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December 05, 2012

Choosing A College : It Begins


In a recent Time magazine, the cover story about the changing nature of college education has a somewhat daunting statistic: only 3 percent of students in the country's top 146 colleges are from the bottom fourth of the economic spectrum. Is this fair for kids of the current generation? Time has also reported that student-loan debt has topped $900 billion.

Does our country's way of getting kids into college need an overhaul? As a high school student currently in the thick of the college application storm, news like this can make an already tough process even more difficult.

I go to a private boarding school in Massachusetts, and it's expensive. For this year, my school has granted 30 percent of the student body some sort of financial aid.

That's a good start, don't get me wrong, but there are still some pretty large bills to be paid (my parents are constantly reminding me of this fact). How many families can afford the tab for private school, with kids who haven't even yet reached college? Is this opportunity or selectivity?

My parents have always told me that the earlier I start thinking about college, the better off I'll be. But how am I supposed to know who I am, or what I want to do for a living in the future?

These are big questions that other people my age might similarly not know the answer to. Already almost two months into junior year, I'm making decisions that will influence my life for years to come. That can be quite scary when you look at it.

If that doesn't sound intimidating, what about the universal obsession with grades? This is always a struggle for a good amount of students, myself included. I've heard from both college counselors and older students that grades are more important than ever during junior year.

At my school, it is recommended to have a solid 85 average (honors). But what happens if you are below that magic number? Will your life end? Does this mean you're going to be stuck working at McDonald's in the future?

Another stressful issue is the dilemma of whether to take AP classes or not. The big question is to either take an AP course and deal with a lower grade for the class, or to instead take the normal level course and get a higher grade at a time where a student's grades matter more than ever. Starting AP US history this year was a complete nightmare initially, from the moment I was handed back a 66 percent on our first assessment in the class.

I was persuaded by college counselors to stay in the class, and I've gradually clawed my way back up to the B range, but some kids in other classes weren't so lucky, and there were several people who dropped their AP courses.

Hearing about all the competition to get into college and the importance of good grades can be extremely stressful at times, and I'm sure that many other students share the same burden as I have so far this year. A lot of kids distract themselves from the stress by making sure to maintain a good amount of down time to relax amidst chaotic amounts of work.

I've always been a fan of making sure that I get enough downtime in the midst of all my work, and for me that includes either hanging out with friends, watching my favorite TV shows, or the occasional exciting FIFA match against a friend. I've always believed that this kind of downtime is essential to my survival, especially at this point in high school. The key, as my elders constantly tell me, is to find a balance – between academics, sports, and social life.

Two months into school I'm already diving right into the college process. At my school, we have already had several introductory meetings with college counselors. I'm also signed up for an SAT prep class offered by my school, which meets once a week and assigns homework. People I've talked to vary in their opinions about the class, so I'll just have to find out how helpful it will be for me personally.

So far I've gotten through the initial stages of the whole process. Hopefully, I'll survive . . .

Sergei Klebnikov, an Independent intern and an honor student, is in the process of choosing a college. He will report periodically on his journey.

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