If you have a dream college, it’s not entirely up to you whether you get to go. You have to hope they admit you. But one of the nice changes in the world today is that for most things you want to do, you don’t have to wait for someone to pick you.
If you didn’t get into AP Calculus, nobody’s stopping you from learning it. You can take it online at MIT. For free. It doesn’t matter what your GPA or SAT scores are.
If you want to write, you don’t have to hope your school newspaper picks you to write your own column. You can write a blog. You can write an email newsletter for your club. Just start writing what you want to write. Nobody's holding you back.
If you like photography, you don’t have to wait to get picked for people to see your photos. You can take good pictures. You can enroll in a class online. You can post your favorite photos to your blog. And you don’t necessarily need to get picked by the yearbook or the school newspaper to take pictures of school events. Do you really think the cast of the musical, the artists, the cross country team, the marching band, or any other group wouldn’t appreciate and thank an enthusiastic photographer who captured great photos of them doing what they love? No need to get picked. Just take good pictures.
And you don’t have to get elected to a leadership position to lead people. Find an issue or cause you care about, bring in other people who feel the same, and lead them. If your volleyball team needs new uniforms, organize the fundraiser to pay for them, recruit the volunteers, and you’re officially a leader.
You can lament how hard it is to get picked by the most competitive colleges. But the good news is that there’s never been a generation of high school students with fewer constraints to stop you from doing what you want to do.
The most successful students aren’t waiting for someone to pick them. They’re learning, writing, photographing, and leading already.