High school freshman thinks ahead
December 15, 2011 3:04PM
Updated: January 17, 2012 8:08AM
Dear Mr. Bradshaw — I am finishing the first semester of my freshman year in high school.
I have straight A’s, and I want to know what you suggest as the best way to get into a top college or university. My grandmother cuts out your columns and sends them to me. Based upon your experience, what classes and activities do top-tier colleges look for in an applicant? — Freshman
Dear Freshman — It is always best to start with your high school counselor when planning a four-year program appropriate for you, one that reflects your interests.
Inevitably, there will be difficult choices to make about what courses to take and how to balance your schoolwork and your extracurricular pursuits.
Should you take a fourth year of math or begin a second foreign language? You might like to write for the student newspaper, but that means you won’t have time for Advanced Placement chemistry.
Here is some advice to help guide you through such decisions.
I suggest taking an inventory of your academic interests. Try not to take classes only in the areas you find interesting now.
It is highly unlikely schools will downgrade an application simply because of the absence of a particular class. However, transcripts reflect the broad range of interests that have shaped a student’s intellectual curiosity and personality. In other words, let your transcripts tell your story.
Colleges review high school transcripts as a whole, plus recommendations, test scores and extracurriculars. They consider each application a comprehensive overview of that student.
Colleges primarily are concerned with what kind of student you will be. They look for consistency and intellectual rigor. The best way to show a commitment to academics is taking the most challenging classes and a full course load all four years of high school.
If you push yourself to excel through your senior year and beyond, it is a good sign you will do the same in college.
It might surprise students to know that many top colleges do not have specific entrance requirements, and it is best to research each school. For example, Yale does not require a foreign language in high school, but, as a general rule, admissions people there look for students who try to take courses each year in English, science, math, the social sciences and foreign languages.
Be honest with yourself when deciding among courses. Are you choosing a particular course because you truly are excited about it or are you motivated by a desire to avoid a more difficult subject?
Yale offers the following advice to high school students planning their class schedules.
† Am I taking a well-balanced academic program that will provide me with a good foundation for college?
† Am I prepared to take college-level math, writing and science?
† Do I feel challenged by the courses I am taking?
† Are my courses among the more rigorous ones available to me at my school?
† Am I seeking a challenge or avoiding it?
† Overall, is my four-year high school program among the most challenging available at my school?”
Keep these questions in mind when planning your high school schedules, and continue to strive for academic excellence.
A healthy balance between course work and extracurriculars will be looked upon favorably by all top colleges.