Polygence blog > Education and College Admissions

An NYU Senior’s Advice to his High School Self

5 minute read

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Hi! I’m currently a senior at NYU Stern studying business, with a concentration in finance. I’m currently interning at Polygence as a content intern.

I’ve noticed that since I got into college, the admissions process has seemingly become more opaque and competitive. I have a younger sister who’s a senior in high school so I understand just how intimidating college admissions can be and how hard it is to stand out as an applicant. There’s so much that you may still not be sure about - what you want to study in college, what career you want, what kind of school you want to attend. So I wanted to provide a story about my high school experience that’s a bit different from what you’re probably used to - a story of failure, poor use of my time, and learning from mistakes.

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Me and My One Sport

I went to a public high school in central New Jersey where there were a lot of immigrant families and a general culture of strong work ethic. Kids in my school all wanted to go to college, and we wanted to go to the best ones. This environment naturally pushed everyone to be their best. I was focused on getting good grades and studying hard for exams. My other main focus was tennis. I was training about 5 days a week and playing tournaments on weekends in the hopes of playing college tennis someday. I saw my life in high school as two things: get good grades and win tennis matches. 

I was completely oblivious to the fact that my peers were doing a ton of clubs and extracurriculars beyond sports (which is why I’m so impressed by the projects and resumes of high schoolers today!). I didn’t think I needed to join clubs and I also didn’t think I had time for them.

Was I Passionate About Anything?

Although I don’t specifically regret not having done clubs in high school, I regret not exploring passions or interests. And maybe this exploration could have happened through a school club. My passion at the time (cringing at this now) was getting A’s because that’s all I knew. I didn’t take the time to fully think through what I was interested in learning about. I knew I was kind of interested in economics, but I thought that specialization happened only in college and I could just wait until then to learn about it seriously. 

I now think about why I waited around for so long to go pursue something when I could’ve spent my high school years trying to actively explore my interests. I was perfectly content with saying I was interested in economics and not actually taking the time to learn about it, and it’s a common trap that I think many high school students fall into. We have this prescribed notion that college is the time to explore your interests when in reality that exploration can and should happen much earlier.

To be fair, I was pretty busy with school, APs, and tennis, but I certainly had a lot of free time. I wish I had taken the time to explore what I was passionate about and tried to learn more about it. My fatal mistake was not realizing that learning could actually happen outside school. I grew up thinking that you go to school to learn, and that’s the one place to do it. Only in college did I realize that there was so much useful content on the Internet to help me learn more about practically anything.

Further, my lack of passion ended up hurting me in the college application process. Even though I was incredibly dedicated to school and sports I didn’t have any projects or experiences that I could talk passionately about in my essays. Further, at the time I was also beginning to lose interest in tennis so I did a poor job writing about my passion for the sport. Double whammy.

Learn From Your Mistakes

I was somehow lucky enough to get into NYU and also join the tennis team as a walk-on. It was an extremely fortunate opportunity and by then I had realized some of the mistakes that I’ve described above. I decided from that point on that if I was interested in something, I should either find a class for it or just go on the Internet to learn on my own. In my first semester of college, I spent time outside of class trying to learn about finance. I was enrolled in NYU’s College of Arts and Science but attended some NYU Stern business club meetings and found the topics they shared to be interesting. I decided I was going to try to learn on my own. It was the first time ever that I had tried to learn something on my own because I was interested in it, and I felt excited to learn. It also led me to realize that maybe NYU’s business school would be a better fit for my interests.

I was able to successfully internal transfer into Stern, and I think a huge part of that was understanding why I wanted to study business and why I was interested in it. By taking the time to learn on my own, I was able to learn more about myself and what excited me. I think this came through in my internal transfer essay in an authentic way that I wasn’t able to achieve in my initial college applications.

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Don’t Underestimate the Power of Passion

I’ve realized that your authentic passion for whatever you’re interested in is one of your most powerful assets as a student. And by passion I don’t mean just saying that you’re interested in something or want to major in it - maybe take some time to try to learn it on your own or do a passion project around it. Whether it’s a college admissions officer, professor, or a random stranger hearing about your passions, people love hearing what someone else is passionate about because it shows how interesting you are. And without passion, life is also just a little less fun :)

Interested in the personal journeys of other college students? Check out Polygence alumna Carly’s story of how she got into Stanford.

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