because of the limited space, you don’t have to write in complete sentences, but be sure to keep it professional. It’s also easier to include numbers so that admissions officers can understand the scope of your work. Instead of saying “I wrote for the school newspaper,” you can say “Researched, wrote, and edited two 500-word articles per week.”

This is also the space to share your accomplishments. Be proud (without bragging)! Let colleges know how you’ve succeeded, whether in competitions, awards, or recognition from your peers or coaches. 

Step 3: Time commitment

There are four last questions to answer for each activity you list.

  1. Years active. You can list either school years or school breaks when you were involved. Make sure to include activities you did for multiple years if possible, as this shows your dedication.
  2. Hours per week. This doesn’t mean how many hours did you spend in meetings. If you’re in the band, did you practice each week? If you’re on the debate team, did you go to competitions? Think about how much time you commit to each activity, even if it’s not a formal meeting. This is a great way to show colleges how much you care about each activity. (Side note: Don’t lie! Admissions officers can count, so if you say you do 10 activities each for 10 hours every week, they might smell something fishy. There’s no need to overexaggerate, but be realistic about how you spend your time!)
  3. Weeks per year. This one is pretty simple – if you do it during the school year only, that’s about 40 weeks. If you participate in a seasonal sport, it’ll be around 15 to 20. 
  4. Continuing in college. No pressure! Colleges won’t reject you because you want to leave your oboe at home after high school. They just want to know what your true passions are… like the passion section of your CollegeFindMe account!

Last-minute tips

A few more things to remember:

  • You can only list 10 activities. This can include clubs, jobs, community service, or just about anything else that takes up your time outside of school. However, there’s no need to fill the list. Focus on the activities that you think best define you. This should probably include groups you’ve been with for longer, or organizations where you hold leadership positions. 
  • Make sure to list what your organization does. If they use an acronym (like YES, FFA, NHS, etc.) explain it in the description.
  • When organizing your 10 activities, put them in order of importance. Groups you’ve been with longer, groups you hold leadership positions in, and groups you’ve won awards in should go to the top.
  • If you’re still part of the organization, write the description in present tense. Grammar is important!

This may seem like a lot. But don’t worry. Think about who you are and what matters to you. That’s what you should convey in the activities section of the Common App. To get a head start, try organizing your passion in the CollegeFindMe app. We’ll help you work on personal statements, keep track of achievements, and build a portfolio. When applications are due, you’ll be ready to go!

How to Stand Out in College Interviews

Wiener Douyon, CollegeFindMe Intern

College interviews

Whether you’ve done a million interviews before or this is your first time, college interviews can feel especially stressful. A lot of colleges don’t do a great job explaining what will happen in an interview, and how it might help (or hurt) your application. That said, interviews can be a great way to learn more about a school, and to show off how excited you are to go there! Even if it’s intimidating, these interviews are just another opportunity to put your best foot forward.

What’s the point?

To put it simply, it depends on the college. College interviews play different roles depending on where you’re applying to. While some schools consider them a mandatory part of the application process, others may make them optional. Some colleges may not even offer interviews at all.

However, if given the chance to interview, you should seize the opportunity! It is informative: the admissions officer learns about you, and you learn more about the college. So let’s make you a pro!

How to prepare

There are many ways to prepare for a college interview. However, researching prior to an interview is a great way to start. The more you know, the easier it is to show off your excitement, especially about aspects of the school that set it apart from the crowd.

  • If the school has a specific extracurricular activity, course, major, or housing option that is really exciting to you and rare at other colleges, bring it up! 
  • If you have questions, ask them! A lot of schools ask alumni to do their interviews, which means the person on the other side of the table has been in your shoes. This is your chance to get the personal perspective of someone who’s already been where you want to go!

Some interviewers might also ask you some questions that can be pretty tough to answer if you’re unprepared. Here are some things to consider:

  • What would you change about your community?
  • How have your individual experiences shaped who you are today? These can include experiences of loss, pride, or joy. Reflect and look at what led you to this day.
  • Reflect on your academic interests, hobbies, and methods of stress-relief. 

And, most importantly, be ready to talk about something other than your test scores, classes, and extra-curriculars. Remember: you’ve already sent in your transcripts, your score reports, and your essays. This is your chance to show off a side of you that colleges might not know. Talk about who you are, what you love, and why you like this school!

Final note

As someone who has lead interviews for college admissions, I can say that every student has a boat-load of qualities that make them amazing. All you have to do is figure out how to…

  • Talk about personal stories
  • Portray the best part of yourself
  • Stand out to colleges by showing off the parts of yourself that they don’t already know

Even if it means practicing in the mirror, you can find the confidence to show off and shine. Take a deep breath and get ready to glow!

