AP courses, year-round extracurriculars and community service look good on college applications. Incidentally, those activities also help you prepare for the demands of college.
But some parts of college take a different kind of preparation. Sometimes, you’ll help yourself by doing things that colleges aren’t looking for specifically. Sometimes, the best ways to prepare won’t be visible on your college application or in your college essays at all.
When I was in high school, I didn’t check off every box on the list of college preparation courses or join a new club every season. I did, however, take up some activities that benefitted me in the long run. Now in my third year as a writing major and French minor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI,, I’m thankful for the ways I prepared for college that admissions counselors didn’t see. Here’s what I did:
1. Took an online course.
My online course was an exercise in personal discipline. If I didn’t log into my email, I could pretend the class didn’t exist – but deadlines still did. I learned to take initiative with deadlines, test times and assignment instructions because I didn’t have a teacher to remind me in person.
College is also an exercise in personal discipline. College professors don’t necessarily remind me of important dates either – college classes demand just as much responsibility as an online class.
And, even though I haven’t taken an online course in college, I have weekly quizzes and assignments due online. Having worked out all the challenges of that system in high school, I’m not stuck learning a new system on top of all my homework.
2. Participated in a group activity outside of school.
I talked about my college search with friends from school but we’d all been to the same workshops and shared many of the same ideas. But on the city soccer team, I met women from other schools. We swapped strategies for college applications and admissions interviews between practices and over team snacks. Having a fresh perspective in the onslaught of college information was a blessing – and it prepared me for the new people I would meet in college.
Keeping active in high school has made it easier to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle in college. Finding time to sweat in between classes, homework and sleep can be a challenge, but it’s easier because I’m already used to staying active.
3. Stayed with my secondary language.
I was exempt from my college’s four-semester language requirement because I’d completed four years of French in high school. But beyond the extra time for other courses, studying French in college has provided me with a broader understanding of world history, global politics, literature and even the English language. I’ve had French cultural cultural experiences unmatched by any other area of study – film festivals, creperies and even summers living in a French-speaking city.
Sticking with French in high school prepared me to participate in the broad cultural opportunities available at college and encouraged me to venture beyond my comfort zone. I’ve also been able to pursue French studies for my own enjoyment, rather than to meet particular government or academic goals.
I read everything. News reports, blog posts, Twitter feeds, biographies, classic literature – any reading is worthwhile reading. I have a lot more prescribed reading now, but I can handle the demands because I read more than the required texts or high school summer reading. I also have an edge with professors, because I can engage in intelligent discussion and critical debate about the topics I read about before starting college.
College prep in high school can be demanding, but don’t neglect practical activities that will benefit you in the long run. Even though a college admissions officer may not recognize all your efforts, your college professors will notice and appreciate your readiness. Take a few extra steps for your success beyond the acceptance letter!