Lost and Found: Navigating high school with a broken compass


Arya Kamat, Guest Writer

“Are you lost? I can help you!”

Frantically darting around like a fish out of water, I looked up at the kind stranger who offered a helping hand. It was the first day of freshman year, and I was hopelessly lost at Huron on my way to Algebra 2. Somehow, my journey to the land of the 6100 hallway turned into a little excursion to the Dome Gym. 

How do I get to room 6155?I meekly asked, as a little part of me died inside. 

Stepping into high school, I was so ready to take on the world, but little did I know that Huron’s hallways were going to be my first big challenge. Lost on the first day of this next stage of my life, and an important one too, before I head off to college and into adulthood – I should’ve realized this was a foreshadowing of my next four years. 

I have lived in Ann Arbor all my life, which happens to be right in the heart of the University of Michigan. Even before I knew what college was or whether I’d actually go to college, I had already been subconsciously brainwashed to apply to Michigan. Everyone I knew had gone there — my parents, the neighbors, even the kids of random family friends. I was going to carry that burden with me without even knowing it. 

I entered my freshman year of high school knowing full well that I needed to build a perfect resume for my college app. My humble charter school beginnings meant I didn’t have a whole lot to write yet, so I wanted to be doubly sure that I didn’t mess this up. I was going to have to pick and choose my classes wisely, braving the 200+ page AAPS course catalog as I looked through core requirements and fun electives. I needed to keep my grades and GPA up. What was I going to pick for my extracurriculars? Where can I demonstrate my leadership skills? Oh, and I do need to get a job and add some work experience at some point in time. My head was a cloudy swirl of questions and pending decisions. 

I didn’t really feel like I fully understood how to navigate the world of high schooling until my sophomore year. I got more selective about my classes and yet had plenty of lessons to learn. For instance, there’s this unspoken saying that one needs to take as many AP classes as possible (which, in hindsight, is a terrible idea) I signed up for AP Chemistry strongly believing that I was up for the challenge, only to completely bomb the first few tests that came my way. There vanished into thin air, my dream of having a high GPA.  I did something similar with one of my extracurriculars. I applied to one of Huron’s most popular clubs in an attempt to boost my profile, and to no one’s surprise, I ended up getting rejected. Both these pursuits were motivated by a goal without a passion: I wasn’t hugely into chemistry, and I had no idea what that club was even about. Thankfully, I ended up taking an interest in chemistry subsequently to recover, and the club rejection led me to try out other extracurriculars I ended up discovering my passions in. This became a turning point for me, where I decided that I wasn’t going to chase things I wasn’t truly interested in. 

With that hard-earned wisdom, I was ready to take on junior year head-on. So was COVID-19. Virtual schooling is no joke, no matter what anyone says. Honestly, I can’t even imagine how our parents deal with all-day-long Zoom meetings.  I was having trouble focusing in Zoom classes, so I decided to leave my camera on at all times so I could force myself to be attentive. It was quite tempting to not want to do that, given the sea of “camera off” windows all over my screen. Engaging in clubs wasn’t any easier either; I can’t even count the number of times my internet cut out during impromptu speeches for Forensics. 

Worst of all, I had to actually start thinking about colleges to apply to! With no knowledge on my own, I heavily relied on online research of websites like CollegeVine, CollegeConfidential, and Reddit Threads (if you haven’t started yet, definitely start with r/ApplyingToCollege) to shortlist colleges to apply to. I still needed to get a great score on the SAT and ACT (I also recommend studying first), prep a list of colleges to apply for, ensure that I had hedged my bets properly across reach, match and safety school, work on Common App essays as well as some additional ones for supplements, identify my go-to teachers for recommendations, figure out financial aid mumbo-jumbo (FAFSA? CSS? What?!?). With this added pressure and information overload, I felt like Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.  Needless to say, the summer before senior year was not a walk in the park. 

Finally, senior year arrived, and it was the official home stretch. As I started to look into the specific colleges and their requirements, I began to think about how I could paint the best picture of myself in my essays while also retaining my individual voice. It’s a tough ask to try and figure out who colleges want you to be or who they want to see in you vs. the person that you actually are. Even harder, however, was the task of writing the application essays. So many essays. And it’s not like you can find all your answers in a College Admission Essays for Dummies book. It’s not easy to get help with essay writing. I was also, honestly, a bit apprehensive in seeking help from my peers due to the competitive nature of the process, but I did have a close circle of friends who I would reach out to for deeper knowledge about the process and for emotional support. Ultimately, I soldiered through and got through to the finish line, My essays are complete, and my college apps have all been submitted. 

Now as I wait for these colleges to announce their decisions in a few weeks (and four months away from graduating), I’d like to leave you with five pieces of advice to best prepare for college admissions: 

  1. Follow Your Passion: It’s important to take the classes you truly enjoy as Huron has so many courses to choose from. There are core class requirements that must be met, of course, but high school is more worthwhile when you take the classes you like over following the crowd and taking the “most impressive” classes. 
  2. Fail Fast, Fail Forward: Don’t be afraid to face failures as you discover passions. I entered high school with a faulty mindset of wanting to do things perfectly for my resume, but failure is inevitable. So fail and learn your lesson quickly, and bounce back so you can keep moving forward. Success is just waiting for you. 
  3. Trust the Process: The process will work itself out in the end. I know I struggled to figure out the college application process, but if you are diligent about your research and are willing to ask for help, you’ll be okay. Huron High also has a ton of resources and people dying to help you – so do reach out to them and make use of these resources. 
  4. Be Yourself: It’s easy to succumb to this idea of wanting to appeal as a “perfect applicant” in your essays and applications, but showcasing who you really are and what you’re passionate about is the best thing you can do.
  5. What Worked for Me May Not Work for You!: We are all unique individuals, and your high school experience will ultimately be what you make out of it. You need to figure out what works best and carry it out with the utmost conviction. It’s like how Henry Ford put it, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right!” So soldier on — and if you falter along the way, pick yourself back up and know that all these pieces will fall into place like a well-made jigsaw puzzle. 

If you got this far through this, I think you’ve already shown some determination and drive in putting your best foot forward, or perhaps, you’re just a devoted fan of the Huron Emery. Either way, thanks for giving this a read. 

And if you still feel hopelessly lost, make sure to lift up your chin and look up. You might just hear a voice from around the corner saying, “Are you lost? I can help you.”