How to Create an IT Theme for Your College Application
If you are considering a career in computers or technology, then why not tailor your application to reflect just that? College admissions officers are searching for demonstrated interest to a given topic, so give them what they want!
Remember the 5 areas to cover when constructing an application theme:
- Extracurriculars – Clubs/Leadership
- Extracurriculars – Academic/Scholarship
- Major and supporting documents
In order to create a strong IT theme, you will want to take the most advanced math, science, and/or computer science courses your high school offers. For most students, that means taking one course in both math and science each year, ending with the AP level if it is offered. A sample curriculum might look like this:
Freshman Year: Geometry and Biology
Sophomore Year: Algebra II and Chemistry
Junior Year: Pre-calculus and Physics
Senior Year: AP Calculus and one lab science at the AP level
Some high schools offer AP Computer Science, and that is an excellent one to fit into your schedule as well. It can usually be taken sophomore, junior, or senior year. Also, try to take honors courses when available. If your school does not offer any computer science classes, or if you just cannot fit them into your already busy high school schedule, check local colleges to see if any of them offer courses that interest you. There are so many specialized attributes to computer science, that it is entirely possible you will find some great classes in programming languages, website construction, or security that can really help you while you’re in college and/or in your future career. Admissions committees will be impressed that you went above and beyond to find relevant courses outside of your high school.
Summer Programs: Various top colleges offer summer programs to high school students, and a few of them offer advanced computer science courses as an option. Cornell, Harvard, University of Michigan, and Carnegie-Mellon are some good choices. The Summer Science Program is another great summer program for high school students, and it is held in two locations: one in New Mexico and one in California. Students in the program take courses in astronomy, physics, programming, and calculus, while also completing an intense research project. Only 72 students are admitted to the program each year, so it is very prestigious and selective. Even if you are not admitted to the program, the application process is very good preparation for the college application process.
2. Extracurriculars – Clubs/Leadership
Different high schools will have different options for students interested in IT and computer science. Some schools will have clubs that are directly related, like a Computer Science Club or a Hackers Club. If your school offers a club like that, joining it will definitely strengthen your overall IT theme. Some schools also offer clubs for things like video game design, computer graphics, programming, web design, and animation. Basically if it’s computer-related, and it’s interesting to you, join it. It will only make your application stronger, and it will likely give you knowledge and leadership experience that you would not have had otherwise.
Any of the math and science clubs/honor societies are good choices as well. Colleges will be expecting their incoming IT students to have very strong analytical skills, so any clubs that demonstrate this type of knowledge are good. If your school does not have a club related to any type of computer science topic, start one! There are probably other students in your school who will share your interest and who would love to have a club to participate in. Starting a club also takes a lot of dedication, initiative, and organization, which are great skills to be demonstrating to college admissions committees. Finally, with any club, especially one you are passionate about, strive for a leadership position. Obviously, leadership positions look good on college applications, but as an officer or leader in any club, you will learn valuable lessons and gain knowledge that really can’t be gained in any other way.
3. Extracurriculars – Academic/Scholarship
When thinking about taking on an extra activity that is more academic in nature than just a regular club, it’s a good idea to consult with a teacher to get some ideas. Teachers are usually more than willing to talk more in-depth about a subject and to give students opportunities for research and extra credit. The IT/computer science field is no different. Writing a research paper as a high school student is an impressive accomplishment, and there are so many topics under the computer science umbrella that are worth looking into more. Talk to one of your teachers for help generating ideas, but you could always analyze a particular theory or development, you could write about a particularly influential program or application, or you could analyze a topic related to the field itself (e.g. the modern need for IT security). If you decide to conduct a research project, be sure to include the abstract of your paper (or at least an excerpt) in the “Additional Information” section of the Common Application. College Admissions committees will want to see evidence of your experience and
Another option for IT/computer science students is to write a program. Programming knowledge is a must for any IT student, and college admissions committees will be happy to see applicants who already have some experience with it and who have the curiosity to create new programs to fill new needs. Designing a complex website fits in this same category. Web design takes a lot of specific knowledge and can be very time-consuming. If you had the opportunity to create your own site from scratch, you should absolutely talk about it and provide links in your college applications.
