Many of the most selective colleges and universities in the United States recommend students (if possible and curriculum permitting) take four years of sequential and progressive credit in the five core academic disciplines (English, history, foreign language, math, and science) so there will be no academic gapping. Gapping occurs when a student does not take four years of credit in a specific core academic discipline (for example, only taking the minimum number of credits in history–2.0–in 9th and 10th grade and then not taking history again throughout his/her secondary school experience).
In this example, said student completed taking history by the end of the sophomore year of high school (and meets the minimum school requirement for graduation purposes), but it inhibits the college admissions committee from getting a more comprehensive and mature look at one’s evolving intellectualism just before entering college. The student has lost contact with the academic content.
College admissions committees are always trying to ascertain how seamless a student’s intellectual transition might be from high school to college-level work.
- A student’s senior year curriculum should be their most rigorous to date and should include all 5 core academic disciplines (English, history, foreign language, math, and science). This allows the college admission committee to observe your intellectualism (and continued academic momentum) at its most mature level. This is ESSENTIAL to be admitted to a competitive college or university.
- Outside the classroom activities (sometimes referred to as extracurricular involvements) are important for undergraduate admissions committees to understand your interests, passions, personality, and altruism. Activities associated with school (athletics, clubs, theater, music, art, Model UN, public speaking, volunteer/community service, and any unique school-specific sponsored activities. Involvements outside the classroom are just as valuable and can include: work for pay, Boy Scouts, martial arts, club sports, faith formation, pilot’s license, boating license, internships, summer coursework, volunteer work, creating a not-for-profit, creating an “App”, certification in diving, traveling, and language immersion programs to name just a few. One is only limited by their imagination and creativity in terms of engaging activities outside the classroom.
Undergraduate college admission committees assess activity involvement based on consistency and continuity. For example, it is best to be involved in your chosen activities through grades 9-12. If you’re a football player, play for four years. If you’re a thespian, act all four years. Undergraduate college admissions committees highly value longitudinal consistency, as it affords them the opportunity to understand if you remain engaged with your commitments. They can get a sense of your potential to contribute to the college community based on your involvement and commitment level in secondary school.
- If affordable, consider using a standardized test expert (tutor) to assist in preparing for the SAT/ACT. Many students will see (on average) an 80–120-point increase on the SAT (from their first baseline SAT) and a 3–4-point increase on the ACT (from their baseline ACT). It can be a potential difference between waitlist and admit or receiving merit aid vs. not receiving merit aid. If not affordable, you can use Kahn Academy, which is a wonderful self-help platform targeted at improving SAT scores.