With the recent addition of a College Prep category within our blog and a number of posts already written on the topic of college prep, we thought it would be useful to share our definition of college prep.

One of the most important things to understand when considering how to define college prep is that college prep means different things at different times along a student’s pre-college timeline. Further, a big misconception for many students and parents is that college prep doesn’t begin in earnest until the junior year of high school. Wrong! We believe college prep begins in early middle school, as you’ll see below.

Middle School College Prep

College prep for middle school students starts with developing good learning, study, and test-taking habits. These habits will translate into better grades in middle school and will set the student up for success in high school as their workload increases.

Another facet of college prep that should begin in middle school is the development of communication skills. These skills take time to develop, so it’s never too early to start. This includes working on strong written communication skills (long before it’s time to write the famous college admissions essay), speaking skills and listening skills.

As we’ve addressed in a recent college prep blog post, middle school is not too early for a student to begin volunteer work or community service. The preference of college admissions officers is to see students who show a passion for a given area, which is often exhibited in their volunteer involvement during high school. Understandably, it’s difficult for a young person to know where their passion lies. So it’s a good idea to begin to explore various areas of interest as early as middle school; then they can hone in on one area by high school.

High School College Prep

Let’s start with the most basic form of college prep in high school—grades. Yet, it’s often not as high a priority in the early years as it should be. A high school freshman who gets poor or average grades faces an uphill battle for the remainder of their time in high school. Their cumulative GPA will always be hurt by low grades in the freshman year and it will hurt them when they apply to colleges. This is a big reason why gaining valuable learning skills and the right academic habits during middle school is so important.

Similarly, development of communication skills during the middle school years will come into play for college prep early in high school in at least two ways. It’s advantageous for a student to be able to demonstrate in their college application their ability to work effectively in team situations and to lead groups. Colleges, as well as future employers, are very focused on what experts call “the Four C’s,” four skills considered essential for success in today’s and tomorrow’s workplace. These four skills are Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity.

What does developing “critical thinking” skills as part of the college prep process mean for a student? The National Education Association says that critical thinking includes the ability to reason effectively, using systems thinking (analyzing how parts of a whole interact with each other to produce overall outcomes in complex systems), making judgments and decisions, and solving problems.

Creativity, another of the Four C’s, entails thinking creatively, working creatively with others, and implementing innovatively. You can see the interrelationship with this college prep skill and others already identified, particularly the ability to work as part of a team and being a decisive leader.

Preparing to take one or both standardized tests, the SAT and ACT, is the most obvious form of college prep. Both tests have similar areas: English, Reading, Writing, Language, Essay, Math, Science. Preparing to take the standardized test should include sharpening one’s studying and test-taking skills, as well as writing and the other topical areas covered in the tests. The better a student is at preparing for the tests and organizing their thoughts when taking a test, the more successful outcome they will have.

As you can see, there is a lot more to college prep than nailing the SAT or ACT. There is one more aspect of college prep that can make the difference in a student gaining acceptance to their preferred college. We’re talking about the college essay. The college essay is a student’s opportunity to let the college admissions officer pull back the curtain and really get a personal insight into the applicant. Clearly, the ability to express one’s self is an important component of the essay. So is the content, starting with the topic itself. We wrote in a recent blog post how college admissions officers are looking for students who are motivated, engaged and intellectually curious, whether it’s in a particular area that they’re passionate about or a variety of interests.

We consider all of our programs to be excellent preparation for college for the reasons discussed above. First, we help students in middle school and high school to develop a wide range of academic and personal skills that prepare them for the years leading to and through college. We instill in them a sense of responsibility and build their confidence and intrinsic motivation. We inspire them to become passionate, joyful learners with a high degree of intellectual curiosity.

College prep is a long-term process covering seven or more years in a student’s life. That’s why students who are able to attend SuperCamp multiple years—through Junior Forum, Senior Forum and Quantum Academy—benefit greatly in terms of their college prep evolution.