For the past couple of years, I have asked graduates from Coppell’s IB Diploma Programme to advise the current seniors on issues that consistently cause them stress during their final year of high school: how to successfully complete all IB assignments, how to apply to college, how to apply for financial aid, and what life is like once they attend college. I do this because it means more to the seniors when this advice comes from people who have recently gone through those challenges successfully.
This year, I invited the IB graduates to do the same thing, and the response was overwhelming! A total of 51 graduates were willing to offer their time to speak to the seniors, even though they were finishing up their summers: some were working, some were packing and getting ready to head back to campus, and others were getting ready for their first year orientation activities.
Scheduling 51 people over the first six days of school was a challenge, but it worked out so that every period of IB math class had two or three speakers at the beginning and the end of class. This may seem excessive. At one point I even thought to myself: These seniors are going to hear the same thing from everybody over and over again.
Near the end I realized, if these seniors hear the same thing from everybody over and over again, it will be even better! It’s not just the top-ranked students or the most outgoing students that were successful, it was all of them! Not only that, they had all chosen different paths with different success stories that led them to their current situation. So the advice was not only consistent, but it went against everything they thought they knew about college.
Seniors have often been told that grades and GPA are the most important thing. They are also told that they should apply to the best schools, with Ivy League schools topping the list, in the country so that they can get good jobs after they graduate.
But the graduates told a much different story, and the story was always the same:
- When choosing colleges, choose your interest first. Then find schools that have reputable programs that match. Also find schools that match your personal preferences: small vs. large, local vs. out-of-state vs. international. It’s important to note that American colleges tend to be far more expensive than colleges overseas. It’s important to choose some reach schools, some state schools, and some safety schools. And take advantage of the College Visit days that the high school gives you to visit the campuses that interest you.
- Grades are not as important as you think. Colleges know how skewed those scores can be from high school to high school. So focus on the essay. This is the opportunity for you to talk about yourself, things that schools can’t find in your transcript or your resume. And be genuine. It is the job of admissions officers to read these essays, and they can tell when someone is trying to play the game by telling these officers what they might want to hear just to get in.
- IB students feel more ready for college than non-IB students. This is because IB students do so much writing, and are required to acquire service hours for their IB diplomas. As a result, when college professors require a similar level of writing, it’s a task that IB students are already familiar with. Some IB students even said that their freshman year of college was easier than their senior year of high school. IB students have also had more practice at managing their time and being self-motivated. So the adjustment to a situation where they are the only ones accountable for meeting multiple deadlines is an easy one.
- While many students received credit for their IB courses, the students didn’t use this as an opportunity to finish college early. Instead, they filled their years of study by learning things that they were interested in, even though they were not required for their degrees. College is the place to learn as much as you can, as much as you want, and to enjoy the process of learning.
- Some students changed majors when they realized their original choice wasn’t working out. But it gets more challenging as the years pass, since most majors have a list of that every student has to take.
- Internships are a valuable addition to the college experience. Internships lead to connections that lead to jobs after graduation from college. And sometimes those jobs will help pay for a postgraduate degree.
If students heard these tidbits from two or three graduates, they might dismiss them as being an exception or a special case that didn’t apply to the general population. But since they heard the same advice from 51 individual people, from different backgrounds, with a wide range of GPAs, attending dozens of different colleges, majoring in a spectrum of programs, at different stages in their post-secondary life, I believe the message has finally hit home. There is no guarantee that life after high school will go your way, but if you pursue your individual goals, seek out opportunities to learn more, advocate for yourself with your new peers and professors, and hold on to your personal integrity, things will work out better than you could have planned.
I eagerly await the opportunity to do this again next fall. The organization of times and technology was a burden, but to see the faces of my former students being successful adults, and to see the faces of my current students now excited for what’s ahead, the whole process was more than worth the effort.
Thank you to Ashna P., Holden B., Pam M., Akshaya S., Dev T., Jeanna C., Janet H., Maanas S., Sarah H., Dharshini S., Varshini S., Anjali N., Sai P., Veronica N., Lesley W., Saman H., Daniel C., Jia L., Wesley V., Isha K., Jonathan L., Maggie T., Mason E., Nadia M., Kyle W., Maggie L., Amruta D., Lauren H., Sadie H., Jasmine L., Rohin B., Keaton L., Carena T., Christina L., Jess H., Jess G., Alex R., Rachana M., Mio Y., Erin J., Michael S., Revant R., Adithya S., Matthew G., Natasha S., Clint B., Maria L., Shreya C., Dev C., Mubin P., and Ryan I., for volunteering your time to help out this year’s IB seniors. I know they truly appreciate it!