Rising juniors, you’re probably a little nervous right now. Which is fair, junior year is rumored to be the scariest, most difficult year of school. It’s definitely not easy, but that’s okay. Nothing good was ever easy.
Take it from the girl who broke out into hives while taking the SAT, there are lots of ways to make testing much, much easier.
Here are three ways to make standardized testing in junior year just a bit easier for you:
1. Look At (and Plan Around) Test Dates
I’ll do the first one for you: The PSAT is October 15th and 18th.
It can be insanely hard to find the right words when you’re writing an essay.
Especially when you’re not sure the words exist.
When you’re writing a “Why ___” essay (and chances are you’ll write at least one) you’re going to need to put abstract, gut concepts into words.
It can just be a mind blank (I briefly forgot the word “measurement” existed yesterday). Which is easily fixed by asking people “what word would you use here?”
It can be simply not having the right words at the time, or just not knowing how to explain.
It can be for bigger concepts as well. And this is where the essay writing comes in. You might not know why you feel the way you do about something. It might be something you don’t have any context for, or something you simply haven’t thought about deeply enough, or even something you don’t have the experience to explain.
For example, I could never explain why I disliked my high school until I went to college. And then I realized that I hate unproductive competition and that I find it petty and useless. That was the basic reason I didn’t like high school, but when I was there I just assumed that was what school was like, what people were like, what the world was like. When I left that bubble I realized that, at the core, was what I hated.
When you’re writing an essay about what you like about a school (or anything, really) you’re going to need to come up with examples (showing, not telling) of why you like it. And it’s hard to explain “it’s just a feeling that it’s right.”
So think deeply, and break down what you love. For me, I liked that everyone at WM was willing to help each other, always, no matter what. So vastly different from my high school experience.
Finding language is tough, but when you find those magic words, life becomes a lot easier.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret… Nobody is nearly as happy freshman year as they claim.
In fact, most people feel really lost and lonely and confused freshman year. Especially first semester.
And yet, everyone you talk to says they’re having the time of their life, they’re so happy, school is incredible.
I say as someone who was legitimately happy first semester freshman year, I pretended I was much happier than I actually was.
The trick is, you need to fake it until you make it.
You need to tell yourself that you’re not lonely until you actually aren’t lonely. You need to tell everyone you’re happy when you’re still confused and figuring things out.
My older sister told me a story of her freshman year. She cried that every one of her friends had a best friend, expect her.
The thing is… Everyone felt that everyone else had a best friend. But everyone is faking it, until enough time passes that you actually become best friends.
Like I’ve said before, things take time.
So pretend you’re happier than you are, and act like the chipper excited freshman you pretend to be. You’ll eventually get there. You will actually be happy and actually have best friends and school will become actually amazing.
But to be perfectly honest, you probably won’t feel that way for a couple months. So fake it ‘til you make it.
Chances are high that your parents are going to have something to do with your college decision.
Which is, of course, a double edged sword.
Of course generally they want what they think is best for you, so it’s hard to blame them for laying pressure on when they genuinely believe that they’re helping.
However, there’s the tricky issue that often parents are a bit closed minded about what schools are out there, how hard it is to actually get into school nowadays, and what schools qualify as “good.”
When you’re dealing with parents you’re going to have to compromise. So maybe you’ll apply to a school you’re not jazzed about (the single best essay I wrote was for Lehigh, a school I honestly didn’t see myself at). Or you’ll cut a school that you think you would have liked.
You’re going to need to argue, so have good arguments. Find out what their opposition to a school is and counter it. My mother was really opposed to W&M because it’s far. Very far. My parents love Northwestern, and I argued that it was twice as far as W&M but they were fine letting me go there. I won.
I lost the battle with Lehigh. I didn’t see myself there at all (socially just not a great fit), but my parents looooove it. I filled out an application, interviewed, and sent my scores in. I didn’t really see myself there, but I couldn’t find an argument that convinced my parents to let me not apply.
