Is it too late for a High School Junior to create a good resume for college admissions?

Hello everyone, thanks for opening my question. I am a high school junior aiming for higher tier schools (USC, UC Berkeley, UCLA, NYU, SUNY, etc). The problem is: I basically wasted my first two years of high school. I wasn’t proactive or ambitious. In freshman and sophomore year, I participated in no clubs or extracurricular activities except one independent fundraiser where I raised $1000. I also tried to start a community service club, but due to COVID we had to shut down shortly after our first meeting. I have been a straight A student from freshman to junior year and have taken one AP class (AP Human Geography) where I got a 4. I am a full time homeschool/independent study student. This year, I am taking two college courses from the local community college: American History and American Literature.

My situation is a bit more complicated than the normal high school student’s path. I started freshman year, but after a semester had medical leave due to severe mental health issues (schizophrenia, depression, OCD, anxiety) for the rest of the year. I then had to restart my freshman year, this time as a homeschooler because it was better for me. In this time, I was able to catch up and earn enough credits to be considered what I am now: a junior. In the meantime, I had more health issues, though this time they were physical. I was diagnosed with an undifferentiated and uncommon autoimmune disease that creates inflammation in my sacroiliac joints and bone degeneration. Both of these struggles took a substantial amount of time for recovery, and I am still dealing with depression (but it is much better). After two hard years, I finally feel motivated. I’m tired of just dreaming, and want to start doing.

Before my health issues struck, I was a very ambitious student. I was the top of my class in middle school and my lowest grade was a 97% in Algebra 1. I was the president of the middle school community service club, and we were extremely successful. I also volunteered daily to help struggling elementary school students. Additionally, I worked on a social entrepreneurship program for youth where I did a presentation to business officials. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep up with the stress of my project and it did not succeed. I was aiming for top colleges, like Yale, Stanford, U Chicago, and U Penn. I seriously thought I could possibly become a CEO in the future or join politics and rise to Ambassador. I had such big dreams, and challenging but interesting plan for high school. And then everything fell apart.

Two years passed by without me even knowing. I failed. I wasted so much time. My dreams are practically impossible. I feel sadness and anger at myself whenever I think of who I could have become, who I wish I became. I know I can never go back and change those years or fix what went wrong. I remind myself that I still have time, but it doesn’t feel like enough. My goals are a lot different now, much to my disappointment. Now all I want is to get a good, stable career in the future so I can live happily and humbly. Now, I’m not aiming for prestigious colleges, but instead looking for a place with a close-knit community that can support me. I no longer have grandeur. But… I still have dreams of being successful and showing others and myself that I’m accomplished.

What are your thoughts? I want to get my chaotic self together this. But it seems like too little time. I wish I could just go back to when I was fourteen and restart knowing what I know now. Is it too late for me? What should I do to optimize my chances of achieving my goals? Thank you so much for your help, it means a lot to me.

@MaineLonghorn will probably have good advice for you.

I think that wanting a stable career and a college with a small, supportive community are better goals than having a dream college. Where students can go to college depends a lot on how much their parents can spend. Have your parents given you a budget? I see that your list has colleges from both NY and CA. Is one of those your home state? Your in state public’s could be good target schools. They’re likely to be more affordable than OOS colleges.

The UCs are a little more “rack & stack” than other colleges. Your transcript counts for a lot more than your ECs. So you might have a better chance at some of those, although the ones you listed are the hardest to get into. They won’t give you any financial aid if you’re out of state, though. Is $65k/year affordable for you?

You say you aren’t aiming for prestigious colleges, but the ones on your list are still pretty high - anything in the T40 is still in the “a reach for everyone” category. For STEM hopefuls, even T100 isn’t a sure thing. You also say you are looking for a smaller close-knit college where you can find a support system, but I don’t think NYU fits that bill either.

What is your budget and what do you want to study? Some posters will be able to make suggestions for better fits for you. I am thinking you would be better off at a LAC, if you can find one that is affordable. Also, some colleges have much better mental health supports than others, and that should be an important factor in your search.

@YoliMoji lots of hugs. My son developed schizophrenia as a college freshman studying biomedical engineering. He had his first psychotic break that year. He had been one of the best distance runners in our state, was an Eagle Scout, and got accepted to 9 schools, including Amherst and Wash U. It came out of the blue for him.

I know it’s tough, but you’re going to have to accept that you will have a different reality than you expected. Having said that, you CAN reach your goals, but they will just take longer. Life is not a race. My husband (who had no illnesses) didn’t decide what he wanted to do until he was 28, when he went back to college to study engineering after having dropped out as a senior education major at 21.

From our experiences with him as well as talking to many other parents, I would STRONGLY advise that you pick a school close to home or perhaps a town where very supportive relatives live. Most likely, you ARE going to need help from time to time and you don’t want to be isolated.

Please don’t be angry or upset at yourself. Would you feel that way if you’d gotten brain cancer? There is an effort now to reclassify schizophrenia as a neurological disorder rather than a mental illness. The fact that you are functioning as well as you are is amazing.

My son is 28 now. He doesn’t do a lot, but he makes a daily effort to stay positive and be a blessing to other people. I know he is impacting lives, but in a way none of us expected. He really is happy, which is huge. Success is not measured by financial success or the size of your house. You can make a difference in the world, whatever path you end up on.

Please keep us posted - we would love to hear how things go for you.

@austinmshauri California is my home state. I really like New York, though, because of the rich culture. I would love to live there at some point in my life. My parents have not given me an exact budget, but it probably can’t be very expensive.

@Groundwork2022 I live in California so the UC schools will probably be at an affordable price for me. I know a lot of people who either attended UC Berkeley or UCLA, so it doesn’t seem impossible to me. I’ve always preferred the idea of a small college, but they are usually just so expensive. Considering colleges with good mental health services and support, do you have any suggestions?

@MaineLonghorn Thank you for sharing your son’s story with me, it helps to know I’m not alone. Your son sounds really accomplished, I’m so sorry he had trouble and I hope he’s doing well now. Did he ever graduate?
I’m just worried about being behind… I guess I’m always comparing myself to others, even when I try not to, and I already feel shame when I see people achieving their goals already. If it takes longer… I’m not sure if I’ll be able to handle seeing everyone else doing well while I struggle. But I will try my hardest.
Thank you for your suggestion to choose a school near home, I will deeply consider that. I’ve always wanted to attend a school really far away, but that might have issues and I will have to be more realistic. I will just try to be happy and do what I can to optimize my chances from now on. How do you think college admissions officers will react?

No, it’s not at all too late. It sounds like you have many impressive things to offer - I’m sure you will be able to write a great application. As for extra-ciruculars, just start as best you can now and find things to do and apply to a range of schools. The top “famous” schools are not a sure think for anyone, but apply to some, and apply to some lesser known (but just as good) schools as well. You’ll find one which works.

There are many very very good small liberal arts schools across the country which meet everything you are asking for.