High school students looking ahead to college applications are discovering that the process involves much more than their GPA, SAT scores and extracurricular activities. College and university admissions offices are taking a big picture view of applicants that stretches beyond test scores and into experiential learning.
It’s why Charleston Collegiate School, an independent school on Johns Island, believes in letting students explore their passions in an academic setting. Juniors and seniors participate in the Majors Program, giving them a chance to do a deep dive into a potential college major.
Students choose from a variety of study areas within the arts, education, STEM and community management industries. They can study one area for two years or try a new major each semester.
Arts majors include acting, creative writing, digital art, film studios, painting while education majors include art, elementary, Hispanic studies, humanities, outdoor, secondary and STEM. Students interested in STEM careers might choose from among chemistry, engineering, information technology, mathematics and marine biology. Community management majors include communications and mass media, entrepreneurship, exercise science, finance and hospitality.
“We’ve designed a way for students to take charge of their education,” says Dan Miller, dean of the upper and middle schools at Charleston Collegiate. “We believe each child is the keystone to everything that surrounds their educational life, so why not give them control over the areas they want to study.”
The Majors Program isn’t entirely classroom based, but also includes hands-on, real life experience, Miller says. A student interested in marine biology, for example, would be working with the state Department of Natural Resources. Another student interested in veterinary medicine would work at a vet’s office on Johns Island to gain that practical experience.
And if a student brings up an area of study not on the list, the school will work to find an appropriate community partner.
Even the upper school schedule mirrors college life with classes on Tuesday/Thursday and Monday/Wednesday/Friday. Class periods are longer and there’s a strong emphasis on project-based learning. Juniors pursue their major area of study three days a week; seniors five days a week.
Students in the Majors Program may spend less time in a traditional classroom setting, but they still demonstrate what they’ve learned. Students create a portfolio, participate in quarterly evaluations and seniors write a 10-page position paper. Juniors and seniors both prepare for public exhibitions to display and discuss what they learned – sort of like a TED Talk, Miller explains.
"This is an authentic learning experience,” he says. “A lot of students go through the high school experience that requires them to regurgitate information. We focus on process and application.”