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Preparing for College

Guide to College
The Coalition for College's guide for applicants

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 worry 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*
  • 3–4 years of laboratory sciences
  • 3 or more years of social sciences
  • Foreign language study (2–3 years recommended)

*As stated above, the University does not require any specific courses for admission. Rather, we wish for students to pursue challenging coursework in any path that is available and relevant to them. In mathematics, this may include coursework in data science, statistics, mathematical modeling, linear algebra, trigonometry, calculus, and other advanced math classes. Students will always have the opportunity to complete required mathematics coursework, such as calculus, if required for their program of study in the College while on campus. 

Extracurricular Activities

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 Opportunities

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:

College Summer Programs

College Summer Programs provide an inside look into college life. Many colleges and universities offer summer programs for high school students. Below are a few examples of The University of Chicago's Summer Session programs:

Check out the Summer Session Photo Gallery for a look at past summer session classes and activities.


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
  • Shelters
  • Zoo/Wildlife Preserves
  • Lion’s Heart—Teen Volunteers and Leaders
  • Giving Privilege—Volunteering Redefined
  • Museums
  • Tutoring
  • Libraries
  • 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.

Family Responsibilities

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.

Paid Work

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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November 1 Early Action and Early Decision I deadlines
Mid-December Early Action and Early Decision I decisions released
January 2 Early Decision II and Regular Decision deadlines
Mid-February Early Decision II decisions released
Late March Regular Decision decisions released
April 1–30 Admitted student visits
May 1 National Reply Deadline

Taking AP or IB classes? College-level classes in high school? Explore how your credits transfer to UChicago.