By Katherine Varga
You’re a high school senior. It’s fall. You know what that means: it’s time to get started on applying for colleges. We don’t need to tell you that this is a pretty daunting experience. First, you have to pick out which colleges you want to apply to. College applications can be expensive and time-consuming, so you want to make sure you only apply to colleges that truly interest you. However, there are thousands of options to consider -- how are you supposed to decide?
One of the best ways to figure out which colleges will work best for you is to talk with people. This gives you the chance to personalize your search by asking questions specific to your interests. Here is our list of the top people to chat up while you’re making these important decisions.
Your Older Sibling
This one’s a bit of a no-brainer. Your older sibling (or your best friend’s older sibling) has already gone through what you’re going through now. Not to mention, this person is very familiar with your interests and personality. Find out which schools they applied to and which schools their friends went to. Ask what they wish they had done differently, and what they think might be the best colleges for you. Your older sibling will be a good judge of what’s best for you since he or she has known you for 18 years!
Your Favorite High School Teacher
Even if your teachers aren’t counselors or college experts, they can still be a huge help. They’ve seen hundreds of students apply to colleges. Not to mention, they know all about your academic interests and strengths and could give you an idea of which schools might be a good match for you.
Find out where your favorite professor went to school and what her experience was like. If you love history and your teacher still raves about the history department at her school, check it out (although be wary if she graduated several decades ago; departments change!). Chances are, your teachers will know which schools have good reputations in whatever their areas of interest are. Your coach, for example, can tell you which schools have great women’s soccer teams.
Bonus: If you go to your teachers for advice about college, they’ll remember how serious you are about college when they’re writing your recommendation!
Someone Working in Your Dream Career Field
Maybe you’re one of the lucky few who knows what career she wants, or maybe you have a general idea that you want to go into a particular field. Talk to people who are successful in your area of interest to find out where they got their start, or where they wish they had gotten their start.
“I applied to my school because all the musicians I know say it’s one of the best music schools around,” says Joan K*, a junior at the Eastman School of Music.
People who already do what you want to do will know which schools have the best programs in your area of interest, and which schools you should avoid.
Also on HuffPost:
Your College Major
Most college freshmen don't know their major going into college -- and if they do, they frequently end up changing it after a semester or a year. The whole point of college is exploration: Take your time and try out different subjects until you find one that sticks.
What You're Looking For In A Relationship
It can take a lot of relationship experience to figure out what you're really looking for in a partner. And by no means is that something you need to fugure out in high school or even college. Spending times with different types of people, and having both good and bad experiences with them, will make your needs and desires clear in time.
Spending WAY Too Much Time On Tumblr
OK, so scrolling through Tumblr until 3 a.m. when you have an exam the next morning is probably not the best idea, but don't feel bad about spending a seemingly inordinate amount of time on your favorite social network. Twitter and Tumblr can be a great way to connect with others and figure out your own interests and aesthetics.
Defining Your Personal Style
Your style will likely change drastically as you get older and experiment with different looks -- don't worry about figuring out whether to label your style as "glam" or "boho." Just look at Taylor Swift, who has changed her signature style with each album. Have fun exploring and gradually figuring out what looks you feel the most, well, <em>you</em>.
Having A Perfect Resume
In high school and college, there's a lot of pressure to succeed in your academics, extra-curriculars and internships. But if you participate in activities and go after awards solely for the sake of your resume -- not out of real interest -- colleges and employers will probably be able to tell. Do things because they're what you love!
Being A Super-Fan
So what if you worship your favorite star? Now is the time in your life to declare your unfailing, til-death-to-us-part devotion to that special singer or actor you love. Don't let the haters make you feel embarrassed about that "one thing" you can't get enough of -- whether it's the Biebs or the 1D boys. You have the whole rest of your life to play it cool.
