A lot of today's high school students are completely over-scheduled with absolutely no free time. That's hazardous to their mental health as well as to their college admissions chances.
It's easy to spot a kid who's over-scheduled. It's a teenager who doesn't have any life in her face. She's tired and stressed out. She spends all her time doing formal activities and meeting with tutors, making calculated choices based on what she thinks will help her get into college.
If you ask her what she does for fun, she doesn't have an answer. She doesn't feel confident about her ability to measure up to expectations–her parents', the colleges' or her own. She spends a lot of time trying to fix her weaknesses, meeting with math tutors and doing test prep.
If that sounds like you (or your teen), here are some suggestions to help you reclaim some time.
1. Every day, reserve an hour of time that is just for you.
This should be a time you get to spend doing something that makes you happy. And don't you dare use that time to study SAT vocabulary. This is your time to read US Weekly, or play guitar with nobody watching, or listen to music, or play video games. I don't care what it is. Don't justify it to anybody. Just do it.
2. Cut back on the time you spend trying to fix weaknesses.
It is absurd to think that anyone including the colleges expects you to be great at everything. If you're meeting with a guitar teacher because you're not very good at guitar but you really want to be, that's great. But if you're doing yet another round of test-prep for the SAT because your first three tries aren't in Stanford's range, ditch your SAT tutor and pick up the guitar (or the video game or US Weekly).
3. Don't measure everything by its potential value to colleges.
Your high school career should be about lots of things, and preparing for college is certainly one of them. But it should also be about being a regular teenager. Regularly do things that will in no way help you get into college. Being productive is a good thing, but scheduling every second of your day trying to please colleges is just unreasonable.
4. Sleep more.
I'm serious. Too many kids talk about how they're sleeping 5 or fewer hours a night. No good. You need to sleep to function well, to be happy and to enjoy your life. If there's just no way you could sleep more and still get everything done, then you need to follow tip #2 above and tip #5 below.
5. Quit any activities that you don't enjoy and/or don't really care about.
It's better (and less stressful) to do a few things that really matter to you than too many that don't. If you don't look forward to doing one of your activities and/or it just doesn't mean much to you, quit. If you're worried that quitting will make you look like, well, a quitter on your college applications, then don't list that activity at all. Problem solved.
Bonus suggestion: If you read these tips and say, "I don't have time for free time and sleeping more," buy "How to Be a High School Superstar" and read pages 55-77 about "How to reduce your homework time by 75%."