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Going to college undoubtedly opens up a world of unparalleled opportunities to you, but that’s not the only place to discover new experiences. Really, chances to grow are everywhere you look (including high school) which I was almost too late in realizing.

It wasn’t until after I got to college that it fully hit me: it was up to me to seize all of these incredible opportunities, whether they were handed to me or I had to actively seek them out and pursue them rigorously. Being where I am today and reflecting on all the missed opportunities has led me to come up with a few general lessons in regards to how to make the most of what you have:


Take Initiative

Back in 2014 when I visited the campus of the college I’d eventually attend, my family and I got lost at one point, as is common during a first-time visit, and I had to ask for directions. Instead of leaving it to my dad, who usually took charge, I did it of my own volition (which to some might sound like the most natural thing in the world).

However, as someone who has always been somewhat shy and soft-spoken, my parents often had to push me to do small things like this in the past to get me out of my comfort zone. I think taking charge, even in a very small way, was my first step towards growing in so many ways, and the fact that it happened almost as soon as I set foot on my soon-to-be home for the next four years was a sign to me that this school would help me open up in unimaginable ways.

For someone who has more or less stayed strictly within the lines all her life, and sometimes refused to stray past those lines even when pushed to do so, I’ve only recently begun to learn what a huge impact taking initiative can have.


Be Creative with Your Creativity

When I began high school, I joined clubs based on what I was most interested in (which I believe is a sound way to approach most things) rather than looking for the most prestigious groups and/or the clubs all my friends wanted to join. For example, I tried out for my school’s academic quiz team because I loved watching Jeopardy! and wanted to live out the trivia show in real life.

Although my original intention of joining clubs was based on enjoyment, I quickly discovered that I could use what I enjoyed to also earn accolades and recognition for my achievements. It was the best of both worlds; I’d be able to do all the things I enjoyed while also amassing a list of accomplishments that would (hopefully) impress college admissions officers.

With this in mind, I turned to another hobby of mine that developed in high school: writing poetry. I never saw myself as a Poet, someone whose words would be able to inspire and move masses, so I initially didn’t give much thought to the poems I wrote and saved in a folder buried somewhere in my computer

However, when I heard that my friend had won a local poetry contest with a first-place prize worth $800, my thoughts began to change. Sure, I wasn’t the next Emily Dickinson or anything, but I thought my writing was decent, and it wouldn’t hurt to enter some contests and see what happened.

Lo and behold, I ended up winning the contest the next year, to my surprise and delight. Did this mean I was suddenly a brilliant poet? No, and I had no intention to be. But it did mean that I now had a nice chunk of spending money, and my work and effort were recognized.

I learned that you don’t have to sacrifice the integrity of your work or passion for a hobby to also gain some “material success.” My intention was never solely to write poems to make money, but the fact that I was able to while also creating a product I was proud of was a win-win in my book.


Ask, Ask, Ask For Opportunities

Honestly, doing the asking is probably the hardest part. That’s not to say that once you’ve been granted an opportunity, the hard work you’ll have to put in will be easy, but summoning the courage to ask, to even have an idea worth asking about, is commendable.

I used to absolutely dread asking for things; the fear of hearing “no” or even just not quite a yes deterred me and I thought it was better to just not ask at all. But really, when the worst thing that can happen is that you’re told no, it’s such a minor setback in the larger picture that the reward far outweighs the risk.

I didn’t always realize it, but even when you think you haven’t gained anything, you have. For all the pessimists (a.k.a. me) out there who may say, look at all the possibilities I’ve now lost out on, what you may not see is the drive you’ve shown by going above and beyond, and the good impression you’ve left with your mentors.

Moreover, voluntarily taking the risk of being rejected is great practice for when you may actually be rejected in the future. Even if you’re blindsided, you’ll be better equipped to deal with the disappointment and how to bounce back. In fact, this man made a game out of rejection, an idea that arose from his therapy sessions, and it proved to be not only empowering, but also gained him some unexpected victories. 


Be Proactive; Everything can be a Chance to Learn if You Make it So

I realized that while volunteering at the hospital over the summer during high school, I was a pretty passive participant. I did what I was told to do, because back then, I saw my role as a volunteer in the hospital as someone whose sole purpose was to accomplish tasks.

The thing is, as a high schooler, you’re not going to be qualified enough in many instances to do much of worth. That’s perfectly normal, because that’s what college is for. Instead of thinking that you don’t have much to do and feeling bored, go and ask others questions.

Ask if you may observe, if you may shadow, if they have any advice, if they can tell you about their own experiences as a student and how they found their way. Just speaking up will help you tease out a treasure trove of information that you would probably never across via a generic Google search.

Any setting, any interaction, can be made into a learning experience, and sometimes the most insightful tidbits come from the most unexpected places-so don’t be afraid to ask questions.

June Xia

June is a junior at Cornell University studying biology. She attended public high school in the Philly suburbs, where she ate lots of water ice and hoagies. June enjoys watching TV, playing candy crush, and reading the New York Times. Writing poetry and knitting kept her sane during admissions season, plus a lot of chocolate and hugs; she made it out alive, and is all the more introspective and aware thanks to the experience.