Finding The Right Group Of Friends
Finding good friends in high school is important, but don't stress about it too much if you have never found the perfect group of friends. As you move into college and the real world, where you're interacting with a larger and more diverse demographic, you'll find those people you <em>really </em>want to spend your time with.
Being Able To Cook A Gourmet Meal
Even if cooking isn't your thing, it's still worth learning how to make a meal that doesn't come out of a can or box. But don't stress about being able to prepare meals worthy of a five-star restaurant -- simple, basic recipes can still be healthy, delicious, and impressive to dinner party guests.
Finding 'The One'
Think your high school sweetheart is the real deal? Finding love when you're young is an incredible experience, but don't worry too much about finding your "forever." You have years ahead of you to find yourself before you find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with.
Still Going To Your Parents For Help
If you're 12, 18, or even 30 years old, it's okay to lean on your parents for help or support whenever you need it. Growing up means learning to do things on your own, yes, but it doesn't mean that you have to do it all alone. Learn to lean on the people who will always be there for you.
Understanding Your Sexuality
Sexuality and attraction can take many different forms, and it's something you can spend your entire life exploring. Questioning your sexual orientation can be a challenging process, but try to remember that it's okay if you're still figuring it all out.
Defining Your Political Beliefs
Not sure if you lean liberal or conservative, or what exactly all the differences are between the Democrats and the GOP? Don't sweat it. While it's important to stay informed about current events and issues in our country, figuring out what side you're on isn't so important. It's the issues, not the parties, that really matter.
Getting A Credit Card
Unless you HAVE to, just don't. Credit cards are dangerous because they can feel like free money -- a track that many debt-laden college students have fallen into. Stick to cash and a debit card until you determine that you're ready to build good credit and have the resources to pay off your bill every month.
Acting Like A Little Kid Sometimes
In your rush to leave childhood in the dust, don't worry about acting like a kid sometimes -- you know, taking time to just <em>play</em>. Make a 10-minute stop at the swingset on your walk home, let yourself doodle during class, and enjoy an ice cream cone (with rainbow sprinkles) when you're having a bad day and need a pick-me-up.
When your friends are all in relationships and every teen magazine is giving you tips on how to "Get a boyfriend now!" it's hard not to feel inadequate about being single. Whether you're a serial dater or you've never been in a real relationship, learning how to embrace being on your own is a skill that will make you stronger -- and happier -- for the rest of your life.
Following A 'Life Timeline'
For the more type-A among us, it's almost instinctive to try to chart out your life: Make the varsity team by sophomore year, get a boyfriend or girlfriend by senior year, travel abroad by 18, get a job right out of college. It's important to have goals, but let's be honest -- life doesn't really work that way. Save yourself a lot of frustration by being flexible about when you accomplish things and not getting too upset when life don't go exactly according to plan.
This goes for individuals of all ages, but the pressure to be perfect can be especially challenging as a teenager. Time spent worrying about being a straight-A student, having a flawless figure or living the perfect life is time wasted. Embrace your flaws.
Knowing If/When You Want To Get Married Or Have Kids
Whether you think you may want to start a family right after you graduate or the mere idea of marriage sends you into a tailspin, knowing if and when you want to settle down isn't something to waste your energy worrying about. Chances are, you'll change your mind a handful of times during your teens, 20s and 30s before you figure it out -- and that's totally OK.
Knowing What You Want To Do For The Rest Of Your Life
When you're feeling pressured to figure out where you're going to college, what your major will be, and in turn, what you want in your career, it's easy to stress out over your entire life plan. But the truth of the matter is that interests evolve and that most people change their careers many times of their course of their lives. If you haven't found your passion, experiment with things that sound fun to you until something clicks -- and trust that, eventually, it will.
Knowing Who You Are
We've heard time and again that change is life's only constant -- and it's true. Especially when you're a teenager, you're still changing and figuring out who you are, a process that will continue for most if not all of your life. Instead of feeling pressured to define yourself based on your musical taste or relationships, enjoy the lifelong process of discovering -- and creating -- yourself.