Before my niece left for her college freshman year, she warned my eighth-grade daughter to start applying “way earlier than senior year.” She said someone at the University of North Carolina gave prospective applicants a speech she wished she’d heard in middle school. Can you track down the advice?
Your niece may have been inspired by Erin Breese, senior assistant director of undergraduate admissions at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She talks with prospective students every day. When she and her colleagues review applications, they look at far more than a student’s record in junior and senior year.
“We understand that students travel many different roads to get to Carolina, and we celebrate the variety of interests, backgrounds and aspirations that they bring with them. The qualities that we seek include intellect, curiosity, creativity, leadership, kindness, courage and diversity,” says Breese.
“At the same time, we seek excellence,” she emphasizes. “We focus first on academic excellence, using a variety of information — courses, grades, test scores, recommendations, essays — to help us assess performance and potential. Successful candidates take at least one course in each of the five core academic disciplines — English, math, social science, lab science and foreign language in each of their four years if they are available at their high school. We pay particular attention to the rigor of each candidate’s course of study. We encourage juniors and seniors, when possible, to take the most difficult programs available at their school. We also encourage them to pursue activities outside the classroom which help them grow as a person.”
Breese advises middle schoolers and high school freshmen and sophomores to stay focused in the classroom. “We tell them to strive for good grades in the most challenging courses available to them — AP, IB, honors, academically gifted courses — in all disciplines. They should also develop good study habits and organizational skills.”
Breese also advises them to invest these years in learning which academic areas and extracurricular activities interest them the most. For example, she encourages teens not to slack off during the summers. “Students should do something to define themselves and their interests. Whether it’s volunteering, summer camps, employment, taking courses, or devoting time to a hobby, they should choose activities that interest them.”
If Breese were to address your daughter’s middle school classmates, she’d tell them:
– Strive for good grades (As and Bs in all courses).
– Take challenging classes (algebra 1, geometry or other advanced math; advanced science; academically gifted courses, etc.) Try taking a few courses over summers, as well.
– Develop good study habits and organizational skills. These will stay with you throughout high school.
– Find your passion. Spend time figuring out which academic areas and extracurricular activities interest you the most. If possible, take advantage of your breaks from school to take classes, trips or go to special-interest camps.
– Improve your reading, writing, and math skills. This will help you do well in high school courses and on your SAT or ACT. “Find your voice as a writer,” suggests Breese. “This effort will show up in that important college essay, which help reviewers understand your thoughts and feelings.”
Breese invites your daughter to go to www.admissions.unc.edu and select the “MyUNC” on the scroll-down menu for “Prospective Students” and create her own personal account. “Visiting MyUNC will help her stay informed about what’s happening at Carolina, keep in touch with us, and even if she doesn’t apply here, give her a concrete way to stay focused on the goal of college of few years from now,” notes Breese.