Preparing for College
The very best way to prepare for college is to make the most of your high school experience— high school is a time to explore and discover. Spend the coming months or years taking a strong curriculum in your school, participating in outside activities that are meaningful to you, and spending time with your friends and family, and you will likely be well-prepared to put together a strong college application.
High School Curriculum
When making curriculum choices, seek out courses that will enrich and challenge you, rather than thinking about how they will look to a college application reader. Every college looks at applications differently, so it’s difficult to predict what will look “good” to every college. Many colleges have course requirements that students must fulfill in high school, however, so it is a good idea to explore requirements beforehand for colleges that may be of future interest to you.
In general, it is recommended that students enroll in classes in a breadth of academic subjects, such as:
- 4 years of English
- 3–4 years of math (through pre-calculus recommended)
- 3–4 years of laboratory sciences
- 3 or more years of social sciences
- Foreign language study (2-3 years recommended)
Colleges look at what you are involved in outside of class to learn about what interests you and to see that you’re engaged in the world around you. Some students participate in organizations within their schools or in their community, some work part-time jobs or volunteer, and others have family responsibilities. Any and every one of those activities, leadership roles, and jobs should be listed on a college application.
Summer is a great time to continue or deepen your academic-year pursuits, or to explore new ones. As with activities during the school year, continue to engage with whatever is interesting or meaningful to you. Some possible summer opportunities include:
Some students enjoy volunteering over the summer because it allows them to engage in their community and create meaningful connections. Students can volunteer through mediums such as:
- Sustainable Development Summer - High School Summer Abroad
- Local Hospitals
- Park Districts
- Zoo/Wildlife Preserves
- Lion's Heart-Teen Volunteers and Leaders
- Giving Privilege – Volunteering Redefined
- Local Campaigns
- Habitat for Humanity
- Red Cross
- Religious Organizations
Summer camps allow you to hone certain skills. Examples Include:
- Athletic Camps
- Boys/Girls Scouts
- Film Camps
- Journalism Camps
- Leadership Camps
- Music Camp (Band Camp, Choir Camp, Orchestra Camp)
- Pre-Professional Camps (Medicine, Law, Engineering)
- Speech/Debate Camp
You do not need to choose a career in high school. If you do have a specific interest, though, practical experience in that area through an internship can be highly informative as you make plans over the coming years.
Whether it’s across the globe, across the country, or even just across town, travel can provide a new perspective on the world around you. Exploring new places and meeting new people, even in areas very close to where you live, can yield experiences that will be useful in constructing your college application.
College Summer Programs
College Summer Programs College summer programs provide an inside look into college life. The University of Chicago offers several programs for high school students. Below are a few other examples of summer programs at colleges and universities. Keep in mind that some programs are free or offer financial aid.
- Boston University Summer Challenge
- Columbia University Campus Immersion Program
- Cornell University Summer College: Genius and Madness in Literature
- Emory Pre-College Program
- Harvard University Secondary School Program
- UCLA Design Media Arts Summer Institute
- Yale Global Scholars
Taking care of siblings, grandparents, and other family members is an important responsibility and can represent a significant commitment of time and effort. If family responsibilities are a significant part of your life, be sure to include them on your application.
Any paid position you have held should be listed on a college application. Jobs teach you skills necessary for success in college, including: time management, teamwork, customer service, and communication.
Many students have things they love to do that are not officially organized activities, like reading, making art, and playing sports with friends. Include all these interests and activities on your application!
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