I’m three years out of high school now, but with graduation season in full swing, it’s hard to avoid a hit of nostalgia! My high school experience was honestly pretty great between marching band, the golf team, and actually doing well in classes, but looking back there are so many opportunities I missed out on that could’ve really helped me out in college.
For some background, I took computer science courses throughout high school along with a ton of AP classes in preparation for majoring in Electrical Engineering, so I wasn’t totally unprepared. I also didn’t decide what I wanted to major in until the minutes before I had to fill that section out on college applications, so there’s that.
Basically, everyone’s high school experience is different, but based on my experiences these are all things that I either did or believe would really help current high school students prepping for college!
diversify your skills
High school is the perfect time to try new things, because you’re not yet tied down to a specific field and you have the opportunity to take elective classes for free. Even if you’ve known what you want to major in since freshman year, diversifying your skills and experiences will give you more to put on your resume and potentially lead you to a passion you never would’ve considered otherwise.
For example, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in tech by the time I started high school, but there are so many routes to take within the tech industry that I hadn’t considered. Education-tech, health-tech, music-tech, pretty much any industry-tech you can think of. In high school I took music theory, golf, web design, piano, and color guard alongside my required classes, and I still talk about my experiences in those classes and sports today during behavioral interviews.
That leads me to my next tip…
join a team or club and actually invest yourself in it
There’s a difference between showing up to scheduled practice and taking time outside of school hours to get better at whatever you’re doing. From my experience, the things I practiced outside of school were the things I fell in love with, gained a lot of life lessons/friends from, and eventually talked about in college essays or job interviews.
I know a lot of people say sports aren’t their thing, but hear me out. I was not a fan of playing sports for most of my life. I played basketball and soccer for years both for school and outside leagues, and never felt like I loved playing. I think those kinds of competitive team sports just weren’t my thing, so I didn’t plan on doing any sports going into high school.
Then I found out that golf was a thing in high school and after a few lessons, I joined the team. I know everyone thinks golf is the most boring sport on the planet, but I promise it’s actually really fun! I’m not hear to turn you on to golf, but I would definitely recommend trying it out if other sports haven’t quite worked out for you.
I joined color guard during my sophomore year, and y’all. That stuff changed my life. I could go on and on about how many life lessons I learned in guard and how much it impacted the way I am today. When you’re forced to spend up hours and hours rehearsing with the same people every day, you make some pretty great friendships, and you also get a great escape from the pressures of school. I’m a huge advocate for becoming a part of marching band in high school in some way or another, because that’s where most of the best experiences I had in high school came from, so if playing an instrument isn’t your thing, I totally recommend trying out for your school’s color guard!
As for the connection to college, literally all of my college essays were written about my color guard experience. All those really vague questions like “how did you handle a time when you felt angry?” are super easy to elaborate on when you have a million specific memories to pull from. Even better if you were a captain, because those leadership questions become a piece of cake.
look for high-school level internships
So I’m still kind of salty that I didn’t know these existed when I was in high school, but they do and you should really take advantage of them! Most of these internships require little to no previous experience, so they’re the perfect opportunity to try something you’re interested in at a more professional level.
I’m not too versed in internships outside of tech, but a little googling should get you some great resources. If you are going into a major like Computer Science or Engineering, I would definitely recommend checking out these programs:
start a portfolio
This works better for some majors than others, but if you’re doing any sort of work that produces some finished product, save it! Put it in a folder (literal or online) or even better, put it on a website so you can share your work with anyone who asks for it.
take classes at your community college
If you have the time and the funds, I seriously recommend taking classes at your community college while in high school. Every class you take there is a class you don’t have to take in college, which becomes really helpful when you’re pushing the credit limit trying to graduate in four years.
I took Government, History, and Economics at my community college, all of which were 6 week classes that I honestly only spent 3 weeks on. They required a good amount of reading, but the grading was usually much more lenient than it would be at a 4-year college. My Government class basically consisted of reading a few chapters, taking a multiple choice quiz, repeating that a bunch of times, and then taking a multiple choice final based off the quizzes. I got an A easily, and the best part was it was all online!
To be honest, the 4-year college versions of the classes weren’t that hard and offered a great buffer between my engineering classes, but the real benefit of taking community college classes is that they’re shorter (6 weeks vs a semester), cheaper (I forget the exact costs, but definitely incomparable to 4-year tuition costs), and free up time in your college schedule for more interesting classes (sorry to history geniuses but it’s not my thing!).
talk to people at your prospective colleges
Unless you’re totally set on one college, you should learn as much as you can about the school’s you’re applying to before accepting. You can only learn so much from a college’s website, and I think the best way to get real advice is by asking real students.
I would start by looking for college bloggers who attend the college you’re interested in, because they probably already have posts written that could help you out! I get emails every week from prospective UT students asking about how I like Austin, what the workload is like, and whether I like my major, and I’m happy to help them out. Bloggers are super friendly and almost always willing to lend a helping hand!
start a blog
I’m a little biased here, but I’m not kidding when I say starting a blog was one of the best decisions of my life. This blog has helped me pay my rent, meet incredible friends, and connect with companies I never imagined working with. It’s also the project I talk about in just about every interview, and several recruiters have specifically told me they think that this experience diversifies me as a candidate! I’ve written several posts on starting a blog, so if that sounds like something you’re interested in, check these out:
- Why You Should Start A Blog In College (or high school!)
- How To Start A Blog On WordPress
- How To Start Making Money Blogging
If you have any questions about my high school or college experience, feel free to ask in the comments or send me an email!