How Student Involvement Can Develop During the High School Years

One of the best parts of our i4 framework is that it's circular in nature. A student may have involvement with very little interest, or they may be making an impact in an activity they did not initiate. The idea is to jump in, try things out, and participate. In other words—engage. Once they do that, all four I's will begin to develop in their own right.

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To help start the process, we'll look at how engagement might develop throughout high school. As you read, remember: This is a loose plan and not a step-by-step guidebook. Every student is different and is on his or her unique journey.

Getting Started: Interest and Involvement

Freshman and sophomore years. This is the time to explore! Encourage your student to join school clubs or athletic teams or volunteer at a local non-profit in a related area of interest. And it doesn't end when the school bell rings: Summer programs, camps (including CIT programs), and travel are great options for exploring interests during the summer. Pre-college programs on a college campus can be helpful for students to experience what it's like to live on a college campus and determine what they want in a college. Even hobbies and personal projects are valuable means of gaining experience.

Here are some great examples of activities that are perfect opportunities for freshmen and sophomores:

  • Take a coding class

  • Try out for the school play

  • Sign up for a church/synagogue retreat

  • Babysit the neighborhood kids

  • Pursue creative writing projects

Junior and senior years. If your student has identified an area of interest, they can explore ways to deepen their involvement through a leadership position, a part-time job, or an internship. Students gain valuable experience from researching, applying to, and interviewing for jobs or internships. Other valuable activities include academic research and independent projects that allow students to begin creating a portfolio of work. This can be especially impactful on college applications, even as potential essay topics.

Some students develop clear interests earlier in their high school careers, while some take a little longer. Your student can jumpstart an interest at any time—just be sure to encourage their exploration along the way.

When Interests Deepen: Initiative and Impact

Participation is a great start, and we encourage it throughout high school. But by junior or senior year, it's time to take it step further. Many students find that they develop greater skills and confidence by increasing the initiative they take within their activities and by strengthening the impact of their involvement.

Initiative. Demonstrating initiative often involves starting with an idea and then taking steps to make it a reality. Traditionally, we might think of initiative as founding a club or starting a new school program. And while those and other formal leadership roles certainly do the trick, there are other ways to show initiative. The key is to turn ideas into actions, no matter the context. Here are a few examples:

  • Proposing a service project to fellow club members and then reaching out to the organization to coordinate student service

  • Making a new playlist and dance routine to add some fun into the daily team warm-up

  • Organizing a study group for a particularly tough AP exam and setting a weekly agenda to keep everyone on track

  • Moving from journal writing to starting a blog

  • Creating a neighborhood summer camp for kids

  • Stepping up to a leadership role in the church/synagogue youth group

  • Working with a teacher to create an independent study project in an area of interest

  • Coaching younger kids (or being a referee) in a sport you love

  • Organizing a cheek swabbing event for the local organ donation charity

Impact. To identify what impact your student is having, ask yourself: "What is different because of my student's involvement/ideas/questions?" Revisiting the examples of initiative, let's look at what their impact might be:

  • The proposed service project led to ten new members joining the club (thus increasing the potential future impact of service projects)

  • Team morale increased and the team went on to come in second in the state championships that year

  • Students in the AP study group all scored 4 or 5 on their exams

  • The blog has gained 1,000 followers

  • 20 kids signed up for the neighborhood summer camp

  • The youth group had the greatest participation ever at the yearly social because of your event planning ideas

  • The independent study project has turned into a potential career interest

  • Parents of kids you coached wrote you a card describing the positive impact you had on them

  • 100 people signed up to become organ donors

Of course, initiative won't always lead to impact—and that's okay—but be sure to follow through on your student's actions and encourage them to highlight their impact whenever possible.

6 Ways To Help Spark Your Teen's Interest In Activities

6 Ways To Help Spark Your Teen's Interest In Activities

Take the trio of Netflix, computer, and phone, and you have most of your student's interests covered. We certainly don't have the solution to technological distraction. All we know is that it makes it that much more important to encourage kids to choose activities that allow them to develop and experiment with new interests. Our goal is for them to develop as human beings, engaging in the outside world—not just in machines.

How To Schedule A College Visit And Make The Most Of Your Time There

Once you've decided which colleges you'll be visiting with your student, it's time to schedule the visit. Here are a few things you should do before you head out on your big trip to be sure you're making the most of the time you have there:

1. Schedule a tour—and more.

Here's the general how-to on scheduling your college tour.

1. Go to the college’s website, and click on the "Admissions" tab.

2. If it's a university where graduate programs are option, be sure to go to undergraduate admissions.

3. Click on the "Visit" or "Visiting Campus" tab.

4. Choose the right option for your visit—e.g., Daily Visit, Weekend Visit (if offered).

5. Check the calendar for an available day that you can attend, and click on the day.

6. Fill out the required information—e.g., name, address, school and graduation year, academic interests, etc.

7. If you have the time, sign up for everything else they offer, including a class visit, specific majors information sessions, lunch, a meeting with a professor or coach, and more.

8. Click "Submit"!

9. Check for a confirmation email. If you don’t receive one within 24 hours, make sure to contact the admissions department to check that your request was received.

If you're only able to sign up for a tour, call the admissions office to ask if there's anything else available. You're probably only visiting each school once, so you want to pack in as much as possible. Ideally, your student will be able to observe a class, meet with either a student or a professor (or both!), and chat with the admissions representative for your area of the country.

