How to Create a History Theme for Your Application

As you may remember from last week, I will be spending the next couple of months discussing different academic themes that will help you stand out as a specialized and dedicated student on your college application. This week, I will talk about building a History Theme.

Remember the 4 areas to cover when constructing an application theme:

1. Academics
2. Extracurriculars – Clubs/Leadership
3. Extracurriculars – Academic/Scholarship
4. Competitions/Achievements

1. Academics
To create a strong History Theme, you will want to be sure to take the most challenging history courses your high school has to offer. A sample curriculum might look like this:

• Freshman Year: History 9 or World History & Geography I (honors, if available)
• Sophomore Year: History 10 or World History & Geography II (honors, if available)
• Junior Year: AP US History and/or AP World History
• Senior Year: AP Government and/or AP World History

Some schools also offer AP Art History, AP European History, and/or a course in the history of the school’s state (e.g. Virginia State History). Any of these courses should be treated like electives, but if you are extremely passionate about history, feel free to try and fit them in. AP Art History and AP European History can even be taken as early as sophomore year in some cases.

If there is a particular culture or ancient civilization you find really interesting, you may be able to find a local college course that covers it.

College courses tend to be more specific and specialized than high school courses, so look around and see if you can find any colleges that accept high school students for certain courses. This is a great way to learn something really cool, not to mention the fact that it will look great on your application. Admissions committees love to see applicants who take initiative and who take charge of their own educations.

Summer Programs:
Some top schools offer summer programs for students who are interested in history and historical civilizations. Here are some of the most well known programs:

• College of William and Mary (Early American History)
• Georgetown University (US Government History)
• Cornell University (US Political Traditions)
• University of Chicago (variety of history courses)
• University of Pennsylvania (variety of history courses)
• UCLA (various cultural studies courses)

Look into the colleges you’re interested in and see what kind of summer programs they offer. Some programs are open to any high school student who has completed their freshman year, so depending on your schedule and your finances, you may even be able to attend a different program each year.

2. Extracurriculars – Clubs/Leadership
Some schools may have a History Club or a History Honor Society. If your school does, you should definitely participate and try to work your way up to having a leadership position in the group. Admissions committees will want to see that you are taking your interest in history outside the classroom and working to gain knowledge in areas that are not covered in your regular classes. Plus, clubs usually have community service components, which are not only an asset to your application, but also an opportunity to apply your love of history to the real and modern world.

Some other clubs that are not specifically history related, but are more related to civic engagement are:

• Model United Nations
• Boy’s/Girl’s State
• Student Government
• Political Clubs (Young Republicans/Young Democrats)
• Cultural Awareness Clubs

Any of these clubs fit nicely into a History Theme, because history classes often involve talking about civilization and politics. These clubs may be more concerned with civics and politics in a modern context, but they all fit with the general theme of learning about society and learning about the structure of leadership in civilization.

Volunteer Work:
Getting involved with local political campaigns or working at a non-profit organization or a history museum as a volunteer is a great way to further develop your own understanding of history and civilization. As a bonus, you also get to bring your passion and knowledge to the people of your community. Whether you volunteer alone or with a group, you will be surprised at the kinds of rich experiences you can find in your community, and every experience will help better prepare you for college.

3. Extracurriculars – Academic/Scholarship
Participating in research is one of the best ways to communicate your academic interest and ability in history. Talk to your history teacher and see if you can do a research project for extra credit. You will gain valuable experience doing actual academic research, and you will learn how to submit your findings in the form of a research paper. You will need to write quite a few research papers in college, so this will not only look good on your application–it will prepare you for your future college workload.

In History, there are endless potential research topics. Pick something you are truly interested in. Is there a particular ancient civilization you find fascinating? Do you have a particular idea or theory about a specific battle in the American Civil War? Have you examined your own culture and family history, and want to learn more about it? Brainstorm your ideas and present them to your teacher. They can help point you to sources and help you organize all of the information so that you can write a really great paper. Submit your work with your application in the “Additional Information” section so that admissions committees can see what you have done.

Another thing you can do to really indulge your love for History is to read. Read read read. Read all the books you have time for. Many colleges have questions about books you have read in their Supplemental Questions, and even if there is not a specific question about books, you can always reference books when you compose essays. You never know when a book is going to come up in a conversation (like in an admissions interview, for example) or when having read a book will help you better formulate a written answer to a question. Being able to cite specific works in history will only serve to strengthen your application and your overall History Theme.

Finally, getting your work published is an awesome achievement. It may be tough to get a research paper published at the high school level, but magazines and publications are always looking for great essay submissions and other shorter pieces. Do some research on local publications in your area. See if they accept work from “guest” writers, and pitch your idea to them. Websites are another great place to check to see if they will publish your work. Getting your writing published as a high school student is ahuge achievement, which will really stand out on your college application.

4. Competitions/Achievements
There are quite a few history competitions that high school students can compete in. Some are in a team format, while others are for individuals. Check with your history teacher to see if your school already has teams for any of these competitions, and if not, see if you can help start one.

Here are some links to some of the national competitions:

• National History Bowl (team competition)
• Americanism Essay Contest (individual)
• Humanist Magazine Essay Contest (individual)
• First Freedom Student Competition (individual)
• Making Democracy Work Contest (individual)
• Words that Shook The World Public Speaking Contest (individual)
• United States Senate Youth Program (individual)
• Joseph S. Rumbaugh Historical Oration Contest (individual)

Some schools also have school-wide competitions. Quiz bowls can incorporate a lot of questions from history, geography bowls are pretty common, and debate competitions can be history related as well. If you have any of these types of contests at your school, enter them! You can always tailor the contest to your History Theme by highlighting the specific parts of the contest that were history related. Remember to talk about the preparation for the contest in the “Activities” section of the Common Application. Each of these competitions requires lots of study time, and that will let admissions committees know that you spent time outside of class specifically studying History.

If you choose to enter one of the essay contests and you win an award, be sure to submit your essay in the “Additional Information” section of the Common Application. If you have both a research paper and an essay to show the admissions committees, pull a strong excerpt from each.