Tips for First Generation College Applicants

First of all, congratulations on going to college! You’re the first person in your family to do so, and everyone in your family is proud of you. Don’t take this for granted; it takes an extraordinary and brave person to be the first to go to college. That said, college is probably unlike anything you’ve done before, so here’s a few tips to get you through your first year and eventually to graduation!

First Generation

First Generation students may face challenges in college that are unique from their peers’. A major one is adapting to the new environment of college. There are often unspoken rules, norms, and expectations that not all First Gen students will understand at first. Another sneaking issue many college students face is the hidden expenses of college, which may catch First Gen students in particular off guard. It can also be difficult to manage all the different academic expectations and resources, but students can definitely learn how to navigate college quickly and effectively.

Seek academic resources

You’re going to college for a reason: to get your degree! College journey will put you through some of the toughest obstacles and challenges academically. Luckily, you don’t have to face these challenges alone. Many colleges offer a wide variety of academic help, from tutors to office hours with professors where you can go over assignments and readings. Some schools even have programs designed to help you develop study habits and a study schedule.

Make friends

College is also about the experience! Don’t forget to make friends, especially ones who complement your study habits. Having someone who helps you can keep you on track and focused when essential test dates and projects are coming up is a great way to stay motivated while still having fun. Look for someone with a different perspective from you so you can bounce ideas off of them, but who also has a similar work ethic. One of the best things about college is that anything, even studying, can become a social activity. 

Visit the financial aid office

Meeting with the financial aid office to discuss your expenses will help you avoid overspending or any sneaking bills. More often than not, these advisors will help you and keep you updated with any looming charges. It might feel awkward to be in there a lot, but know it will pay off substantially in the long run. Also, remember that you aren’t alone. The financial aid office is there for a reason: to help students like you succeed! 

Take chances

College is really a chance to try everything you’ve ever wanted to try. Want to play a sport? Try out for a team! Take classes on subjects you’ve never even heard of before. Study abroad. Join clubs with weird names and make friends with people different from you. At the end of the day, you’ll learn more about yourself if you go out on a limb and try something new!

Stay healthy

College can be super stressful, which can affect your health. Pulling all-nighters or drinking too much coffee can take a toll, especially if you don’t give yourself the chance to relax, stretch, and have fun. Take advantage of healthy options for food, gyms on campus, and outdoor spaces. These will help you stay in shape both physically and mentally. 

Don’t doubt yourself

You’re the first one from your family to go to college. You’re there for a reason, so don’t forget it. College journey takes a lot of hard work and dedication, but you’ve already proven that you have what it takes to get into a great school. Now it’s time to show off what makes you such an excellent student!

Avoiding Application Costs

Meghna Chhabra ‘20, Prospect Hill Academy

You’ve taken your tests. You’ve written your essays. You’re ready to submit your applications, but there’s one more piece of the puzzle. Some colleges charge application fees to help pay for reading your college application and making admission decisions. And, ironically, some financial aid services like the CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile charge you to apply. So while you may want to apply to 20 schools, keep in mind that there will be a cost. 

Application costs

College applications can range from anywhere between $40 to $90, though the average application fee is $60. Luckily, not all schools charge application fees, or may offer fee waiver programs (we’ll talk about these a bit later).

Additional costs

There are some additional costs for taking the SAT and ACT, sending in your SAT and ACT score reports, and submitting your CSS profile to the schools you’re applying to. 

  • The SAT costs $49.50 (no essay) or $64.50 (with essay). There’s an additional $30 fee if you registered late. 
  • The ACT costs $52.00 (no writing) or $68.00 (with optional writing test). There’s an additional $29.50 fee if you registered late. 
  • It costs $12 for each school you send your SAT score report to, and $13 for each school you send your ACT score report to.
  • The CSS Profile costs $25 to fill out and send to one school. There’s a $16 charge for each additional school you send yourCSS Profile to.

Fee waivers

Those costs can be a little scary, and can add up pretty quickly. Luckily, there are several ways you can avoid the fees for the SAT, ACT, and college applications.

  • College Board offers fee waivers for students taking the SAT or ACT and when sending in score reports.
  • The Common App offers fee waivers when applying to schools.
  • Some colleges also offer their own fee waiver programs, which you may have to apply for separately. 

SAT waivers

You can avoid the SAT costs if: 

  • You’re enrolled in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
  • Your family’s income is within the Income Eligibility Guidelines.
  • You’re enrolled in a federal, state, or local program for low-income families (e.g., Federal TRIO programs such as Upward Bound).
  • Your family receives public assistance.
  • You live in federally subsidized public housing or a foster home, or are homeless.
  • You’re a ward of the state, or an orphan.

