Summer is over, school is starting up again. That means there’s a lot on your plate, and much of it will have a direct impact on your future success. Obviously you’re trying to get good grades, but what else can you do this year that will put you on the path toward a happy and productive life?
#1 – Identify Your Aptitudes
Satisfaction in life springs from productively using our skills. When we do something well, it feels good – plain and simple. So let’s plan for a lifetime of doing things well.
Trouble is: we can’t be good at everything. You may think you already know what your aptitudes are, but you could have other, hidden skills that you haven’t even imagined. High school is a great time to scout out your options, try new things, and uncover those hidden talents and interests. Once you determine where your strengths lie, start investigating careers that utilize those skills.
As former President Obama said in at a back-to-school speech: “Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.”
If you’re thinking that Debate is too nerdy for you, or Science is too hard, maybe you’re giving up too easily. If you simply try, you’re likely to discover abilities that will surprise you. Now is the best time to pursue the subjects that intrigue you, before you’re locked into a college major. The unexpected discoveries you make might lead you to a gratifying career.
#2 – Plan a Future-Oriented Second Semester
If you dedicate the first semester to focusing on your aptitudes, you will be in a better position to select second-semester classes that align with your future plans. That doesn’t mean you have to have made all your life decisions already! But as you start to identify your talents and interests, you may see a path opening in front of you. Schedule the classes that can best propel you down that path. Your counselor will guide you.
For example, if you did better than you expected at Chemistry, why not try Physics next? Or if you really excelled at leading a group project, find another class, or a club or other extracurricular activity, in which your leadership skills can develop and shine. You don’t necessarily have to get an A in something to find hidden talents.
#3 – Practice 21st Century Skills
Obviously your teachers are trying to impart knowledge in their chosen subject. But they are also trying to help you develop a skill-set that will apply to many subjects, and help assure your success in college, career and life.
In a recent Forbes article, they defined “21st century skills” in two ways: 1) a range of abilities and competencies that go beyond what has traditionally been taught in the classroom, including problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation; and 2) information literacy, media literacy, as well as information, communication and technology literacy. At Envision we consider both skill sets important, and focus on them, as well as on leadership, in our summer career development programs.
As you tackle your class assignments this year, pay attention to the skills you’re developing. When you work in groups, think about the challenges the group encounters, and the processes that made you most successful as a team. When you’re given an open-ended assignment, utilize your creativity and innovation to make your project unique, and to solve problems in new ways. When you write your essays, focus not only on conveying information, but on engaging your audience, and clearly expressing a point of view. All of these skills are very attractive to employers, and critical to your future success.
For specific tips on practicing your 21st century skills, check out our recent blog: The Top 5 Skills to Develop This Year.
#4 – Narrow Down College Choices
It’s a safe bet that your college decision is already weighing on your mind. To make matters worse, your parents probably bring it up all the time. Few of us know instinctively where we want to go to college. The decision may feel so heavy that you don’t even want to think about it.
So, try baby steps. Just start thinking about the kind of college you might like. Big, small? Close to home? Artsy or sporty?
Think about the characteristics of your high school that you particularly like. Then look for colleges that have those same traits. If you already know what your major will be, look for schools that are renowned for that field of study. Another approach is to eliminate schools that you know you don’t want.
These articles help match you up with the right kind of school for you:
#5 – Look for Summer Opportunities
Next summer probably seems v-e-r-y far away right now, but this is actually a great time to get prospective summer activities on your radar.
If you’ll need a job next summer, start working on your resume right now! Since your work experience may be a little skimpy, you’ll want to compile a list of your past activities that demonstrate your skills and value. Have you taken on responsibility? Proven your leadership abilities? What skills have you developed? When have you demonstrated your talents for innovation or customer service?
This earlier blog provides resume tips and tools:
Resume Builder Apps for High School Students
If you want to get actual experience in a specific career field, now is a good time to start researching internships and summer career camps. Both will look good on your future resume, but try to find an option that will give you the most hands-on experience and guidance in the career you want to explore.
Keep your eyes and mind open, as you identify interesting and productive ways to spend those precious summer months. If you wait until Spring to start planning, some of the best opportunities may already be gone.
#6 – Volunteer
Volunteering in your community can be a rewarding experience, both educationally and emotionally. Volunteer work not only expands your range of experience, but also gives you the opportunity to exercise leadership and project management, while finding potential mentors and new friends.
You have a wide assortment of volunteer opportunities to choose from, in organizations such as hospitals, food kitchens and animal shelters. If you want to travel, try building homes for the needy, with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity or Build Abroad.
Websites such as Volunteer Match or Just Serve will help match you with meaningful volunteer opportunities near you. The Teen Life website also helps you identify needy organizations that are specifically looking for people your age.
#7 – Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
Don’t spend the year playing it safe. If you plan to go away to college, you will definitely be stepping outside your comfort zone then. College life is nothing like high school. Your first “real” full-time job will be nothing like the part-time work you do in high school or college. In fact, all throughout your career, every time you start a new job, you’ll feel a new set of pressures and a twinge of intimidation.
So start boosting your confidence right now! Leap into something completely new and different. Expand your horizons. Challenge yourself. The experience will pay off in a myriad of ways.