Although parents may shudder at the thought, the college application is the first time a student is required to consider his interests and strengths in the context of his future career. While many college majors don’t directly relate to a career path, what a student gravitates toward in college will impact the way in which future employers view his record.
This means that when applying to college, teens will be asked to select a potential major. And if they choose “undecided”, which many students do, they do so at their peril. In research for my book, I spoke with a number of college admissions heads at Tier 1 and Tier 2 schools (based on the US News & World Report rankings). They all said the same thing: Preference goes to students who have carved out specific interests and deepened them through sustained experience.
Ideally, teens will have been undergoing a process throughout high school to develop and deepen their interests. They will have had internships, done volunteer work and begun to select coursework based on their interests. They will therefore have some direction in terms of an organizing principle around which they will identify appropriate colleges and convince them that they are good matches.
Without this interim step, applying to college becomes totally arbitrary. It ends up being based on how fun the tour guide was that day, how the food in the cafeteria was or whether someone had a cold the day he visited. These are not the best criteria for college selection.
My advice is to take the high school years to maximize exposure to potential areas of interest. It will enhance learning and make school more fun. Teens will make better connections with teachers and other school staff members who could be helpful in building their futures. Students will meet others who may influence their paths and can provide guidance and mentorship. Teens shouldn’t wait until it’s time to apply to realize that their portfolios are thinner than they would ever have thought.
Allison Cheston is a New York City-based career advisor who works with young adults who are in high school, college or are recent graduates. Her upcoming book will help young adults from late high school through college identify strengths and interests and match them to internships, coursework and, ultimately, the right job. Visit her website http://www.allisoncheston.com/