College Olivia reflects on high school Olivia (pictured here at prom). (Photo by Olivia Cunningham)

College Olivia reflects on high school Olivia (pictured here at prom). (Photo by Olivia Cunningham)

I attended my little brother’s high school graduation recently, and (since I’m clearly now ancient, as a rising college senior), it made me a wee bit nostalgic for high school. As I thought back, I remembered many happy times, and a few regrets. So without further ado, here are some of the things that I wish I’d done—or done more fully—in high school.

First and foremost, do what you love…even if it’s not directly related to what you want to study in college. I spent an incredible amount of time playing the violin and other instruments throughout my life. I found it very relaxing and loved to take lessons and participate in orchestra. But I knew I wanted a career in a writing field, so I gradually participated less and less in musical activities.

In hindsight (it’s 20/20, people), I learned so much from music that applies to the rest of my life, like self-discipline and focus. I wish that I had spent more time on it in high school and pursued it more seriously in college.

Make a resume. As someone who now works in the career center, I don’t understand why Past Olivia didn’t see the need for a fantastic resume. I didn’t have a resume until high school was almost over, or a good one until I was a junior in college, and that’s way too late. Make a resume—and a good one—now. It’ll be much easier to update and rework it as you start a new phase of life than it will be to create one from scratch when you’re already busy with college classes and jobs and trying to apply for internships.

Back in 11th grade, silly me read about the National Merit Scholarship program and thought “nah, there’s no way I’ll get close.” So I didn’t study for the PSAT, and when I got my scores back I was a qualifier. Had I actually bothered to prepare for the test, I may have been in a much better position for financial aid, and studying for the PSAT can’t hurt anyway because it’ll help prepare you for the SAT.

The moral of the story is to prepare for those standardized tests—primarily the PSAT, ACT and SAT.

A higher score is sometimes the best thing you can do to increase your scholarship potential; my university weighs test scores more than grades when they distribute financial aid, so my roommate (valedictorian and a 4.0 GPA, but a low SAT) has only a small scholarship, while others had good but not great GPAs and better scores and received more scholarship money.

Enjoy your spare time. High school zips on by, and it only gets faster from there. Before you know it, you’ll be looking at grad schools and trying to find a “real job.” You most likely won’t stay in touch with many people from high school, so enjoy time with them now. Spend a few hours on the weekend doing things that won’t be as cool once you’re older. Hop that fence, swim in that waterfall, read that book, watch that whole season of whatever show is new on Netflix, eat Pop-Tarts for breakfast (but not on test day!) and soak up every minute of where you are, instead of focusing too hard on where you’re going.

Make time to enjoy the sunset. (Photo by Olivia Cunningham)

Make time to enjoy the sunset. (Photo by Olivia Cunningham)

Finally, join what you want when you want to—but at the same time, definitely don’t join clubs just to put them on your resume. Doing mock trial my senior year was a great experience, and I wish I had joined earlier. However, sometimes it’s better to do one or two things well than to be nominally a part of a dozen groups. If nothing else, it’s more fun!

I don’t have any major regrets about what I did in high school, but I would make a couple changes if I were going to do it all over again. What do you think?

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the author

Olivia Cunningham is a journalism student at St. John's University in New York City. She is the assistant features editor of the Torch student newspaper, maintains her own blog ( and suffers from a strong addiction to coffee.

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