This is the first in a six-part series of advice for high-school-aged students about the college search process. Enjoy!
By Nelia Perry ‘24
As I approach the end of my first year of college, I have been reflecting back on my high school experience: What led me to a small, liberal arts college? How did I know Pomona would be a good fit? Why didn’t anyone tell me how valuable the college process would be? There is still so much left for me to explore at Pomona and as a college student in general, but my first year has helped me gain perspective on how to approach the college process and what skills are important to develop in high school. I share some advice, in hopes it might be helpful to you.
My advice for sophomores
It might feel like college is still a ways away—or maybe it feels like it is approaching too quickly. In either case, there are a few action steps you can take that will prove invaluable later down the road.
(1) Develop your writing skills. Whether that is academic writing or poetry, both will come in handy. You are at that point in your high school career when the workload and teacher expectations are starting to ramp up. One category where this will prove evident is in your writing. When you have a writing assignment for class, don’t just check the boxes but really engage with the material. Try out new styles, voices, and techniques. All of these skills will be valuable once you are writing in college. Also, start keeping a journal or writing poetry. Personal narratives or creative writing pieces will be valuable when you are working on college essays in a few years. Having a strong foundation in academic and personal narrative writing will help you succeed in the college process and once at college.
(2) Find passion projects. By now, you’ve probably joined a few clubs, gotten involved in different service projects, or dedicated time to sports—all of which are great things to do! Not only are they teaching you new skills, making you a happier, healthier person, or helping you meet new people, but they are influencing your college search. Not just in the sense that colleges want to see how you are spending your time outside of school, but by helping you better understand your passions, which will influence which colleges you might be interested in applying to. Take those passion projects and run with them. You’ve heard it before, but I am going to say it again: it’s about quality, not quantity. Do what makes you the happiest and put your whole heart into it.
(3) Start going to college events and thinking about creating a college list but keep it broad. When I was in my sophomore year, I put my contact information down on a TON of college information sheets. While I may have been a bit too excessive, it is important to look into a broad array of schools. In this case, it is about quantity. You are still two years away from actually attending college. By the time you enroll at a college, you are going to be a different person. So, it’s important to not just think about your current interests, but something you might become more interested in down the line. This means thinking about different campus sizes, locations, and cultures.
My advice for juniors
You are approaching the end of one of the hardest semesters in high school: that is a HUGE accomplishment. And, while academics are important, it’s important to think about the bigger picture, your entire self.
(1) Make sure you are connecting with your teachers. As I am now applying for summer jobs and internships, some of which only ask for a cover letter and a recommendation letter, I’m reflecting on the importance of building relationships with people who will be able to speak to your strengths, character, and potential. I am not recommending building these relationships artificially, they should be very genuine, but understand that the people you connect with can serve as a resource further down the line. Your recommendation letters for college play a significant part in your application, so you want the people writing them to really know you. It is worth getting to know your teachers in ways outside of a class lecture. Plus, staying connected with high school teachers who you formed these relationships with is super amazing.
(2) Dedicate the summer between junior and senior year to self-reflection. At this point you are going to start narrowing down your college list. That is really hard to do. There are so many different schools out there, not to mention so many different types of schools. I spent a lot of time reflecting on my values, needs, and wants in order to land on Pomona. Having a good understanding of what you are looking for in a college experience during this time will help you narrow down your list. But if you are struggling, that is totally okay; you still have time. Reach out to students and admissions officers at schools you think are interested in and talk with your college counselor or older students you know at different colleges to get advice and better understand the different schools.
(3) Don’t dread the application process. I know it is long. I know it is tiring. I know you have to do it all on top of your schoolwork, home responsibilities, and activities. But it is worthwhile (and not just because it leads you to amazing schools like Pomona). Writing countless personal narratives, asking adults for recommendations, and creating supplemental materials all help you develop as a person. Every now and then I go back and read my essays, not just the final versions but also the drafts. They help tell a story of who I am becoming. Moreover, the college search and application processes will teach you more than anything else about your values. So, while it may be hard, I promise it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will greatly impact you for the better!