The new semester is in full swing now. Spring is on the horizon, and high school students are aching for summer to arrive. The next school year seems far away, but students should use this time as an opportunity to think about the future and especially about how they can maximize the rest of their high school career.
College admissions is more competitive than ever.
High school matters, and the earlier a student recognizes this fact the better off they’ll be. Accountability is key. Students need to take charge of their futures by planning their class schedules and polishing their activity record. College admissions counselors notice effort, and it is the great separator between merely good applicants and great ones.
The courses you take in high school matter for college admission. Always challenge yourself appropriately. And take heart: It is never too late to change your course. Senior year is as good a time as any to take a more challenging course load.
Future and current high school freshmen should think about the degree of challenge they want in their courses. It’s true that tougher college-level courses often make for a stronger college applicant. Struggling in these accelerated courses is not the answer, though. Students should play to their strengths while challenging themselves as much as possible.
Future sophomores and juniors should use the spring to reassess their academic performance. If normal-pace Regents classes are too pedestrian, students should look for opportunities to add accelerated courses to their schedules. If accelerated classes are too grueling, students should identify the subjects that might be better taken at the Regents level.
As tempting as it may be for top students to take every accelerated class, this might not be the right approach. Instead, try to be keenly aware of your academic strengths and weaknesses. Build a well-rounded class schedule that is balanced for your individual strengths.
Are you strong in the humanities? Challenge yourself with college-level history and English classes. Don’t neglect your math and science courses, though. Take Regents physics after you finish chemistry. Go for precalculus or statistics rather than finite math.
Students should never feel as though their shot at getting into a “good” college is ruined if they forgo accelerated classes. I know students who attend some of the most elite colleges in the country despite not taking a single accelerated course in high school. Challenge yourself appropriately, and no door will be closed to you.
Future seniors should be sure to continue to achieve at a level consistent with the rest of their high school career. Admissions counselors may only see first-quarter or first-semester grades when making an admission decision, but schools often request final transcripts. Colleges want to see sustained effort. That is, don’t elect four lunch periods senior year.
Colleges look for four years of English and history, then three years of foreign language, science and math. Though many high schools don’t require four full years of all of these subjects, students would be wise to go above and beyond minimum graduation requirements.
On Long Island, most high schools only require students to take science as far as biology (living environment) and math as far as trigonometry (algebra II). But why stop there? Taking precalculus could strengthen an academic transcript. The same could be said for a year of physics or forensic science. Students of any ability can strengthen their transcript by going beyond minimum requirements.
Students can build a strong case by challenging themselves appropriately and going beyond basic requirements. Create future opportunities by taking advantage of all that your high school has to offer, and by building a rigorous class schedule around your personal strengths. Start thinking about it now. When it comes to college admissions, effort matters.
Ryan DeVito is a Miller Place native and a graduate of SUNY Geneseo. DeVito is a counselor at High Point University and also started his own college advising company, ScholarScope, to help Long Island students and their families.