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!

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