College is one part of a much bigger picture — a fact that, for teenagers, can be easy to lose sight of.

Preparation for the admissions process often becomes all-consuming in high school. It seems like everything you’re doing comes down to getting into college, rather than what actually happens during college — and all the years afterward.

If you can get some clarity about what you want out of your adult life, years down the road, then you can better define how college will support that vision. Here are three broad areas to consider:

  • Your professional aspirations. For now, your job is school, so for the next five years (at least), academics essentially are your profession.

    • How clear do you feel like your path is? What are your top priorities in your work? Wealth? Recognition within your field? A published body of work? A business of your own? Do you like to work with computers? With other people? Do you want to make the world a better place?

  • Your social needs. Look at your social life now: do you maintain a lot of friends and social activity outside of school? Do you do better in small-group situation? Do you keep just a few, very close friends, or perhaps even a single best friend? What about your relationships with your family members?

    • In college, what do you envision? Parties at the fraternities? Activities with the other residents in your dorm? Going to sporting events with the crowds? Study buddies at the library? Hanging out in your room with your roommate? Meeting your future spouse?

  • Your personal needs. What do you need in your life, whether or not it's part of your profession? What do you choose to do with your free time? What do you wish you were trying more of now?

    • Quiet time? Live music? Daily exercise? Thrill seeking? To be in nature? Reading time? Video games? How do you recharge your batteries? What do you gravitate toward in your free time?

Now, think of one thing you want in each of these areas. What is one concern that you have about achieving it? What is one thing you know about yourself that makes you feel confident about achieving it? 

  • In fall of your freshman year in college, how do you envision having progressed toward each goal?

  • Now think about each goal in 5 years.

  • 10 years?

No matter what decisions you have to make ahead, if you check back in with your guiding goals — like navigating the seas according to the stars — you know you're headed in the right direction.