The thing with parents is you’ll need to pick your battles.
Figure out what’s important, and fight for it.
I’m bad at reading romantic signals. It’s true, I’m completely unaware if someone is interested in me. They basically need to wave a neon sign in my face that says “I LIKE YOU” for me to even get a hint that they might, maybe, like me (seriously, I’m hopeless).
Schools are the exact same way.
There’s no “coy” with a college. You need to let them know, constantly, without doubt, that you want them.
Because it will help your application.
Colleges keep an eye on a statistic called “yield”
They want to know how many people accepted actually attend.
It helps the school, because of course, it’s nice to be wanted. It helps them make decisions. It helps the stupid and subjective (but still important to them from a marketing standpoint because not all applicants are as savvy as you all) “rank.”
So to increase their yield, they are going to try to take students they think are likely to accept their offer.
As in, students they know are interested in their school.
As in, students who let them know that they are interested in attending their university.
So you need to express interest. To every school you would like to attend. Even your safety (seriously! Love thy safety). Because it makes them more likely to accept you.
So how do you do this?
Take a tour if traveling to the school is possible (this, of course, is a huge benefit to you anyway because you will get to see the school in person and figure out what you like about it).
If not, see if they’re coming to any college fairs around you, go to their table, wait on line if you have to, fill out a comment card and ask a few questions to the rep.
Do an alumni interview (or a formal interview) if they’re offered.
Go to an info session that they’re offering to your high school (if they’re not going to your school, check if they’re doing any regional presentations).
If they send you mail, reply that you’d like more info. If you don’t get mail from them, go to their website and “request more information.”
Let them know, with a big neon sign, that you like them.
This is one of the ones where of course I knew it would take time to get used to college.
But you don’t really feel that in your heart of hearts. By this point in the summer you’ve idealized college, your roommates, your experience. You’re excited. And you should be. College is awesome. And you know it’s going to be awesome.
So why is it decidedly less awesome from the second week on when everyone’s nervousness has faded?
Those first few months are rough. You’re looking for a place to fit in, and you probably won’t find it right away. You might feel happy in some areas, but totally unfulfilled in others.
It takes a lot of time to find “your” place.
That’s okay! That’s normal. And if you expect it to happen, it will.
You’re going to have to make all new friends, possibly for the first time ever. Your friends are going to be your stand in family while you’re at school. But it will probably take months before you feel even a little bit close to anyone.
You’re going to have to start at the bottom of the totem pole in all of your activities, which is rough after (probably) running them senior year of high school. But there’s a lot to learn, so listen to the upperclassmen and try to make friends.
Personally I never feel totally fulfilled unless I’m busy. But first semester I simply wasn’t busy at all. I took a relatively light course load, I only had two activities (one of which I hadn’t made a lot of friends in yet), and I was going out but I didn’t really enjoy the “scene” I was in or the types of parties I went to.
So what did I do the next semester? I took more classes, I did 3 plays in one semester (file that under: overeager freshman mistakes), I started going out with different people (who’s company I enjoyed much more), and I finally made my group of chorus friends by simply extending a dinner invitation after rehearsal (a tradition we’ve proudly upheld all these years).
So if you don’t feel close to your friends, or haven’t made them everywhere yet, make plans with people. Remember, everyone is looking for friends. A girl who I sat next to in class freshman year saw me looking at food blogs and asked if I was going grocery shopping. She ended up being a transfer who didn’t really know anyone yet, and we became grocery shopping buddies the rest of the year.
If you’re bored or homesick, join more clubs, try out for things, volunteer.
If you feel bored in your classes, try to sneak your way into upper level classes (if you sell yourself well, professors will generally give you a shot).
It’s okay not to feel like you’ve found your place in the first few weeks. To be honest, nobody does. Anyone who looks like they know what they’re doing is faking it (more on that next week).