Carving a Path to College
So you’ve decided. You’re going to college. Now you need to come up with a plan to get there.
As a freshman in high school you may think it is too early to plan for college, but as senior year rolls around all too quickly you will regret swapping Trig and Physics for PE and Chorus. It is never too early to start thinking about college because every year more seniors are vying for limited spaces at universities across the nation.
Getting an edge on the competition is simple and you have the opportunity every year. Choosing the right classes is the best way to get ahead. All college applications require a transcript. This allows admission officers to see what classes you took and how well you did. This is why it is so important to choose challenging classes from your first day of high school.
Think about it this way: You have two students who both have a 3.8 GPA (impressive, right?). Then imagine that student A has taken 4 years of art, 2 of math, 3 of English, 1 of Science, and 4 of Choir; while Student B has taken 4 years of math (including Calculus and Statistics), 4 years of English (two of which were APs), 4 years of science (including Physics), and 2 years of Art. Which student’s GPA still sounds impressive? Obviously, student B has excelled with a tougher course load.
This is where your planning begins. As a Freshman or Sophomore you have the time to plan and register for classes accordingly. Here are basic guidelines to help you pick the classes to get you on your way.
- Math (4 Years)
Courses: algebra I; geometry; algebra II; trigonometry; pre-calculus; calculus
- English (4 years)
Courses: Composition; American literature; English literature; world literature
- Science (3-4 years)
Courses: Biology; earth science; chemistry; physics; anatomy
- History/ Geography (3 Years)
Courses: Geography; U.S. history; U.S. government; world history; world cultures; civics
- Challenging Electives (2-4 Years)
Courses: Economics; psychology; computer science; statistics; communications
- Arts (1-2 Years)
Courses: Art; dance; drama; music
- Foreign Language (3-4 Years)
Courses: Any language will do—just aim to take the highest level possible.
Now that you know what classes to take register for, let’s talk about class levels. A college track is not about just enrolling in the right classes, but also choosing a level that is right for you. If your school offers honors or AP level courses consider enrolling in those over the standard level classes. If you don’t think you can hack it, talk to your teachers and guidance counselors—they will appreciate your ambition and remember it when it comes time to write a letter of recommendation.
Now, if you are already a Junior or Senior in high school it’s not too late to carve your college path. Start by getting focused and making sure you are doing well in the classes you are taking. Investigate your course options for next semester and choose ones that meet your requirements while offering a more challenging curriculum. Meet with your college counselor to discuss other ways to strengthen your college applicant profile through extracurricular involvement, volunteer experience, personal enrichment activities, and excellent test scores.
SAT vs. ACT At a Glance
How often is it administered?
SAT: Seven times per year.
ACT: Six times per year.
What is the test structure?
SAT: Ten sections: 3 Critical Reading; 3 Math; 3 Writing; 1 Experimental.
The experimental section looks just like a regular section.
ACT: Five sections: English, Math, Reading, Reasoning (Science), and Writing.
What does each section test?
SAT: Math: up to geometry and algebra II
Reading: sentence completions, short and long critical reading passages
Writing: grammar, usage, word choice, and a mandatory essay
ACT: Math: up to trigonometry
Reasoning; charts, graphs, interpretations of science-based material
Reading: four passages of prose fiction, social humanities, and natural science
Writing: optional essay
Is there a penalty for wrong answers?
SAT: Yes. ¼ of a point is taken off for each wrong answer.
How is the test scored?
SAT: 200-800 per section, added together for a score of 600-2400; 2-12 for the essay
ACT: 1-36 for each subject; averaged composite score; 2-12 for the essay
How can I register?
The importance of extracurriculars
Every student applying to college in the entire country will have a GPA, usually on the 1.0 to 4.0 scale. Every student in the entire country applying to college will have an SAT score somewhere between 600 and 2400 or an ACT score between 1 and 36. But not every student does the same thing on a Tuesday afternoon. Not every student had the same experience last summer. Not every student makes the same choices with his or her free time.
Whether you are applying to a community college or a fancy private school, the extracurricular section of the application is the only section (aside from the essay) that allows you to be you. Admissions officers know that people do things just because it might look good on an application. Don’t do that! Admissions officers want quality over quantity. Colleges are looking for interesting students. To a large extent, a college’s opinion of how interesting you are will be determined by what you do when you’re not in class. Your extracurricular activities can play a big part in distinguishing you from other applicants.
Which activities are best?
The truth is, no one can tell you which activities look best on a college application. The point is to be passionate about whatever activities you are involved in, and to let that passion shine through on your college application. To come up with a laundry-list of must-have activities is to miss the whole point. Admissions officers can see right through attempts. If you have been doing something every day since you were eight, and it‘s your favorite thing in the world to do, that’s what they want to hear about!
Think about all the extracurricular activities you are involved in. Rate your level of commitment and passion on a scale from 1-10. If you rated anything less than a 10, then you need to reevaluate your reasons for being involved! Colleges would prefer that you make a meaningful commitment to a few activities than a lukewarm commitment to a dozen.
Here are some extracurricular activities that students get involved with. Figure out which one fits your passion and get involved today!