Learn From Students' Biggest High School Lessons, Regrets

Participating in study abroad or volunteer programs during high school can lead students to a more satisfying college experience.


Arranging a job shadow will allow you to ask questions and become more familiar with aspects of a career in your potential field of study.

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Scoring highly on the SAT or ACT, making campus visits and nailing your application essays may together feel like the cornerstone of preparing for college, but there is often so much more that students wish they would have done. While all these tasks should hold a high priority on your junior and senior year to-do lists, don’t overlook other experiences that could help guide you into a fulfilling college journey.

1. Think hard about your chosen major: Taking the extra effort to ensure your chosen major is really a career path you’d like to follow can be pivotal. You may have admired a certain field of study for a long time or been told by a friend that it is a riveting industry. But don’t make any assumptions about how it would affect you personally without having the evidence to back it up.

Danielle Hansen, a junior at Northwest Missouri State University, says she regrets not having delved deeper into the nursing field before deciding to pursue it.

“High school students should make sure to job shadow someone in their desired field,” Hansen said. “Last semester, I was in nursing school and ended up realizing I did not like it. I wish I would have taken the time to job shadow a nurse. Doing that might have saved me a lot of money.”

[Find out how students got accepted to top universities.]

2. Get familiar with career options: Spending time with someone in your intended field could also clear up a lot of questions. 

Northeastern University junior Rose Bleakley says this is not something students should be nervous about doing. “If you meet someone with a job that you think sounds interesting, ask them to grab coffee with you,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to ask people questions to learn more about what they do.”

You may still find that you do like the industry, but getting your questions answered now could put you ahead of the game when the material is presented in college courses, allowing you to spend more time applying and exploring the concepts further rather than struggling to figure them out.

[Discover 11 hot college majors that lead to jobs.]

3. Gain an international perspective: Another regret some students have is not being better prepared for the diversity they encountered in the college population. Taking a trip abroad while still in high school is a great way to overcome this and gain a more worldly perspective. Mike Schubert, a senior at Rice University, says he wishes he would have done so.

“My high school was diverse, but not nearly as diverse as Rice, so when I first got to college, I felt a bit uncultured,” Schubert said. “Had I done some sort of trip to experience a different culture, it would have prepared me more.”

[Learn ways to prepare for college during high school.]

4. Seek new experiences: Even simply participating in a new activity right in your hometown can help broaden your views. If you don’t have the finances to travel abroad during high school, you can still mix with different people by participating in an extracurricular you may not have considered before, or by attempting to learn a new skill in an elective class. Emory University senior Michael Senktas agrees this concept is important.

“You will be forced to work with many different types of people, personalities and ideas in college. Try to expose yourself to such new ideas and people by attempting something new outside of your comfort zone while in high school,” he said.