Looking Back: Tips to a 16 Year Old Me

Hey everyone, it’s Charlotte. I just came back to Swat after a wonderful spring vacation (with many stories for another time), and am glad to be back in the college whirlwind that I’ve become accustomed to. Even though break was only 10 days long, people seem different; it might just the spring weather, but it’s probably all the radical new haircuts I’ve been seeing. I am guilty of it too; though, in my defense I dyed my hair for squash nationals.

I'm in the middle behind the guy holding the cup!
I’m in the middle behind the guy holding our championship cup!

Anyway, back on topic, being away from Swat for a bit recalled memories of high school, particularly junior and senior year. Seeing my younger sister who is currently a junior stressing out over SAT scores and prospective colleges makes me feel grateful to have finished that process. But it also made me think about what I wish people had told me back then, and not just stuff like “it’ll all work out in the end” or “you’ll end up where you are meant to be,” even if that may be true. Deciding what colleges to apply to is an important decision and it’s difficult to know where exactly you want to spend the next four years of your life. Visiting school after school left me in a daze; I hardly could seem to find any distinguishing difference between them. Tour guides will proudly tell you about the student faculty ratio and availability of classes, pointedly comment on the diversity of students and inclusiveness of campus life, and note dining options (points given to schools with Chipotle or coffee shops within walking distance).

Shout out to Hobbs and their fantastic breakfast sandwiches; I have spent more money here than I care to admit.
Quick shout out to Hobbs and their fantastic breakfast sandwiches; I have spent more money and time here than I care to admit.

But average SAT scores or food choices don’t define a school. What does? How does one pick from hundreds of options? Looking back, I think about things I wish I had known at the time: tips about applying to college, about junior and senior year of high school (well not so much senior spring, hello senioritis), and in general about being an age where you’re expected to make big decisions regarding your future but yet you still have an unreasonable curfew. I want to share some of these reflections and tips with anyone having similar thoughts.


  1. What kind of environment do you want to be in? Consider school size and location, liberal arts or not, presence or lack of Greek life. Is small class size important to you? Do you want to be near or in a city? Do you want to be in a sorority/fraternity/eating house/culture house? Do you like the large state school environment or that of a smaller liberal arts college?
    For me, coming from a small private school in rural CT, I knew I wanted a school where I could continue having small classes and close relationships with professors, while still having the course offerings and opportunities of a larger school. Swarthmore, being a small liberal arts college, seemed a good fit. It is also merely 20 minutes outside of Philly; the train station is located right at the bottom of campus. My friends and I enjoy taking day trips into the city for a meal (dim sum and bubble tea!) or a visit to Chinatown. A few weekends from now, we plan to attend a concert at UPenn where Kesha and Kygo will be performing.
  2. It’s important that schools you consider offer classes and opportunities that you currently or may in the future want to take advantage of.
    I knew that I wanted freedom in my course selections; being able to take classes in a variety of different subjects was important to me. One of the great things about Swarthmore is its widespread course selection, particularly for a small school. In addition, students are able to take classes at UPenn, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr. So far I’ve taken classes in the Math, Computer Science, English Literature, Engineering, and Cognitive Science departments.
  3. Can you picture yourself here? It sounds difficult to do, but can you see yourself attending events and classes, studying in the library or in a common space, and interacting with other students? What kind of vibe do you get from the current students and faculty? It’s more important than one might think that you are, let’s say, socially compatible with your school.
    When I first came to visit Swarthmore, I was worried that it was going to be too nerdy of a school and that students would be working all the time. I found that nearly the opposite was true; students were passionate about their studies and other interests but were friendly not pretentious or standoffish. Later, during Ride the Tide I realized that though everyone here works really hard, they also make sure to find time for fun as well. Swarthmore students have a strong “work hard, play hard” mentality and inspire a collaborative working environment, not a competitive one. I knew that here was a place where I would be inspired and grow both academically and socially.

All of this is a lot to think about, but don’t undervalue the feeling you get from simply walking around the campus. I found that I could rule out a number of schools by simply taking 10 minutes to observe the campus atmosphere. Buy a beverage and take a moment to sit outside and really consider what it would be like to attend this school.

Me with a few of my friends one of the first weekends back after winter break.
Me with a few of my friends one of the first weekends back after winter break.

I should wrap this up so let’s put college aside for a moment. Don’t stress out too much about any one thing. If you fail a test or get in a fight with a friend, take a step back. How consequential will the situation be in a month? A year? Two decades? It’s cliche but life happens. Spend time with your friends and family, get a summer job, binge watch that tv show with 8 seasons that you’ve been meaning to watch. Have fun, mental health is just as important anything else. Swarthmore professors and faculty are very understanding and prioritize your health, safety, and well being over all else. College is a place to learn and grow; grades, though obviously important, do not define you or your future.

That got a lot more serious than I intended it to be. Don’t worry, I have a habit of doing so too often. Anyway, until next time!

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