This post is the first in our series Getting Ready to Apply to Top Tier Colleges and Universities, a 4-part series for freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors.
Having consulted with numerous clients on college admissions, I have been facing the same personal decisions as my clients. I’ve already sent one happy stepson off to college and my husband and I are preparing the younger one for application (he is a high school junior). Below I share the same tips and strategies I used for my clients and my sons in navigating the college application process.
Tips for High School Freshman:
1. If you want to compete for top-tier programs, you need to begin taking honors courses (or pre-IB courses if you are in an International Baccalaureate program). I suggest that you take 1-2 each year that will prepare you for the AP courses and exams that will be available to your in your sophomore year. Pace yourself with AP exams and then test at the end of your sophomore, junior and senior year, so you don’t have to cram everything into one year. Take the most rigorous course for your abilities. While most admissions officers would like to see “A’s” in honors and AP courses, getting an “A” in a non-honors/AP course is the often the equivalent of a “B” in an honors/AP course. These courses are sometimes limited in the freshman year, so check with your guidance counselor before you register for classes.
2. Get involved in extracurricular activities (sports, newspaper, yearbook, theatre, music, honor societies). Explore things that you always wanted to try, but never had the opportunity to pursue. For example, if you’ve always had a love for photography, use it for the school yearbook. If you want to make an impact on the school, run for student government. If you want to create a club that doesn’t exist, discuss the pros and cons with administration and inspire others to join you. (I had one client now a sophomore at university who created a healthy living club where she taught students about nutrition and exercise and then used some of the meeting time to exercise, meditate or practice yoga together…then they created other chapters at other high schools and mitigated the obesity epidemic by 10% in area high schools). And volunteer for community service activities (outside of the community service you must conduct as part of your state’s high school graduation requirement). Note: it is better to be deeply involved in a few diverse activities than to put all your energy into one activity or little energy into many activities. Just make certain that you can manage your time. Don’t let your academics slip because of your involvement with the swim team.
3. Study, study, study and if you are struggling with a subject, ask your parents, your counselors and the faculty for help. With the Khan Academy, free help is now available where you could only rely on tutors or faculty office hours in the past. Use these tools.
4. Read, read, read: fiction, non-fiction, news…anything you can get your eyeballs on. Don’t rely on TV, Twitter or YouTube to give you all the answers and expand your mind.
5. Prepare your curriculum for the next 4 years. You will need to complete required coursework throughout your four years of high school. These requirements are university-specific, so research the requirements of some of the schools you are thinking about now and don’t get caught in your senior year trying to make up courses you could have taken throughout high school.
• The Science trifecta (biology, chemistry, and physics…you need at least one lab science)
• Social Sciences (I highly recommend taking both US History and World History)
• Foreign Language (2-4 years: each school has different requirements)
• English (4 years that cover language and literature, composition and speech)
• Math (four years and for elite schools: calculus, but for other schools you need to complete intermediate algebra)
• Fine and Performing Arts (1-2 years: each college has unique requirements so check with the university or college)
• Computer course (1 programming course or literacy course. If you intend to apply for engineering or computer science, take several programming courses and consider the AP. If you have no desire to step foot on the engineering campus or in a computer science classroom than one computer literacy course should be fine).
Stay tuned for the next post in this series, Getting Ready to Apply to Top Tier Colleges and Universities: Sophomore Year.
By Natalie Grinblatt Epstein, former admissions dean/director at three top business schools. Natalie has reviewed over 70,000 applications, interviewed over 2,500 candidates, and has trained nearly 700 admissions directors and alumni volunteers to select outstanding candidates for admission. Her clients gain admission to top programs including Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, MIT, Cornell, Columbia, Berkeley, and NYU. Natalie holds an MBA from Michigan Ross. Want Natalie to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!