You should plan on an information session at each school. Often, the information session is part of the tour, but if it's not, be sure to sign up separately. It's generally led by an admissions staff member, and it's a great chance to learn about the school’s application and financial aid processes.

2. Make a list of what's important.

The things we just mentioned—tour, information session, meetings—are core to every student's college visit. But it's also important to personalize your time at the school.

Does your student intend to major in chemistry or English? Plan to check out a chem lab or the writing center. Do they want to try out for the swim team? Visit the school’s pool. Are they thinking about joining the school's volunteer organization? Attend a meeting. You can find information about facilities, organizations, and personnel on the school's website, so do your research and make a list of things you know you want to do on campus.

3. Consider a virtual pre-tour.

Sites like Campus Tours and eCampusTours provide virtual tours of hundreds of colleges and universities. These are by no means substitutes for actual college tours, but they can highlight specific campus attractions and help you plan your trip. For example, you might see a sculpture garden with outdoor workspace you didn't know existed and decide to explore it as part of your visit.

Check out our post on

6 Questions To Ask Others + 3 Questions To Ask Yourself On Every College Tour

3 Reasons You Should Do College Visits With Your Student

With Spring Break just around the corner, many families have begun planning their pilgrimage to potential colleges. Of course, there's such a wealth of information available out there, that it can be tempting to skip the tours altogether and rely on what's available online. But we encourage all our families to do at least one college trip during their decision-making journey. Here’s why:

1. Trying it on. Guidebooks and websites can't compare to the feeling a student gets when they walk through a campus. It helps the college feel real and can give them a better sense of whether or not it's "the one." Four years is a big commitment, and that in-person feeling is key in determining if it's a good fit.

2. Too big? Too small? Just right? Preferences on college size tend to follow fads. Right now, we're in the era of the big state colleges. We often hear from students, "I want to go to a college bigger than my high school.” But it's not wise to judge a school based on a number. When students visit a smaller college, they often realize that these institutions are vastly different from their high schools—even if they are the same size. It's critical for students to see a variety of sizes of colleges and universities so they don't pigeonhole themselves based on a preconception.

3. Revealing priorities. Talking to students after a college visit provides a wealth of information. You can hear the student’s excitement when they share their highlights—whether it's about the food, the professors, or even the quality of the gym. This will give you (and them!) insight into their priorities in the college search process and help them better evaluate each school accordingly.

Top 7 Summer Planning Myths For Parents And Students

With today’s students coping with the ever-increasing demands of school and afterschool activities, it can be tempting to just let them relax all summer.


The need for a "summer off" is the first on our list of summer planning myths.

Let's take a look at this and six other myths that it's time to reconsider.

  1. My student spent all year working hard in school and with extracurriculars. Summer is a time to relax. We're not saying your student should be working 40-hour weeks for the entire summer. But nine weeks spent in front of the Xbox or Netflix isn't in the best interest of your teen’s development. Plus, it's a missed opportunity for helping your students develop new interests and skills—not to mention boosting their college potential.

  2. My student is a great math student, so they should participate in an engineering program. Teens may not know what they’re interested in yet. Just because a certain subject comes easy to them, it doesn't mean that's where their interests lie. Of course, if your great math student is interested in engineering, a quality program can be a wonderful way to gain exposure to a potential major and career. But if it's just a strength—not an interest—we suggest looking for broader opportunities to let them discover their interests on their own.

  3. Attending an Ivy League summer program will help my child get into that school. This is called “gaming the system” to gain a leg up for college admissions—and it's not recommended. These programs typically don't provide any help in gaining admission to the college, so unless your child is genuinely interested in the program itself, they shouldn't attend.

  4. My student should do more than just be a cashier or waiter. This is such a common assumption, but it couldn't be further from the truth. Summer jobs can have a powerful impact on students, teaching them real-world responsibility and enhancing communication skills. It can also be more impressive to college admissions officers than working, for example, at a parent's office. For more on the subject, take a look at this article, which discusses the powerful life skills teens can learn from common jobs.

  5. Volunteer work isn’t enough. Don’t underestimate the power of meaningful volunteer work to impact both your student and your local community. With in-depth involvement, students can gain valuable career skills and develop new connections, while also helping the community. Encouraging your student to volunteer with an organization in a potential field of interest is a great way to add to their resume. For example, students interested in the veterinary field may want to volunteer at an animal shelter or with a local veterinary office. Budding writers may find great volunteer opportunities at the local library or in summer academic programs. Organizations like VolunteerMatch can help your student research volunteer opportunities related to their interests. And asking these questions can help you find the right volunteer opportunity for your student.

  6. Getting over 100 service hours during the summer is critical. It’s not the number of community service hours that matters—it's the impact those hours have. If serving others is your student’s passion, then by all means encourage them in their efforts to get deeply involved, a prospect that often naturally leads to hundreds of service hours. But doing a variety of community service projects—like volunteering at a race or working at a soup kitchen for a day—just for the sake of getting 100 hours isn’t as valuable as being able to demonstrate ongoing commitment to a certain organization and increased responsibility throughout the summer. Those kinds of experiences can also lead to great college essay topics.

  7. My student should stick with what they're already good at. Encouraging your student to try new things is a good way for them to learn more about themselves—and increase their confidence. For example, if your science- and math-oriented student wants to attend a summer program and take a science-related class, why not also encourage them to take one in an area they don't know anything about? Many programs offer morning and afternoon classes for this very reason. Students gravitate toward what they’re good at because it’s easy, but challenging themselves with new, unfamiliar opportunities is an important way for students to develop as people.