A College Admissions Perspective: Getting the Most out of your High School Experience from Day 1 (Academics)

The last days of August bring mixed emotions to high school students and parents alike.  Most students mourn the estival freedom that steadily slips behind them while still anxiously looking forward to what the new school year has in store: extracurricular activities, old and new friends, a new list of classes to attend, room numbers to memorize, and teachers to meet.  But what about that nagging question that looms on parents’ minds?  What about college?  And what can your student do now to have the best chances when she submits her applications fall of senior year?  This article is part of a series that will uncover the best ways to approach your high school years from a college admissions perspective.  We will start by focusing on academics.

Academics

Pick the most difficult class schedule you can handle.  If you think it’s too easy, visit your counselor to change it.  Excellent performance in challenging core classes (math, science, humanities) is essential.  Play to your strengths within the core classes.  If you can, take an extra class in an academic field you are passionate about.

  • Reason 1: Your guidance counselor has to rate the challenge index of your schedule compared to your classmates.  Colleges take this very seriously when making admissions decisions.
  • Reason 2: Colleges likes to see applicants with a particular intellectual passion.  Well-rounded students are great, but top colleges are more worried about well-rounded campuses.  Why have thousands of jacks-of-all-trades when they can have experts in individual fields that collectively produce a symphony of intellectual exploration?  So demonstrate interest in a subject if you can while still meeting graduation requirements.

Form good relationships with your teachers.  First impressions are crucial. Make an effort to speak with your teacher after class whenever possible.  Dominate your first writing assignment.  Ace that first math test.  Don’t be caught off-guard by the greater difficulty of this year.  Forget the notion that teachers like to see gradual improvement over the course of the year: start strong.

  • Reason 1: Guess what? Teachers talk about their students behind their backs all the time.  Don’t be upset about it.  That’s how they can be the best teachers possible—by knowing their students.  So your first job is to reaffirm all the good things your last teachers said about you.  Or, if you weren’t a super-achiever last year, you need to change your teachers’ perspectives entirely.
  • Reason 2: It’s not just about the grades; it’s about teacher recommendations.  For a teacher to say that you went above and beyond in class in his or her recommendation, you need to ace everything from Day 1 and then worry about looking into an extra project or related endeavor to impress your teachers with.

Don’t let learning stop at school.  Continue to explore potential passions that are intellectually-focused on your own.  Think about what you enjoy already and expand on that. Here are some examples: computer programming, creative writing, learning a language independently, practicing a musical instrument, informal tutoring, or blogging about environmental issues.  Think creatively!  Be a student of life, not just in school.

  • Reason 1: Colleges want intellectually motivated students, not grade-grubbers.
  • Reason 2: A significant percentage of top-50 universities and liberal arts colleges require supplemental essays that specifically ask you about how you’ve pursued your intellectual interests outside of the classroom.  Please make it easy on yourself.  Avoid having to talk about your fascination with Legos as a child.

Academic excellence is the foundation of any successful college application, but in such a competitive college admissions environment, other factors begin to take on greater importance.  This is why we are devoting the next blog in the series entirely to Extracurricular Activities.  Stay tuned!