Trying out college

By Ilene Kleinbaum on February 24, 2014
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How many times have you wondered what college would be like? How about enrolling in a pre-college course and trying it out for yourself? Many colleges offer these programs, which allow high school students get their feet wet in the college experience.

“Students are able to gain independence while also being guided by faculty,” said Johanna Fishbein, former director of pre-college programs at Barnard College in New York. “They are immersed in college life, and they will learn to balance school work with social activities. Students will eat in the dining hall and will live with a roommate, allowing them to develop valuable social skills. Students are able to create relationships with their instructors and are able to gain valuable feedback, while also gaining the confidence to participate in a college-level class.”

As a high school senior, Melissa Maurer of New Jersey attended a pre-college program at Laboratory Institute of Merchandising (LIM) in New York, and already knew what to expect when she went to college the next fall. Her experience at LIM confirmed what she wanted to major in and put her one step ahead of her competitors.

Testing the waters

The biggest advantage is that “students are able to find the college that suits them. It allows them to better understand what works for them and where they want to go, and it prepares them for the full admissions process,” according to Cheryl Pfeiffer, former associate director of Admissions & Special Programs at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, “I enrolled in a pre-college course because I was looking to go to a very specialized college, and I wanted to make sure that it was right for me,” said Melissa Cohen, who participated at New York Film Academy. “I think the course I took at NYFA really helped me prepare for my major, which was something I had no experience with prior to that course.”

Cohen also noted that the benefits of these programs include receiving an education, gaining experience as to what attending a college course is like, meeting people with similar interests, and, in some instances, receiving college credit.

Toby Karten, a lecturer at Drew University in New Jersey, said these courses help students by easing negative emotions, which can interfere with academics. Students are able to interact with other high school students who are participating in the same programs. They form relationships with faculty—usually more intimately than during normal college semesters.

Weekend and summer programs

Programs vary greatly from school to school. Some classes are taught on weekends, others are taught over the summer. Some last for one week, while others last four. Some offer on-campus living accommodations, others are commuting schools. In some instances, students are able to receive college credit for these courses.

At LIM, classes are on Saturdays and are non-academic courses,  so no credit is given. Topics include fashion branding, fashion show production, fashion buying, and nearly a dozen others. Housing is not provided.

At the School of Visual Arts, courses are taught over the summer for a three-week period. Students receive three credits, which they can apply to their college transcript. Courses include cartooning, screenwriting, digital photography, and many more. Housing is provided, but optional.

Barnard offers a liberal arts curriculum. Students are given college-level assignments and readings. Barnard does not offer students college credit at the end of the program. Instead, they receive a qualitative evaluation from their instructor upon completion of the course, and students are allowed to live on campus.

Those who have participated in pre-college courses seem to agree that the benefits of these programs are immense. “I would definitely recommend taking a pre-college course, especially if students are uncertain about life after high school,” Cohen said. “It is a great way to find out if you like college and what you’d be interested in studying.”

“The programs are about having fun,” Pfeiffer said. “Students adjust well, are given freedom and are doing what they love.”

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