Summer has long been a time of relaxation, a time to refresh and to prepare for another year of school. A time where students are free from homework and teachers (save for the inevitable summer reading assigned on the last day). This is a given, a constant, a dependable part of each and every student’s life. I enjoyed my last dependable, constant summer between my Sophomore and Junior years. Unbeknownst to me, that summer constituted the last carefree months that I would enjoy for quite some time. I was not graduating, I was not going to work, in fact I was preparing for my third year of high school. But as I am just learning now, the last two years of school become one giant mission to get accepted to college.

To me, the college application process has always stood as the last part of the long and oftentimes tedious road that is school, but in recent months I have begun to realize that my preconceptions are unfounded. With most applications due by midwinter of one’s senior year, there is not time in the few months that precede it to get all of the testing done, the essays done, the teacher recommendations done, the deliberations on where one will apply done, the process as a whole done. And so like many aspects of the modern world, applying to college has kept up appearances with its senior year deadlines while pushing the growing pile of requisite tasks earlier and earlier into students’ lives.

While I am excited to begin looking for my dream school and planning my college life, I wonder if the whole thing is too rushed. Many do not take high school seriously from the get-go and because of this, they are not prepared when the reality of applying to schools hits them. I can already hear the rumblings of college talk among my junior peers, ranging from the excited discussion of hopes and dreams to the pessimistic rants centered on the tenuous situation that many students realize they are in. It is almost as if these students have been told that they need not worry about the next step of their lives. But have they?

When I spoke to my cousins and friends who were in high school about their experiences, I was often met with long lectures. “Great,” I thought, "I can use their advice to help me through school." What I heard however, was not to my liking. Protracted declamations of the uselessness of freshman and sophomore years and repeated assurances that one’s post-secondary life would work itself out in the end. And this was coming from people who were generally academically inclined and capable, not apathetic and distracted students. I can only assume that this is what most say about school when asked, as if there is some de facto standard used when giving advice to the next generation of students. And this is a dangerous trend to foster, for it breeds not only bad practices when in school, but leaves many students unprepared for the reality of the post-secondary education system and world in America.

The dreams that many children have of attending top universities or gaining acceptance into highly selective programs should not be squashed, but false hope can be just as crushing as a lack of hope when all is said and done. That is not to say that these dreams are contingent on perfect grades and test scores or any of the other slew of things that are commonly thought of as necessary in gaining admittance. But showing initiative, showing passion and being a present and motivated student are key to what many consider a golden ticket to the American Dream.

In reality, those students who appear to be the smartest or who seem to be shoe-ins for top schools are just the ones who learned early on about the importance of school and the truth behind the education system in the United States. Everything matters. Even if grades are not an issue, planning ahead and being diligent in the pursuit of your education can mean the difference between taking an honors class or an AP class or a Bunker Hill class. It can mean the difference between missing out on an application requirement for your dream school and checking of all the boxes that they look for. It can mean the difference between an Ivy and a community college. And if your dream is to go to a top school, it can mean the difference between joy and defeat when seeing your application results.

Not only does this effect appear, but it is compounded over time. As the saying goes, success begets success, and as time progresses, the divide between the students who meet or overcome the bar for a certain school and those who do not grows. And with an admissions process where a few mistakes and hiccups can make a big impact, each moment that you go on living with the mindset that “everything will work itself out” or “colleges only look at my junior year” is one step closer to the point of no return, from which the chance of admissions at a given college or university is eliminated. And so I implore all those who read this to take a look at your life. Be realistic about your dreams and goals and about what you have done to make them a reality so far. And make a change before it is too late, because it really is over before it began.

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