Words of Wisdom From the Class of 2018

CollegeXpress student writers from the Class of 2018 share some parting advice for high school underclassmen!

Congratulations, Class of 2018—you did it! You’ve worked so hard to get to this point, and we’re very proud of you all. But we’re especially proud of the CollegeXpress student writers graduating this year. They (and all our other awesome student writers!) devoted a lot of time writing for us and brought you top-notch advice on everything from choosing a major to navigating campus visits to writing that daunting application essay. Below is more advice from our college-bound student writers—words of wisdom they wish they had received as underclassmen. We hope you’ll find it helpful as you work toward graduation and beyond!

Focus on your goals

My biggest suggestion is to stay confidently and constantly focused on your goals. Be assured in your abilities and devote yourself to your studies, no matter how hard it gets. Every bit of your education is extraordinarily important to who you’ll be after you graduate. A love of learning will take you so far in life, and if you employ it in high school, soon enough you’ll find yourself with a diploma in your hand and a huge smile on your face. — Karabella Hernandez, attending The College of Wooster

If you had asked me four years ago if I would be where I am today, I would have told you, “Not in a million years.” I had college in mind, but I think I was more focused on maximizing my time in high school. There is a lot of potential there because people see you as a regular high school student and become immediately impressed when you shoot for the stars. If I could tell myself one piece of advice, it would be this: Don’t worry about trying to be special. You already are! Do what you love and that will make you a standout student. — Carson Macik, attending Yale University

Dedicate time to your passions

Don’t try to juggle too many extracurricular activities just for the purpose of filling up your résumé. Instead, find a few things you’re passionate about and pursue them. Colleges would rather see that you dedicated yourself wholeheartedly to a couple of things rather than see you stretched yourself too thin and were half-involved in loads of activities. Throughout my high school years, I added more hours to my dance schedule and became even more involved at my studio. When I applied to college, I was able to share a lot about how my dancing impacted my life and shaped me into the person I am today. — Tamar Lilienthal, attending University of Pennsylvania in 2019

Try new things. Never taken an art class before? Do it. Want to try theater? Go for it! Your high school experience will be enriched by trying new things, and you will meet more friends. — Grayson Yount, attending University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Related: 3 Easy Ways to Pursue Your Passions in High School 

Your happiness matters

Do what makes you happy! Even if what makes you the happiest doesn’t satisfy “college requirements,” you have to try to enjoy yourself in high school. Your high school experience shouldn’t be about “checking the box.” Have fun and do what you love! Also, try to branch out in your activities. Now is the time to experiment and see what you’re interested in. Not everything has to be about getting the perfect grade or getting enough community service hours. You should strive to be yourself and be completely, undeniably happy. — Rebecca Blyn, attending Harvey Mudd College 

It was incredible how quickly these four years went by. If I could do it over with the experience I have now, I would remind myself not to neglect my hobbies and passions simply to claw my way to the top academically. The rewards aren’t so great to justify sacrificing happiness and pursuit of skills that can’t be taught in a classroom. I would also want to encourage myself to be more involved in my community—I want to remember this place fondly and to be remembered as a good influence. Above all, enjoy yourself and make new friends! — Sarah Montalbano, attending Montana State University–Bozeman

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should

Sure, you could probably run on four hours of sleep (with a few espressos, of course) in order to participate in eight clubs, earn 5s on every AP test, and score a 1500 on your SAT, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. I understand that doing as much as you can manage is important—and I certainly think you should push yourself—but sacrificing your mental and physical health for .02 points on your weighted GPA is a bad bargain. Remember to take care of yourself and spend time doing what you love. You can do great things, but you don’t have to do it all. — Kay Teekell, attending Southwestern University

Related: How to Avoid Burnout During College Application Season  

Rejection is temporary, but regret can last forever

Always go after what you want: Yes, you should ask her out. Yes, you should enter that writing competition. Yes, you should try out for the cross-country team. Yes, you should apply to your dream school. And yes, you should definitely prompose to him in the most lavish way possible. If it works out, it will have been 10,000% worth the risk. If it doesn’t, you haven’t failed—you’ve just found one more way that won’t work! And in the absolute worst-case scenario, you’ll be able to leave high school with a really great story to tell. — Sara Wasdahl, attending New York University

The hardest challenges are the most rewarding

School is stuck in a perpetual time loop. In the moment, you're staring at textbooks, papers, whiteboards, notes, and agendas. When the moment's gone, you're left with fleeting memories of classmates, friends, and giddy interactions with counselors about your future. Even though it's difficult now, you have a bright future. The hardest path is often the worst to travel on in the moment, but having made it through, you will find your success all the more satisfying. Take that road. I wish you the best in traveling it. Best of wishes and keep moving forward, my friend. — Rachel Bullock

Studying is important

One of the best pieces of advice I received from upperclassmen my freshman and sophomore years was that homework and studying may be optional, but they should be necessary. I looked for any way I could find to not put in the effort to study, but if I had actually studied, I would’ve done a lot better on my tests and AP exams. I wish I studied more my freshman year, but I didn’t think I needed to. I know it’s probably advice you’ve received numerous times, but I can’t stress this enough. — Renee Serna, attending Palomar College

Related: Secrets to Successful Studying 

People change

You won't be the exact same person four years from now, and that's okay. Try not to go into high school with a set plan of what you want to do for the rest of your life, and don't build your schedule around that mentality either. Take it slow, see what works for you, and try things you're curious about or you otherwise wouldn't have made time for. High school is about exploration and discovery, and it's more important to enjoy the experience and find out more about yourself as a person than it is to be the best at everything. — Eliza Browning, attending Wheaton College in Massachusetts

It’s okay to not have all the answers—what classes you want to take, what clubs you want to join, or even what you want to do after high school. Your four years of high school are a period of experimentation, and as long as you’re open to new experiences, something that “clicks” is bound to come your way. Get out of your comfort zone—take a journalism class, run cross-country, join your school’s debate team, etc. And if you end up not liking any of these choices, at least you know what not to continue in your life. — Gabriella Son 

Find the big picture

Society loves to put high school and its inhabitants under a magnifying glass. The people you talk to, grades you earn, and interests you choose to pursue are seemingly scrutinized by everyone you know. Realize that your peers might act so close-minded because they may only know the 20 classrooms in your school or the eight stoplights in your town. Use your four years to learn as much as you can from your classes, teachers, and peers. Find new ways to look at old things, and you will beat this small mindset. — Paige Miller, attending Ohio University

Related: 6 Things You'll Experience When You Leave a Small Town 

Graduation is right around the corner for the Class of 2018, and if you're an underclassman, yours will be here before you know it too! Though the days may seem long, your high school years fly by, so be sure to enjoy them and get ready for your next adventure with this sage advice. And congratulations again to the Class of 2018—we’re super proud of you!

Looking for even more encouragement from real students? Check out all the words of wisdom from past graduating classes using the tag “advice for underclassmen.”

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