Hindsight in 2020: Four things a Harvard dental student would tell his high school self to get ready for in college and beyond

academic advice

Statistical Mediation & Moderation in Psychological Research (26)1. Learn to do laundry

It seems so easy, so it’s embarrassing to admit that I took fresh clothes for granted during my high school years. I was one of many students who came into college who could tell you the intricacies of the Kreb’s cycle but not the length of a washing cycle. Life skills are important - learn to do your laundry!

  • It makes you better appreciate your parents. My own personal relationship with my parents improved in college when I began to better appreciate all the sacrifices that they made for me – both small and large.
  • It makes you more efficient. I use the laundry wash cycle as a 30-minute productivity timer. Whether a completing a problem set, a quick workout, or reviewing my class notes, it is a simple way to be doubly productive.

2. Continue your foreign language

My high school offered Japanese, but I took it only to fulfill requirements. As a current dental student and future health care professional who will take care of diverse patients in the future, I wish I had paid more attention in high school and am currently relearning Japanese and learning other languages via Duolingo. Sharing a common language is a beautiful way to connect with people.

  • It opens doors and hearts! Continuing a foreign language will expose you to different cultures and opportunities—especially valuable in our increasingly interconnected world.
  • Want to travel? It can open up study abroad programs in college, and potential fellowships post college.

3. Embrace your inner Renaissance man

It was a childhood dream of mine to be an architect. However, I didn’t engage in any art classes in high school because I thought it wouldn’t be what college admissions would want to “see.” Looking back, I can’t tell you how wrong that thought process was. Your passions and interests are worth exploring. It was only in college when I took a stab at architecture that I found how thoroughly I enjoyed it.

What cardinal direction is your window facing right now? An East-facing window will give you more morning light if you enjoy studying in the morning (might help you wake up earlier more consistently too); a South-facing window will give you consistent direct light throughout the day; a North-facing window will be more consistently cool. Architecture provided a well-needed artistic outlet, gave me another angle to understand the world, and helped me stand out when it came time to apply to dental school.

  • Effort is a transferable discipline. The time and energy you put into exploring an interest now will develop the discipline and work ethic necessary to explore your future interests.
  • Stand out! According to the College Board, almost three million students take the SAT each year. That means even getting the top 1% of scores would put you alongside 30,000 other students. Having a personal or educational interest that you delve into will help you stand out.

4. Use the power of emails

Emails are essentially free letters and free stamps. You can use them to send middle school chain letters or actually reach out to your community and get involved. I only tapped into the power of emails in my second year of college when I was able to get a summer internship conducting oral cancer research—all because of a nicely worded email. If you’re interested in medicine, send an email to your local pediatrician asking to shadow; if you’re interested in volunteering, send an email to a local organization of your choice.

  • Develop your email etiquette. It’ll be useful in college for asking your professors for office hours or coffee, and searching for summer internships. I’d also recommend creating a new firstname.lastname.college@email.com address for your college admissions process so all your information can be stored in one place – definitely looks more professional than using your Instagram handle.
  • Don’t be intimidated about sending emails! Imagine an elementary/middle schooler sending you an email asking for your expertise on AP Biology or APUSH—you’d be flattered that they took the time to find your contact info and would definitely be able to help. Likewise, I believe most adults are willing to help, and I’ve personally gone out of my way to help those who have reached out to me.

It’s easy to be intimidated by the idea of applying to college. The process is long, confusing, and more competitive than ever. But it doesn’t have to be that way. At Cambridge Coaching, we’ve reimagined the entire process, and we are pleased to introduce an entirely new way of applying to college. Instead of focusing purely on cold, calculated application strategy, we like to think of college as the ultimate motivation to reach your potential, both as a student and as a member of your community. We’ve found that if you can see how this crazy process is actually helping you to lay down a foundation for a lifetime of learning, creativity, and accomplishments, it’s so much easier to stomach all the work involved. That’s why our coaches don’t just help you with application strategy. Unlike our competitors, we know that it’s not essays that make a great application - it’s the stuff you put into your essays. Which is to say: it’s the work you do all along the way.

We take a holistic, comprehensive approach to the college process. Well before you’ve even contemplated your college essay, we’re here to think about the steps you can take so that you have the most fulfilling high school career possible. Our ideal time to link students with coaches is in the freshman or sophomore year of high school, though we are happy to help you whenever you are in the process. Whether this means pairing a student who is struggling with physics with an MIT Ph.D. who loves physics more than anything, or sitting down with families to discuss summer plans, we mentor our students through every stage of the process. Our coaches know what it takes to get into the best colleges in America because they’ve all done it. More importantly, they know what it takes to make high school interesting and rewarding, so that your essays, when you get there, will reflect the integrity of your efforts - and the breadth of your dreams.

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Applying to college in 2021? Check out some other helpful blog posts below!:

How to Pick a College for the First (or Second) Time: Advice on Selecting a School for First-Time Applicants or Transfers

Summer is the time to start your college application process

Cracking the College Admissions Process, Part I: The Search and the Setup


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