Preparing For College
Preparing For College
Jeannie Borin, M.Ed. (Founder and President, College Connections) gives expert video advice on: Can I get into college without taking AP courses?; Which extracurricular activities will look best on my college application? and more...
What are "Advanced Placement Courses"?
AP courses - advanced placement courses - are offered in some high schools around the country. They are given in certain subject areas such as AP English, AP U.S. History, AP Government and AP Physics. If a student is an accelerated learner, they can be placed in an advanced placement course. There's a test for AP courses that's given in May of that year of school. The tests are scored from 1 to 5 - 5 being the highest, 1 being the lowest. If students get a 3 or better, they'll pass the test. Colleges will usually give college credits for an AP course, if the student gets a 4 or a 5. It's hard, and somewhat controversial. There are some schools in this country who have dropped AP courses altogether, because of the content of AP courses which, sometimes, are just very knowledge-based because the curriculum is wound around the test that the students have to take in May. The argument is that the AP courses are not inquiry based, problem solving and thought provoking. There's not as much time to really get into the meat of a content area because you have to move on and learn the next thing. Advanced placement courses are a debatable subject, actually.
Can I get into college without taking AP courses?
You can absolutely get into college without taking AP courses. First of all, if your school doesn't offer AP courses, then the college cannot hold you accountable for not taking AP courses. One of the first things university officials look at is to see what your high school profile is and what courses your high school is offering. One of the most important ways that university officials assess students when they look at the applications is the challenging courses that they are taking. If your school offers lots of AP courses and you haven't taken any, there would be a question there as to why not.
What Math courses should I take to prepare for college?
Generally, the colleges in this country require three years of math as a basic requirement. If you want to be competitive, four years and beyond of Algebra I and II are advisable as well as Geometry. Of course, other math classes that help prepare for college are Pre-calculus and Calculus, along with honors and AP courses.
What English courses should I take to prepare for college?
As many as you can. English courses and writing is one of the key components to help you get into university. Certainly on just about any application today you have to write essays. There are essays required, long ones, short ones, word counts, sometimes they just want bullets and words. But, the English courses would be of course the general requiried classes in 9th grade and 1th grade. And then English literature, English composition, creative writing, journalism courses, anywhere you can do any type of writing is vital. In addition to that, the SAT now has a writing portion of the exam, so any practice that you could get in the writing would certainly help you there. One of the key questions universities will ask students is what do you like to read, what are your favorite books. Certainly, that's the kind of exposure you would get by taking a lot of English.
What History courses should I take to prepare for college?
Certain types of history courses are simply required, and the student doesn't really have to think much because they'll just be assigned history classes in high school. Generally, the field of study is world history and American history, with government and economics now in the picture as well. Certain high schools have contemporary issue courses, like socialist issue courses. The more challenging your courses are in high school, the more competitive an edge you will have when applying to college.
What Visual Art courses should I take to prepare for college?
It's very important to look at the colleges you are interested in and see what the requirements are. There are certain universities that do require one year of visual or performing arts for acceptance. That would be any kind of art or art studio course - any kind of course based around drama, theater, performing arts, media studies, etc.
What Science courses should I take to prepare for college?
To prepare for college, you should take physical science beginning in the ninth grade. Biology courses should begin in the 10th grade, and chemistry in the 11th grade. Generally, physics in the 12th grade, too. There are also environmental science courses that some high schools offer, and I would say that environmental studies is a huge component at a lot of colleges now. Many of them are looking into research capabilities of sustainable environments and I often urge students to get real hip and swift on environmental studies to prepare for college.
What Foreign Language courses should I take to prepare for college?
There are actually a few colleges in the country that do not have a foreign language requirement. However, for the most part, colleges will accept a minimum of two years of foreign language courses, and they really like three years. Often, students will take an AP fourth year, or a lit language course. If they're studying French, for example, they may take French lit for their fourth year, where they're maybe not studying speaking the language as much, but they're reading in a language and studying the literature of the language.
What Electives should I take to prepare for college?
Electives in preparation for college should really tie in with the individual's personal interest. What I always like to tell my students is to feel it out, explore courses, but stick with it when they find something they like because continuity is impressive, focus and staying with something is a good trait when thinking about electives and preparing for college. I often hear admission officers say I'd rather see the student with two or three areas of interest that they have stayed with over the course of three or four years, than the student that has ten things that they've done over one semester. So I say take a look around, see what your high school has to offer, maybe even take a course while you're in high school at a nearby college to find what you like and then stay with it.
Which extracurricular activities will look best on my college application?
There are so many extracurricular activities that teenagers are involved in today that sometimes I get concerned that they are over programed. Often, athletics is a big one and students will have a sport that they have been involved with since the early days but the colleges really will not look before 9th grade generally. Some ask about 7th or 8th but not many. So that is one piece. Others would be any kind of art or special talent that the students has that they have focused on or any kind of leadership involvement that they have had in a community project. Again there is a little bit of debate here to, because you have students where they may come from more well to do families and their families can send them to Argentina to build a house. Versus the other student whose family can't afford it and they are volunteering at the local community center. So it's really how the student describes what they are doing and the degree of involvements, sincerity, and perhaps recommendations that will really speak to what they are doing.
Do colleges consider work experience in the admissions process?
Work experience definitely a question on a lot of college admission applications. Some of the applications will specifically ask about paid work experience and others will just have work experience, where students can write in internships where they're not getting paid. Colleges definitely do consider work experience in the admission process.