You can use your SAT fee waiver as many times as you want. 

ACT waivers

To get an ACT fee waiver, you have to be a junior or senior, take your test in the US or a US territory, and meet one of the same standards set for the SAT (except for students who are orphans or wards of the state). Your fee waiver can only be used to send your score profile to a maximum of 20 schools. 

CSS Profile waivers

You can get a CSS Profile fee waiver if: 

  • You received a SAT fee waiver
  • Your family’s expected income is $45,000 or less, or
  • You’re an orphan or ward of the state under the age of 24.

Other options

If you don’t qualify for any of these fee waivers, there are still plenty of options. Try some of the following: 

  • Apply to diversity and outreach programs at colleges
  • Email your admission representatives at colleges explaining your financial circumstances
  • Just ask for one! Colleges might give you one if you show demonstrated interest in the school.

Writing Your Best College Essay

Marc Leroux-Parra, CollegeFindMe Intern

By this point, you’ve probably heard about the essay portion of college applications. If you aren’t the biggest fan of writing, or applications, or writing about applications, you might not be too excited to get started. However, the application essay is the biggest opportunity you, as a student, have to tell your story. Don’t let the fear of sounding “backwards” or “different” impair and water down your writing; colleges want you to tell them your unique background, personal perspective, and experiences. This can make the essay a bit more fun, but you should still definitely take it seriously. So let’s go through some tips for knocking your essay out of the park.

Time management

As someone who applied to all of my schools on the same day, let me give you an insider piece of advice: You cannot write an essay in a day. College application essays require multiple drafts, especially if you want to meet the word count while still being clear and direct. So give yourself plenty of time to organize your thoughts. A draft doesn’t have to be big and complicated; just some bullet points that can turn into sentences and paragraphs and, finally, a personal essay.

Content

Admissions officers want to see your background, personal developments, and experiences reflected within your personal essay. The prompts are merely different lenses through which they expect you learn about you as a person. Before you write, it is helpful to sit down—either alone or with a parent or close friend—and brainstorm a list of the most impactful, emotional, and difficult moments of your life, positive or negative. From this list, you can narrow down the list to one or two events which have defined who you are today. If, at this point, you have more than one finalist event, it can help to analyze each event in detail by asking yourself these questions:

  • When and where did the event take place?
  • Who were you before the event?
  • Who were/are you after the event?
    • What changed? How did this influence your actions moving forward with your life? How have other events been influenced by the effects of this one?
  • Who was around you during the event? How did this change?
  • What emotions did you feel during the event? What emotions do you feel now, looking back at the event?

These questions will help you form a fuller understanding of how a particular event shaped your life, and hopefully make it easier to put it into words.

Word count

In writing these essays, every sentence counts. Every sentence should drive your story forward and provide new information about yourself. That isn’t to say you can’t describe a particular moment with more than one sentence, but if you do, make sure you highlight a different part or detail. And make sure you always, always, highlight how this event has shaped your personality, development, life, and who you are now.

Voice

Keep in mind, you don’t have to just describe who you were and who are now. Let it shine by using your voice. Are you funny? Make (appropriate) jokes! Are you mature? Use language that reflects that. Are you clever? A little word play never hurts. However, don’t try to be someone you aren’t. The whole point of the essay is to paint a picture of who you are. Try telling your story out loud and recording it before you write it down. This will help your essay sound more “you” than anything that comes out of a thesaurus. 

Final note

This might sound like a lot to juggle. And it is, but it’s possible. Every single person who has gone to college has written a successful essay, and you will too. Don’t rush, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. And most importantly, don’t try to be anything other than yourself, because that’s the best thing you can be. 

Bridging the Gap (Year)

Morgan Heath-Powers ‘24, Southern Methodist University

If you’re connected to CollegeFindMe, you likely intend to go to college. Me too! But if you told me at the start of senior year that I’d defer college enrollment to spend a gap year managing a software start-up, I wouldn’t believe you. Navigating the college application process is daunting in itself. Changing plans last minute is even scarier…and sometimes the best thing ever. 

What’s a gap year? 

A gap year/semester is a time when high school or college students press pause on their formal academics. You can travel, work, volunteer, or enjoy some other life experience. Before we dive into the fun details, you must first ensure that your college approves your gap year. Most schools offer great resources to submit a gap year request before being accepted, or in my case, afterwards. Regardless, be prepared to explain the nature of your gap year. What do you plan to do and accomplish? How it will further your continued growth as a student, both personally and professionally? I recommend collaborating with your college counselor or CollegeFindMe to begin your consideration as early as possible. 

