Countdown to College: Three Semesters to go!

September 01, 2001

Countdown to College Three Semesters to go

You're halfway through your junior year, and you have everything under control:

  • You're making good grades and taking challenging, college-level classes

  • you're investigating colleges that offer the programs and the campus
    atmosphere  you want

    • you've taken—or planned to take—the SAT or ACT.  Now what?

    Get active! Staying focused on your studies is the most important thing you can do to
    prepare for college—that's a no-brainer.  But other activities offer unique opportunities
    for you to really make the most of these last three semesters.  For example, have you
    considered volunteering or getting involved in a service project? How about getting a
    taste of college by taking a summer class—many colleges offer summer pre-college
    programs created especially for students like you.  Perhaps you're interested in travel;
    there are lots of organizations that can help you find travel opportunities—locally,
    nationally, internationally.  With only three semesters (and two summers) to go before
    college, it's time to get active!  And here are three great ways to do it.

    • Service activities (another word for volunteering) can be fun and rewarding.  Josh
    Kretman of Chevy Chase, Maryland, who traveled to Bangladesh to report on child labor
    for Children's Express new service says, "I've really grown as an individual by helping
    others." Lilly Ardell of Northbrook, Illinois says her experience in the Dominican
    Republic with Amigos de las Americas made her more independent and taught her she
    "can do anything."
         But Ardell emphasizes that "you don't necessarily have to go abroad.  There are
    important things in your own community you could be doing." So look around.  Check
    out the organizations listed here, and use the Internet to find other opportunities to

    • Pre-college learning programs provide equally valuable opportunities for students.  
    You can explore interesting subjects, experience college-level study, and earn credits
    while you're still in high school.  Lily Nierenberg, a pre-college student at Cornell says,
    "I learned an enormous amount about what I want to do with my life, who I am, and
    where I want to go."
         You can also use a summer program to explore a college you're interested in
    attending—and that can make you a more attractive candidate for admission.  Terese
    Buscher, Director of Admissions at Rhodes College, says selective colleges are looking
    for students who are "interested enough to investigate more thoroughly."  Contact a
    college near you to enroll in a summer course, investigate pre-college opportunities at
    colleges you're interested in attending full-time, or look into some of the other pre-
    college options listed here.

    • Travel is another great option.  Ardell describes her experience as "life-changing."
    She says, "You learn about other cultures and you learn to be sensitive to other people." Kretman adds, "The life I live is very small in comparison to what's out there."
         By broadening your experience of the world, travel can also help with your
    admissions essays and interviews.  Betsy Ellsworth, Associate Dean of Admissions at
    Reed College, recommends keeping a journal in which you record not just where you
    went and what you saw but how travel affected you, what it made you think about, and
    how it made you feel.

    "Why Should I?"
    Why would you want to get involved in something that requires work when you could
    be coasting through your last three semesters?  Four reasons.  Getting active gives you
    a chance to:

    • Challenge yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally • Make a difference in your

    life and in the world • Connect with the right college • Bring your studies to life and
    build the competencies you'll need for college and career.

    "Okay, I'm listening." There are so many different activities—how will you choose?  
    What will look best on a college admissions essay?  Is one activity 'better' than
    Ellsworth cautions students to "be wary of putting activities in a hierarchy."  
    She emphasizes the importance of simply "interacting with human beings outside the
    classroom."  Buscher adds that students should focus on being "committed and
    So, how do you decide?  Kretman says, "just do something you care about, that
    you're passionate about."  Nanette Tarbouni, Director of Admissions at Washington
    University in St. Louis agrees: "Whatever ways a student participates, we recommend
    that he/she do so because of a real desire and love for the activity."

    "How much time should I expect to invest?"  Many students begin looking for
    additional activities during their junior year in high school, believing that the more
    activities they engage in, the better they'll look to college admissions committees.  
    This simply isn't the way things work.  Tarbouni cautions students that "padding a
    college resume is often obvious—the passion for an activity doesn't shine through."  
    Admissions counselors are looking for quality of involvement, not quantity.  Buscher
    urges students to "seek opportunities to make a difference and have an impact," and to
    consider the effect your activities have on yourself and on others.
    But suppose you have other obligations such as work or responsibility for a
    younger sibling and don't have time to invest in outside activities.  Don't despair.  
    Buscher assures students that any activity is important, as long as it "contributes to
    your growth."

    "I'm convinced.  What's next?" Get active!  Do some research and discuss options
    with your parents; then get involved in a service activity, enroll in a summer course or
    look into travel opportunities.  One former program participant says there's only one
    thing holding most students back: "In their minds, they think they're kids and can't do
    big things.  In reality, there's nothing stopping them!"
    "Where do I sign up?" We've included just some of the many organizations that
    provide opportunities to get active, but don't stop here.  Opportunities abound, and
    some organizations provide financial assistance.  So explore, and enjoy!

    How Can I Help?
    No matter where you are or how much time you can give, you can make a difference:

    • Be a mentor • deliver meals • mow grass • read to children • help out at an animal

    shelter • clean up the roadside • volunteer in a national forest • shovel snow • tutor •
    lead a scout troop • work in a battered women's shelter • help a teacher or daycare
    provider • raise funds • foster a displaced pet • beautify your community • visit nursing
    homes • lend a hand at a hospital • be a storm spotter • repair homes • deliver
    groceries • run errands • organize a toy drive • teach an adult to read • establish a
    neighborhood watch • help build affordable housing • train a therapy pet • buy an acre
    of rainforest • sponsor a child • recycle • plant a tree • coach Little League • or get in
    touch with any volunteer service organization and ask how you can help!

    Travel Opportunities

    Council on International Educational
    Exchange (CIEE) is an international
    education organization that features a program for kids called Teenagers Abroad.
    • Council on International Educational Exchange
    205 East 42 nd Street
    New York, NY 10017
    (800) 40-STUDY

    The Lonely Planet website has a great weblinks page with lots of travel references.

    • Lonely Planet Publications
    150 Linden Street
    Oakland, CA 94607
    (800) 275-8555 or (510) 893-8555 or

    The foundation for Worldwide International Student Exchange
    (WISE) is a non-profit organization that provides travel opportunities to students.
    • WISE
    P.O. Box 1332
    Dyersburg, TN 38025
    (800) 264-0948 or (901) 287-9948

  • by Shari Miller, Private Colleges and Universities

    updated: 12 years ago