Allow me to extend a warm greeting from a chilly (but sunny) Boiling Springs, NC! I hope all of you enjoyed Thanksgiving and are looking forward to the Christmas holiday that’s just around the corner.
As we enter the month of December, high school students across the country are busy finalizing college applications, working on scholarship essays, and preparing to take fall semester final exams. In this torrent of challenge, it is quite easy to see how these tasks can elicit a rather sizeable feeling of anxiety. Without question, all of the above activities are important. Students can understandably begin to feel that they are under constant scrutiny. Do they measure up to their peers? Are they smart enough, involved enough, and interesting enough to be part of a certain student body? Are they charismatic enough to warrant consideration for a prestigious scholarship (and what will happen if they are not able to secure such an award?) And, in the more immediate future, how easily can one enjoy the Christmas season with the short term pressures associated with finishing the current academic semester on a high note?
As someone who works in higher education, I sometimes think it is unfortunate that today’s students feel so much pressure, both internal and external, to be unique, special, and different. Somehow if a current high school student is not maintaining a 5.0 GPA, volunteering 40 hours a week, winning 4 varsity letters, and racking up superlative awards in the high school annual, then this student is an abject failure. With more and more folks applying to college, more students achieving at a high level, and a greater sense of competition in the classroom than ever before, many students undoubtedly feel like throwing up their hands and giving up.
In light of these basic observations, I thought it would be appropriate to consider a few apt realities of this season of heightened academic anxiety. Firstly, no one’s life has ever been irreparably damaged by not earning admission into the school of their choosing. One of the first things I am certain to mention to every high school student I meet with is that there is no such thing as a perfect college, any more than there is such a thing as a perfect restaurant, football team, or business. Everything in life is naturally riddled with inherent imperfections. Some organizations are better than others at minimizing their flaws, but the reality is that no entity on this earth functions with perfection all of the time. This time of the year, I think it is reassuring for students to be reminded that there are any number of schools in the United States that can provide what will basically be a successful college experience. Therefore, let’s all make a pact to not put pressure on one another to find some elusively perfect college this fall. Relax and enjoy the process of finding a school that will add value to your life for the next four years and beyond (and not to mention provide some great memories along the way).
Secondly, when it comes to applying for any number of the rather lucrative scholarships out there, remember one inalienable truth: nothing is quite as compelling as sincerity. When writing essays for major academic scholarships, certainly highlight relevant leadership experiences, academic successes, and extracurricular triumphs. However, do so in a way that will help a scholarship committee fundamentally understand the heart of this particular applicant. Be yourself! I am often struck by great leaders in business, sports, and politics bemoaning that early career setbacks were largely the product of trying to do things somebody else’s way. I have heard several coaches say that they didn’t win many games at the onset of their careers because they spent too much time trying to act like how they had been told a coach should act like. Athletes in a locker room, customers in a store, and certainly, scholarship committee readers are all united by one common characteristic: they can smell a phony from miles away. Be sincere and be sincerely enthusiastic about what you will add to a given campus’ life, both in and out of the classroom, and be amazed at the good things that can happen.
And finally, when it comes to navigating final exams, always keep in mind a timeless cliché that, though tired, has withstood the test of time for a reason: take it one day at a time. Sportswriters roll their eyes when coaches say “we’re just trying to play the games one at a time” (their cynicism is somewhat justified- I cannot ever recall a football team playing two opponents on the same field simultaneously). However, the moral behind the cliché continues to be applicable. Students who struggle on exams usually do so for one of two reasons: lack of preparation (there is no substitute of course for studying) or test taking anxiety. The second one is of course rooted in spending too much time thinking about the overall significance of a given test and not nearly enough time on actually taking the exam. This is akin to worrying the entire way through a job interview with thoughts like “do they like me?” “Was that the right answer to their question?” “Will I get the job?” These questions, while natural, are counterproductive to the task at hand: answering the current question with sincerity and clarity. In taking tests during this final exam season, remember: focus on each singular challenge as it comes and don’t worry about the overall picture. Prepare well and attack the individual problems in a methodical manner. The end result will take care of itself.
I hope these brief thoughts were of some value to those of you wading though the seemingly endless malaise of entrance applications, scholarship essays, and final exams. As always, if any of us here at the GWU admissions office can be of any assistance to you during this stressful time, please feel most welcome to contact us! We stand ready to answer questions and provide assistance to you as you consider the possibility of becoming a part of the Gardner-Webb University family. Until next time, be sure to remain firmly on the right path…