Planning ahead

Regardless of where you come from, we can all relate to some form of pressure from our family, friends, teachers, or community concerning our post-graduation plans. In my case, I was intent on leaving home straight after high school to attend some elite out-of-state university. The idea of taking a gap year was never on my radar… until October of my senior year. When I started to a new internship with a local software start-up, I figured it was just another chance to boost my professional experience on the road to college. Little did I know that I’d spend the days leading up to graduation learning more from my job than my classes, writing application essays from an airplane en route to business trips abroad! I was busier (and happier) than ever. But as decision day drew closer, I realized that I was seriously considering deferring college for a year. 

Making a decision

I’ll be honest, saying “yes” to the gap year was one of the most difficult choices I’ve ever made. I can still remember one night in February when I came home from work, tears in my eyes. It had been a great day and my boss proposed that I take a gap year to work for the company full-time. As excited as I was, it suddenly hit me that I’d be putting my dreams of college on pause to step into the real, professional world far earlier than I’d ever expected to. But if I’ve learned anything since that night, it’s that some of the choices that scare us the most are the ones that call us toward the opportunities and life experiences we’re most meant for. I believe that getting down to the root of what we’re meant to do comes down to two main factors: exposure and preparation. 

Exposure

I got recruited for this internship (now full-time job that I LOVE) by a family friend who knew I was heavily involved in an international business organization throughout high school. I was interested in entrepreneurship, so I positioned myself in environments, learning opportunities, and networks of people who’d help me to forward that passion. If you’re still in high school, here are some ways you can start gaining exposure:

  • Use free time every week to research jobs that align with your passions, favorite classes, extracurriculars, hobbies, etc. 
  • Explore free, online courses through platforms like Coursera and edX to learn about topics that aren’t offered at your school.
  • Revisit some of the clubs and student organizations at your school (if it wasn’t for DECA, I wouldn’t have discovered my passion for business and working with people!).
  • Work with your school counselor to identify some volunteer or internship opportunities you might enjoy.

Preparation

As you start to explore new opportunities, it might feel difficult to choose between so many options – from internships, to gap years, to universities. Prepare yourself by taking the time to consider them all. I’d often ask myself “where would I grow the most?”. This is when other people’s opinions (family, friends, the media, etc.) can start to sway you one way or the other. When in doubt, come back to your exposure – what’s most exciting and fulfilling to YOU? Trust me, people will have opinions regardless of what decision you make, so you might as well choose the path that aligns with your unique passions and aspirations. Give yourself some credit for how far you’ve come, take note of what excites you the most about your future, and go for it!

Making it work

While I felt scared to take a leap of faith into the whole gap year thing at first, Southern Methodist University’s willingness to defer my acceptance (Go Mustangs!) renewed my excitement. I became really intentional with the goals I hoped to achieve throughout the year before I’d return to school. Now half-way through the experience, here are some of my biggest takeaways, tips, and learning lessons:

  • Whatever you do, pour your heart into it. For me, this means that I’m intent on going to work everyday with real heart – to forward this company, our mission, and our team toward success. Remember when I talked about following your passions? This is huge! Work doesn’t feel so much like work when you believe in what you’re doing. 
  • Invest in yourself and build some technical skills. Here’s the thing. I do NOT like computer science. I came into GalenaHill from the business management side of things. But since starting, I’ve become truly interested in the software, have written our two most recent patents, and am starting to learn front-end code! What does that mean for you? Don’t underestimate the value of exposure. You just might discover a new interest, passion, or skill you didn’t even know was there.
  • Have fun! Since starting my gap year, I’ve been making intentional time for the things I love – my own side hustles, my health and wellness, my church, my broader community, and more. I even started a podcast called Real College Talk where we bring forth real stories and empowering advice to help make your post-grad decision truly your own. Check out our collaboration with CollegeFindMe here

Final notes

Now, is it all sunshine and rainbows? Not always, no. But I think the beauty of taking a gap year is that it’s a unique opportunity to create your own curriculum for your education, your professional growth, and your life. At the end of the day, it is YOUR life. If you expose yourself to positive opportunities, put in the proper preparation, and plan how you’ll make the most of your experience regardless of what you choose, I promise that you can’t go wrong. 

There is no “right” way to do high school, college, or life. But if you’re looking to say “yes” to the experiences that will bring you the most fulfillment, happiness, and success, I think you’re in the perfect place. 

Rooting for you, Morgan