When I first met Matt as a high school freshman, he was a shy guy lacking specific interests who liked to play video games. As you might imagine, he also lacked time-management skills. By the time Matt applied to college in the fall of 2016, he had written blog posts for San Francisco’s Academy of Sciences on KQED’s website and secured a job at an aquarium retailer and an internship at the local zoo, all of which allowed him to activate some of his main passions at the time.
Because Matt included such interesting and specific hands-on activities and was so self-possessed in his application essays, he is now studying biochemistry and computer science at Northeastern, his dream school. I recently Skyped with him, and Matt is having the time of his life! His parents are also very proud of him.
You may be wondering how shy, unengaged Matt turned into such an attractive, successful applicant (he chose Northeastern over USC and Tufts)? With Matt, as with all of our students, we separated out the different projects essential to his personal growth and college planning path. Roughly, these were:
- Time management
- Definition of interests
- Activating interests, trying new things, and challenging oneself
- Matching interests to careers
- Exploring dream schools
In Matt’s case, we first focused on time management. Once he gained more control over his time, he was able to read about and gain inspiration from his role models as well as become informed about issues of the day. From there, he formed his own critical perspective of the world and became more confident in himself. The result: internships and jobs before applying to college!
As it turns out, if you give teens time and space to explore and test things out, they will become mature young adults who keep a calendar and achieve their goals. As this recent article from Popular Science points out:
“Young people, empirical studies of all stripes show, struggle with decisions made in the heat of the moment….But when it comes to decisions that allow them time for reflection, the evidence suggests an adolescent’s skills can be on-par with a fully-grown adult.”1
So break it down, starting in ninth grade. This way, there’s room for lots of exploration, activation, and as we can see from Matt’s example, maturation. Once teens become more organized, they become more confident. And once they become more confident, they calm down. So do their parents.