College is a daunting and perhaps scary thought for many young students. As an incoming grade 11 student myself, the idea of further education seems light years away – but becoming competitive as soon as possible can give you an edge early on. After countless hours reading articles about being a well-rounded student, I’ve found that forcing yourself into a mold will only hinder your growth as both a student and a person. By taking a different approach to college prep, I’ve found several tips that led to my early success in my personal life and scholarship applications:
1. Forget about trying to be well-rounded
Find your passion and put everything you can into it.
Yes, I know, it sounds cheesy. However, in an increasingly competitive world, what future employers and colleges want to see is evidence that you will be able to make a difference in this world, and showing a “spike” in your accomplishments demonstrates that you are able to put in the work necessary to do great work. Someone is passionate about theatre and has starred in/directed multiple large shows will seem much more impressive than someone who is mediocre in every field. Regardless of what a parent or guidance counsellor may tell you, going after what you are passionate about will not only make you stand out, but it will also make you a much happier and satisfied person.
2. Never let your age stop you from doing what you want to do
Countless times, I’ve encountered a program, volunteer opportunity, experience or job that I did not meet the age requirement for – having a late birthday can be a horrible thing sometimes. However, many people are happy to make exceptions (assuming there are no legal restrictions) once you reach out and ask. If you are truly passionate about an opportunity, it never hurts to try. Hard work trumps age nearly every time.
3. Don’t pursue something for a college application
You can only get older – even though preparation is important, your wellbeing and experiences you have in high school should be your priority. Freshman year is the time to develop your interests and explore as many different clubs and hobbies as you can. Spend your time doing what genuinely interests you as opposed to what you think would look good on a college application. Don’t stress – you’ll be okay.
Now, I am definitely not some expert on scholarships or college applications, and being that “well-rounded” student may work for you. However, what I hope you take away from this article is that whatever it is you decide to pursue, your happiness and well-being is much more important than being the captain of the debate team or the star athlete. I strongly encourage to hit the ground running in freshman year, but in a way that allows you to do what you are passionate about. Ultimately, you do not need to be a “well-rounded” student: there are ways to get into your dream school without needing to sacrifice your interests. All it takes is hard work.
Ann Nguyen is a 15-year-old student who is currently serving as the Director of Public Relations at the Toronto Youth Cabinet and an advisor to the Etobicoke-Lakeshore Constituency Youth Council. She is a DECA International Finalist, a 2019 Young Scholar Award Finalist, a former grant panelist with the City of Toronto and a champion of local and grassroots organizations.