“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.”- Stephen Hawking
High School really is the culmination of what has happened in the past and what will happen in the future. It’s an exciting time of personal and academic growth. It’s the time to set goals, get serious and explore interests. It is also the time to discover what you are really passionate about.
I am laser focused on behaviors and habits of highly successful high school girls that lead them to the most elite schools in the country and, eventually, a life of glaring success. If you have read any of my articles, and I strongly encourage you to, you know I am an advocate of hard work, self-sacrifice and goal orientation. I have written articles focusing on these characteristics and behaviors after interviewing over four hundred high school girls that attended the most elite colleges in the country. However, there is also something to be said about being an interesting person.
I wondered, when comparing two candidates that were equal in terms of achievements, academic and other, what the determining factor would be to an elite college admissions director. I waited until the decisions were finished and these directors had a bit of a lull in their schedules and actually asked them. I was able to contact an admissions director or dean at twenty of the most elite schools in the country. I had amazing conversations and ended up relating many of my own experiences and realized those experiences made the conversation more interesting. I went back and thought about all the conversations and stories that were related to me by the admissions directors and deans and came up with a list of things you can do in high school to be more competitive and more interesting.
Life is enriched through exploration and this is the best time. After speaking with, literally, hundreds of highly successful young women in the most elite colleges in this country, there is one thing I can tell you firsthand: They work hard in college and free time is very limited. Although high school is also intense, it is smattered with breaks and summer vacations without many encumbrances. That will not be the case once you attend college. Life is filled with mid-terms, finals and internships. I have compiled a bucket list, of sorts, that may help you enrich yourself and, in turn, enrich your life. In any case, you will definitely learn something along the way. They are as follows:
1. While You Still Live At Home, Learn To Cook A Few Dishes Well. When you eventually start college and move onto graduate school, you will be on solid ground. There is something very aesthetic about taking raw ingredients and creating something delightfully savory or deliciously sweet. There is also quite of bit of science involved, namely physics and chemistry, that may help you make a principal more tangible and have a bit of fun. Either way, you will be able to take care of yourself someday. If this becomes your passion, make a few meals and take them to seniors who are house bound in your area. Now you have turned your passion into a wonderful community service that is desperately needed and greatly appreciated.
2. Download An Astronomy App And Look At The Stars And Planets In The Night Skies. You may have to go into an area without city lights to garner the greatest benefit. Our family has a ranch far from any city and I can tell you from experience, gazing at the night skies is an amazing experience. Stephen Hawking got it right when he suggested contemplating the universe. You actually realize how big the universe really is, how small we are in the scheme of things and realize how much we have yet to discover. It does make one question everything and that is the point. If this is your passion, NASA has an amazing website where you can learn more and follow the latest sightings. The night skies fascinate me and I convinced my parents to take our family to East Cape in New Zealand to see the first place on earth the sun rises; it was mind-blowing and so cool at the same time.
3. Make Sure You Will Be Proficient In A Foreign Language Before You Graduate From High School. The world has truly become globalized and proficiency in a foreign language shows that you understand that perspective and also makes you more marketable. If at all possible, visit that country and immerse yourself into that language and culture. Live like a local and appreciate the history, art, food and architecture. It will be an experience that will always stay with you for the rest of your life and it will become a passion. Try a new food once. You’ll never know if you like something unless you try it.
4. Read The Classics. Most colleges expect you to be well read and many classics are missed in high school. You may find you enjoy Thoreau and Bronte and have a real latent passion for classic American and English Literature. So much history is depicted in the works of Homer, Tolstoy, Twain, Kipling, Dostoyevsky and so many more, that you will find yourself transported to a time you never knew existed in that way. The world is longing for a new Emily Dickinson and maybe that will be your forte.
5. Revisit American History. Any political science class in college will trace back to American roots and it will also help you understand key issues in the news media today, such as Supreme Court decisions and our electoral process. With the invention of the Broadway musical, “Hamilton”, American history has been reignited. This musical has been a life changer for me and I found myself reading “The Federalist Papers”, by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison. Read the Constitution, the amendments, The Declaration of Independence (It’s only a page!), the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King, The Gettysburg and both Inaugural Addresses by Abraham Lincoln, “Common Sense”, by Thomas Payne and anything else you can get your hands on. America has a rich history from The Revolutionary War to the Battle of Yorktown, the Civil War to abolition, the Great Depression, the World Wars and segregation.
6. Make Sure You Vote When You Turn 18. It is not only a right in America, it is an inclusive privilege. The 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1870 and gave minorities the right to vote. Women were given the right vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920. Suffragettes, such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott fought and were imprisoned fighting for that right. Did you know in 1923, the National Women’s Party proposed an amendment to the Constitution that prohibited all discrimination on the basis of gender? To this day, the aptly-named Equal Rights Amendment has never been ratified.
7. Take An Art History Class At Your Local Community College Or On Your Own Volition. So many references are made from the works of the masters that it will pay off if you can add to the conversation. You may also find out what type of art moves you. My personal love of impressionism came from visiting museums and being mesmerized by the actual works of Monet, Renoir, Van Gough and Degas. America has some amazing museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, The Guggenheim in NYC, The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., The Museum of Modern Art in NYC, The Getty Center in L.A. and The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, just to name a few. Art is another way of learning history, as much of the early works were commissioned by the wealthy or the Church.
8. Study World Religions. After all, how can you comment on anyone’s beliefs without knowing what they believe? Also, visit places of worship to see the true artistic mastery and some of the greatest works of art in the world. It will teach you tolerance and an appreciation for something that may differ from your own perspective. You will inevitably find that people are very similar in their beliefs, although the practices may differ. I visited and saw the artistry and sculptures of Michelangelo in the Vatican and the Vatican Museum in Rome, the beauty of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, The exquisiteness of the Golden Temple and the Taj Mahal in India, The Karnak Temple in Egypt, The San Vitale Church in Ravenna, Italy, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., Notre Dame and the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, and they will be engrained in my mind forever.
9. Take A Look At Some Of The Earliest Philosophers And Their Beliefs. It is fascinating that many of those philosophies are still guiding our philosophies today. The works of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Voltaire and Confucius are referenced in literary works, political philosophies and society. Human nature today is not so different from back then and we are all trying to explain and understand our actions.
10. Learn About Your Own Family History. I know it sounds inherent, but your parents and family are great resources to truly understand your heritage. Your history and family struggles, work ethic and culture are a culmination of who you are today. Studies have shown when people understand the struggles their families have overcome, they tend to work harder and ultimately achieve greater success. Grandparents and anyone in your family with a “Great” in their name, will have lived in an era that is totally different than today. Lin-Manuel Miranda said, “History is so subjective. The teller of it determines it.” So learn your own story, paint your own canvas and tell it the way you see it.
Life gets more complicated as it goes on, so take this unique time in High School to become more well-rounded and interesting. Find your passion and you can explore what you really want to learn more about in college. These skills will carry you far and also give you a much better chance of getting into the college of your choice.