By Kathleen Li, lieutenant governor, Maryland

Key Club juniors. As your last year of high school is approaching, I’d like to share some advice about making the most of your senior year and staying on top of responsibilities during the college application season.

Mental mindset: Making the most of your last year in high school

1. Don’t compare yourself to others.

Since social media is such a huge part of our lives now, it can be easy to get caught up nitpicking yourself and admiring others. Remember that people tend to only post highlights on social media, and you are often not alone in your struggles.

2. Take the school break to hang out with friends before you get inundated with work during application season.

This might be the last full break you get to spend with your high school friends. Make time to visit places you’ve always wanted to go, try new restaurants and get closer. During application season, it might be more difficult to free up time.

3. Senioritis is real.

While it’s totally okay to relax a bit in senior year, try to stay active and involved during classes and extracurriculars. Feel free to take a backseat second semester, but still connect with your teachers and classmates.

4. Participate in school-hosted events.

If you feel comfortable doing so, show up at your school events. These might be the last high school events you experience, and it’s always better to participate now than regret it later.

College application process: tips for success

1. Don’t stress too much over standardized test scores.

With many schools going test-optional, SAT and ACT scores are becoming less and less important. So many seniors get into their first- choice schools without submitting test scores. If you are a good match for the college and can demonstrate that through course load, extracurriculars and essays, testing really does not matter much.

2. Research and apply to colleges you can actually envision yourself attending. Don’t limit yourself to big, name-brand schools. Many small schools are less well-known but can have cool programs and courses attuned to your interests. Also, in case your dream schools don’t work out, make sure your “safety” schools are ones you actually want to attend.

3. Don’t wait until the last minute.

Take the time to write your essays, reread and revise. There were instances where I procrastinated about writing an essay and could have turned in a better version if I had looked through it for another hour. Essays are a huge part of the admissions process and are your only chance to show your personality, so make them count.

Before writing anything, brainstorm. List your strong points, your extracurricular activities, your achievements, your talents — everything you can think of. Then, use this list to consider how to portray yourself on your applications. It’s good to center your passions on two or three main areas, so admissions officers can get a clear image of who you are.

4. It is totally OK to recycle essays.

There are so many essays involved in the college application process, especially if you are applying to a multitude of schools. It’s a lot more work to write 20 essays, rather than repurposing five to 10 essays. Use your energy wisely.

5. Don’t be afraid to contact current students.

Reach out to current students who attend schools that interest you. if you don’t know any, don’t be scared to search for and contact students through Instagram or LinkedIn. Students are usually quite friendly and love sharing information about their schools.

6. Apply for scholarships, including the small ones.

No matter how large or how small the scholarship, make sure to work hard on your application. Even if a scholarship seems small, if you receive a few, the money quickly adds up.

7. Be respectful and mindful of others during the process.

For every acceptance you might get, dozens of other students could have received a rejection. While you should feel proud of yourself and celebrate with family and friends, don’t go out of your way to boast, especially to less fortunate students. Stay humble.

8. Your college decisions do not define your intelligence or motivation.

Keep in mind that the college application process is quite random. You could have an outstanding application similar to another student but end up with different results. In the end, instead of looking at prestige, choose the school that fits you best academically, socially, and financially.