With so much societal emphasis being put on technology now, everyone is looking for the next generation of innovative leaders in the field. Lots of competitions have sprung up all over the United States and the world to encourage students to pursue technological projects and to create the “next big thing.” No matter what area of computers/technology interests you most, you should be able to find a competition where you can put your skills to the test.
Some high schools may have set up school-wide competitions, so definitely look into any opportunities your school might offer. If there aren’t any technology competitions at your school currently, you may very well be able to start one. Talk with other students and your teachers and see if there is interest for that kind of thing. Being the founder of a competition takes so much leadership and initiative — college admissions committees would look very highly upon that. Whether or not you have the opportunity to enter a competition at your school, there are plenty of national competitions devoted to technology. You should certainly consider entering one or more of them.
Here are some of the more well known ones:
Technology Student Association (has quite a few competition categories, including some not technology-related)
Intel Science Talent Search
Siemens Competition for Math, Science, and Technology
THINK Initiative at MIT
Obviously, winning, placing, or becoming a finalist is an incredible achievement that you should highlight on your college applications. Even if you don’t win, place, or even make it to the finals, you should seriously consider mentioning it on your application and/or submit a portion of the project for admissions committees to see. Typically, these contests require complex and in-depth proposals and research, and that takes a lot of time and effort. Students also usually have faculty mentors when working on these projects, and learning how to collaborate in research is an important skill. College admissions committees will be interested to see your ideas and how you present them, even if hasn’t won you a prize yet.
5. Major and Supporting Documents
As far as what you choose for your potential major, different schools will offer different choices. Some colleges will have majors like Computer Science or Information Systems, which will probably be more research-based and theoretical. Others may have an Information Technology major. Others will have majors in very specific fields under the IT umbrella. Here are some examples:
Major in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (MIT)
Major in Computer Science (Caltech)
Major in IT and Web Science (Rensselaer Polytechnic)
Major in Computational Media (Georgia Tech)
Major in Informatics (UC Irvine)
See what different majors your desired colleges offer and pick the one that most closely resembles your interest. You could also choose another subject as a major and then have Computer Science (or a computer-related subject) as your minor. You could easily make a case for this and still have it fit within the IT theme, especially if your major subject is math or science-related. If you truly do not want to major or minor in anything having to do with computers, then the IT theme is probably not for you.
Supporting Documents: You will want to have a strong recommendation from a math, science, or computer science teacher. If you took classes in computer science, then that will probably be the most relevant recommendation to get, but math is a close second with science being third. As with all recommendations, you will want to ask a teacher you have a good relationship with, and if you relationship is best with your physics teacher (and your relationships with your computer science and calculus teachers haven’t been all that great), then by all means, use your physics teacher for a recommendation. Remember to carefully read the application requirements for each college! Many colleges require that your two teacher recommendations come from teachers in completely different subjects (e.g. one recommendation from a math/science teacher and the other from a humanities teacher). Use your best judgement on who to choose for the second recommendation, but do not try and bend the rules by sending in a computer science teacher’s recommendation along with one from your calculus teacher if the college said not to do that. They will discard your application immediately.
For getting recommendations from adults who are not teachers (again,ONLY if the college you are applying to allows this), think about who has had the most contact with you. Did you take a college course in computer science? Did you work closely with a faculty adviser on a research project? Did you volunteer at your local community center teaching computer basics to senior citizens? Anyone who can speak to your character and work ethic is a good choice for a recommendation. If you have someone in your life that can do this and who understands your passion for computer work, all the better. Finally, be sure to submit any excerpts or abstracts from research or extra projects you have done. You can submit this under the “Additional Information” section of the Common Application. College admissions committees will want to see an example of some of the work you have done so they can understand your ideas and your skill level.