When I was taking driving lessons so many years ago, I was never told where I should be staring as I maneuvered my car down the highways and country roads of New England. Instead, I was simply told to keep the car centered between the lines and to keep enough distance between my car and the car ahead. I was told what to do, but not how to do it. It wasn’t until I taught my own daughter to drive that I discovered an important strategy. That strategy now forms the basis of the advice that I give to all students prior to senior year of high school. The strategy is, look as far down the road as possible and use your peripheral vision to stay between the lines. But this is much more than a driving strategy. It is a college admission strategy, and it is perhaps the most important advice that any student can heed.
The fact is that a collection of decisions you make will determine where you get into college. The number of decisions ranges somewhere between 75 and 125. They include decisions on classes, tests, test prep, summer activities, clubs, homework, personal priorities, essays, and recommendations. But unless these decisions collectively produce a magnificent picture of you as a compelling college admission candidate, they may fall short of the potential impact they could otherwise have. The best way to make decisions is to do so with a clear view of where you are steering your car. However, in this case, the car is your future. Each turn of the wheel is a decision leading you toward that future. If you take all the correct turns, your car will reach it’s intended destination with plenty of power to spare
On a daily basis, my students ask me about this activity or that activity. They ask, “Which one is better?” The activities usually have recognizable names such as Stanford’s High School Summer Program, or BU Rise, or MIT’s Launch X or PRIMES, or Brown’s Pre-College Program. And the truth is that any of them can be valuable, but so can any of thousands of other activities. If you choose a Stanford program because you think the Stanford name will help your application, then you are not seeing far enough down the road. However, if you choose a Stanford program because you can take courses that are consistent with your passion, then your eyes maybe properly positioned. The fact is that activities should support whatever picture of yourself you are painting based on a verifiable passion, talent, or direction. Each activity you select as a 9th, 10th, and 11th grader is like a turn along a predetermined course. Each class you take, each test you take, and each recommendation you earn is a turn along that road. Every college essay your write moves you closer to your destination. What you say and how you conduct yourself in an interview is another turn along the road. Each time you show interest in a college, you are taking a turn toward your destination.
Now, to be clear, I am not stating or implying that your top choice college is that ultimate destination of which I am speaking. No, that is just another turn down the road. The ultimate destination that I am referring to is your life. It is where you hope to be after you graduate college. Perhaps it is a career. Perhaps it is a lifestyle. There is no one specific correct answer to the question of what your ultimate destination is. In fact, it can be anything that keeps you on course, that keeps you motivated, that keeps you working hard and making smart decisions. Regardless of what you identify as your ultimate destination, use it as a guide to help you stay centered on the road ahead and to making all the correct turns on the highway that leads to your best possible future.