This story was first published in our Paying for College 101 (PFC 101) Group. It has been edited for clarity and flow.
I’m a college admissions coach, test-prep expert, and undergraduate student currently studying Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University. I’ve compiled a list of things I wish I knew before college. These are the result of my personal experiences at Stanford and years of coaching other high school students through the college admissions process to get into their dream schools. Please read and share the list with your student!
- It’s ok if moving away from home feels really scary (I went from North Carolina to California). Great, life-altering decisions can often feel terrifying at first.
- Therapy is important in college. I began therapy for the first time my freshman year, and it’s helped me more than I can express. If your student says they want to talk to someone—at any age—please listen.
- Friends are important. Your student should spend their freshman year investing in relationships with peers. That means staying up for late-night lounge conversations, getting brunch with someone new, and being kind to everyone they meet. These connections will get them through classes, jobs, and get their foot in the door in ways they can’t even imagine.
- Time management is essential for balancing work and play. Both are necessary. Many students and parents ask me how I manage a six-figure company while also being at Stanford. My answer is the 80/20 rule. 80% of your actions create 20% of your results. 20% of your actions create 80% of your results. As a student, you want to find what that 20% is (aka the most impactful actions to create your goals).
- Ask for help often—especially students looking to attend Ivy Leagues or other top schools. I cannot emphasize this enough. Ask for help—it’s the only way anyone makes it through. Those who don’t, struggle.
- If your student is a member of an underrepresented group, they should find a community where they feel safe on campus. Most days they won’t have the time or energy to explain their life experiences to others. It’s important that they find spaces where they feel a sense of belonging.
- Beware of success entitlement. If your student “never had to study in high school,” that will change. They should invest in learning how to study now, rather than later.
- Failure is not a matter of “if” but “when,” and it’s the antithesis of everything that’s taught in the traditional education system. Failure isn’t bad; it’s an indication of progress. Understanding this will increase your student’s tenacity and ability to succeed in hard classes.
- STEM classes are hard. Your student’s expectation of how they will perform on exams should be different than how they performed in high school. At competitive schools, class averages on exams range from 50s to 70s. For curved classes, they should try to stay around the median.
- Help your student know their strengths and ground themself in them. Once again, for students who want to go to Ivy League schools, they’ll no longer be the smartest person in the room. Not even close. And that’s a beautiful thing. They don’t have to be great at everything—in fact, they won’t be. It’s impossible. But among all the amazing people they’ll meet, remind your student that they’re amazing too and have so many things to offer to this world.
- Help your student separate their sense of self-worth from their achievements. As a student, they’re more than what they do or the grades they achieve. Recognizing this will allow your student to see the humanity in everyone else, too.
- Tell them to be themselves. They’ll find their people.
- Your student doesn’t have to be good at everything. In fact, the most successful people are very good at one thing. When they stop comparing themselves to others and focus on finding what that thing is for them, magic happens.
- Soft skills can get your student just as far as technical skills. Knowing how to have a conversation and advocate for myself has gotten me farther than any coding class.
- Don’t take naps at 10 p.m. It’s a trap! Your student will wake up in the morning.
- Last but not least… your student will grow rapidly every single year. This means they may outgrow some relationships, friendships, hobbies, and other things a past version of them enjoyed. Tell them that’s ok. It’s all part of the process. Enjoy it.
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