Your high school courses matter. Talk with your counselor each year to make sure you are taking the right classes to graduate. But you should also think about taking higher-level courses that will help you get into college.
Start by taking the basic classes:
• Language Arts or English: Take every year.
• Math: Take at least three years, but preferably four years of math. It can be a mix of algebra I, algebra II, geometry, trigonometry and calculus.
• Science: Take at least three years. It can be a mix of earth science, biology, chemistry and physics.
• Social studies: Take at least three years of social studies. Consider U.S. history, world history and U.S. government.
• Foreign languages: Colleges like to see at least two years of a foreign language, such as Spanish or French.
• Electives: Take art, music, drama, computer science, journalism or other electives.
To graduate high school in New York State, you must take and pass certain classes and exams.
There are two levels of diplomas for graduating high school in New York State.
• Regents Diploma
• Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation
The “with honors” designation is added to either Regents Diploma option for students with an average score of 90 or more on all required Regents exams.
Students enrolled in an approved school district or BOCES career and technical education (CTE) program who successfully complete all requirements earn a technical endorsement to be affixed to their high school diplomas.
Take advanced classes, including Advanced Placement (AP) classes or honors classes when you can.
These classes will help prepare you for college-level work and show the colleges you apply to that you are willing to challenge yourself. You may even increase your chances for scholarships. Plus, many colleges will give you college credit for passing advanced courses. These may put you ahead of schedule for college graduation and ultimately save you money.
AP classes are more intense than high school classes, and scoring well on AP exams may allow you to earn college credit, advanced placement or both, possibly saving you thousands of dollars.
AP exams are scored from 1 to 5 (5 the highest). Many colleges give credit or advanced placement with a score of 3 or better. Ask your counselor about AP classes offered at your school. Interested in taking a course not available at your school? Talk to your counselor about possible opportunities to take the class online.
AP exams are given in May. There’s an exam fee but reductions and subsidies are available to students with financial need. Talk to your counselor if you’re unable to pay the fee.
Balance your schedule with electives that interest you. This may include art, music, journalism, computer or business.
Your studies should always come first, but colleges also look at your extracurricular activities. Participation in sports, clubs or volunteer organizations can help you develop your talents and demonstrate your willingness to be actively involved in your community.
Here are some things you can do:
• Join school clubs, groups or organizations.
• Join after-school and summer programs.
• Participate in sports through your school or your community.
• Be active in the community, whether it is at a community center, your church or a senior citizen center.
• Consider an internship.
• Look for opportunities to make the most of your summer vacations.
Volunteering is a great opportunity to make a positive contribution to your community. It also benefits you, and you’ll feel good about yourself. Volunteer opportunities may include tutoring younger students, participating in a fundraising event, or working at a hospital, youth center, nursing home, animal shelter or food bank.
You don’t have to volunteer every day or even every weekend. Pick something you are interested in, and volunteer your time based on what fits your schedule.
Here’s how to get started:
• Ask your school counselor to recommend an event or organization.
• Check with your local library, community center or church to see if they need any help.
When you find something you really enjoy, stick with it and work hard. You can make a difference.
An internship can help you explore an interest that may lead to a future career. Details may vary—some are paid, others unpaid; they may be available during the school year or over the summer—but all offer opportunities to explore areas of interest that may lead to a career choice.
If there’s a company or organization you’re interested in, call and ask if they’d consider you as an intern. Check with your school counselor, family and friends who may know of an opportunity, too.
Check out our internship dos and don’ts: Become A Super Intern and Intern Kryptonite
Yes, you should have fun this summer. But summer vacation should be more than sleeping in, hanging out with friends, and enjoying the weather. Stay focused on your goal of getting to college.
There are many things to do that will keep you energized and engaged—and look good on your college application:
• Contact your guidance counselor about a summer school program if you need extra help in any subject or to get you on track to college.
• Summer is a great time to volunteer or intern.
• Work at a part-time job, preferably doing something that interests you or adds to your skills and experience.
• Take a class at your local community college.
• Join a summer program such as Upward Bound, a national program that lets students like you spend the summer living and studying on a college campus. A program like this allows you to experience college and puts you on track to college.
• Keep challenging yourself. Read books, newspapers and magazines. Write in a journal. Watch the news or educational programs on PBS or the History Channel. Never stop learning.
Wondering how to find a summer program?
• Ask your guidance counselors and teachers.
• Look for posters on bulletin boards at your school, local library, community centers and other places where summer opportunities for students may be posted.
• Contact your local YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, United Way and community centers to see what they have to offer.
• Look online. Do an internet search for “summer programs for high school students in (your town or nearest city)” or “youth programs (your town or nearest city)” or “volunteer opportunities for teens (your town or nearest city).”
—Courtesy of Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC)