The Top 5 Habits Of Ivy League Bound College Students
By Christopher Rim | August 22, 2022, at 12:59 p.m.
And just like that, students are saying farewell to a summer that passed too quickly and getting ready for the start of a new school year. Although we are still rebounding from the disruption and uncertainty caused by the pandemic, intentional preparation can help students feel equipped and confident to tackle the college application process. Starting freshman year, there are plenty of opportunities that students can and should take advantage of to help set themselves up for college admissions success. It’s important for all students, even at the beginning of freshman year, to take high school seriously, particularly if they are aiming for admission to a top college down the line.
Whether an incoming first-year student or a college-focused senior, here are 5 ways every high school student can prepare for success. While some of these tips may not be new, taking a fresh approach – especially at the start of a new school year – can fuel students’ motivation and help them start the year off on the right foot.
1. Setting Students Up for Success
Saying goodbye to sleeping in late, hanging with friends, and the freedom summer often affords is never easy. Given that meeting new teachers, adjusting to a new class schedule and making new friends during the first week of the school year can also be difficult, it’s important to prepare the week preceding the first day of school. This is the time to practice time management and eliminate the time-wasting activities that can diminish productivity, such as scrolling on Instagram, learning Tik-Tok dances, or binge-watching Netflix series. Instead, students should practice going to sleep at a reasonable hour and waking up early. They should print out their new school schedule, finish summer reading and assignments, and review schoolwork from last year to brush up on what they previously learned. Students should also set up a successful workspace in their homes. This space should be separate from the area where they complete their other daily activities, such as eating meals and sleeping (avoid beds as designated homework spots at all costs). An optimized homework zone can help students stay organized and focused when they sit down to get their work done.
2. Forging Their Own Path
Some students feel obligated to participate in activities or extracurriculars that do not inspire passion. For others, the arrival of a new school year brings about a fresh wave of anxiety about fitting in, or fear that none of their peers share their interests. It is important for students to be proactive in seeking out opportunities to pursue their individual interests. Exploring passions through extracurricular activities will lead to the development of a unique hook, and set students apart in the college application process down the line.
That being said, students should review the extracurricular opportunities offered at their schools at the start of every school year (or even during the few weeks leading up to the first day of school). If no organizations or clubs pique their interests, they should take advantage of the opportunity to potentially start their own! Students should not be afraid to reach out to school counselors and administrators to start their own club, because odds are, their peers share their interests.
Not only does building a self-started project help a student develop and explore their passions, it helps them develop that authentic “hook” that top colleges look for. While joining clubs can be a great way to engage in a school community, it is not necessarily the most creative or unique way for a student to demonstrate their passions. For example, say Student A and Student B are two similarly academically qualified students who have high GPAs and great test scores. If Student A’s extracurricular activities only consist of in-school clubs, while Student B is a member of only a few school clubs, has participated in some volunteering work and created a self-started project, it is much more likely that Student B’s profile will stand out to admissions officers.
Ivy League and top tier schools do not expect every student they accept to have started their own club or founded their own company or foundation. However, developing a hook via a diversity of activities that includes a self-started project shows colleges that Student B had the creativity, motivation and ambition to design and execute their own ideas. Students who take initiative in this way learn incredibly valuable skills in the process, such as leadership, strong communication, time management, and more. This is the type of student that top schools seek to admit as members of their future college communities.
3. Declutter Students’ Minds
A student’s mind is their biggest asset and best tool. They should not make it work twice as hard as it needs to! Organization is key to academic and extracurricular success. Why waste valuable brainspace trying to remember the next chemistry exam date or The Grapes of Wrath reading assignment when students can utilize a calendar or planner to keep track of deadlines instead?
Building strong time management skills is an essential tool, not just for success in high school but also in college and beyond. A great strategy for organizing and prioritizing assignments is the 4 Quadrants Matrix. This method helps individuals organize tasks into 4 quadrants by 2 variables, such as time and effort, or time and importance, so students can clearly see what they need to focus on now vs later and identify the time commitment needed to complete each assignment. For example, a math assignment that is due the next day would go in Quadrant 1 (urgent and less time-demanding). A five-page book report about George Orwell’s 1984 due the next week would go in Quadrant 4 (non-urgent but more time-demanding).
Students can use this method to create a visual of all of their class assignments collectively, and then prioritize the work they need to tackle first. This is also a great way for students to stay on top of their time-sensitive assignments, and stay aware of larger, long-term projects that require additional planning and a greater time commitment.
4. Focus on Questions, not Answers
Asking questions is one of the most important fundamental skills students can acquire. Being curious allows students to process information more deeply, and remember what they learn more readily. Students may not be thrilled to learn about the Battle of Lexington or trigonometry, and that’s okay. Can they relate it to a topic that does interest them? What matters is that students continue to learn and ask questions. Whether they’re interested in ocean marine life or robotics, it is important to explore these interests with a curious and open mind. We encourage students to read books about the topics that interest them on their own time, as reading helps improve vocabulary, as well as other skills students will need to succeed both in school and on standardized tests.
Genuine intellectual curiosity is a critical component of any successful Ivy League applicant. As rigorous academic institutions, top colleges want students who are actually excited about learning, and will take advantage of the world-class university resources at their disposal. In fact, many colleges will ask applicants in their supplemental applications to write about ideas or topics that excite them or interest them. Admissions officers have a strong detector for students who have actually spent their time deepening their knowledge about subjects they are passionate about, and for students who skimmed a Wikipedia page twenty minutes before writing their essay. In order to be an appealing candidate for top schools, students need to chase their intellectual curiosities throughout high school.
Students should also practice resourcefulness and take initiative to learn more about the topics or ideas they find interesting. With Google as their friend, students can search the internet to find the answers to their questions and deepen their knowledge. Practicing resourcefulness aids in not only in becoming independent, but also in developing self-confidence in one’s ability to cope with academic stress.
Finally, students should leave room for self-discovery. We encourage them to ask questions about themselves– what are my biggest challenges right now? What did I enjoy most about this week? Journaling facilitates a deeper sense of self-understanding, a skill every high school student should hone.
5. Dream Big, Set Small Goals
Students are encouraged to have big dreams and aspirations, but in working towards achieving them, students should focus on breaking goals down into small, actionable steps. For example, Jesse, a high school sophomore, dreams of becoming a doctor. Like all students, Jesse needs to break her dream into subgoals, like graduating from medical school, or, more simply, passing her tenth-grade Biology class. Subgoals ensure intentional progress towards achieving bigger goals. So, if Jesse knows she needs to pass her Biology class, then she knows she needs to take notes during class, do her homework every day and study for each quiz and exam. It’s beneficial for Jesse to identify the obstacles that might get in her way. Professor Gabriele Oetengon offers a technique known as WOOP, which is a simple science-based mental strategy that can be used to set goals. WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan. Though obstacles can hinder progress, they can also help students achieve their goals. When using WOOP, students first determine the Wish they’d like to achieve, and then the best possible Outcome that would result from fulfilling their wish. Then, students identify the Obstacles that may get in their way. Finally, students come up with a Plan, specifically an ‘if/then’ plan (If X happens, then I’ll do Y). Say Jesse knows she needs to do her homework every day, but recognizes soccer practice as an obstacle that leaves her with little time to study and complete school work on weeknights. Rather than miss assignments, Jesse puts a plan in place: “If I don’t have enough time to do my homework after soccer practice, then I will use my free period to complete the assignment during the school day.” This method encourages students to continue to dream big, but to specifically focus on the obstacles and challenges that may come their way. By thinking ahead, students can better prepare and thus, succeed.
Originally published on Forbes on August 22, 2022