You are about to go to college in the fall or maybe you have another year before you leave home and begin pursuing your education. Either way, prepare for college before you get there. Not only does the Bay Area provide several opportunities for young students, but also universities and colleges across the country offer programs to give students a head start on their education.

Colleges offer pre-college programs meant to prepare students for college in different ways: academically, emotionally, and mentally. Leaving home can be tough, especially if you have not spent much time away from your family. Pre-college programs, which can last anywhere from two weeks to six weeks or more, cost money, but are well worth the monetary value. Not only do they give students a taste of living in a dorm, but also they allow students to see what a college schedule is like: how do you manage a schedule with class at 8, 12, and 5, and plenty of time in between?

If you have an idea about which college you want to go to, or a college already sent you an acceptance letter, check out their pre-college offerings. These programs help you meet faculty within your field of study and earn college credit for some courses. Having an opportunity to start a relationship with a mentor early in you educational career is paramount for future research and internship opportunities. If you are unsure where to start, check out Summer Discovery, which includes several pre-college options around California and beyond. Some programs are research driven, like UC Santa Barbara’s, and will give you opportunities that most college freshmen do not get.

If pre-college programs cost too much, try an academic camp instead. No college credit, but camps equip you with real world skills like teamwork and problem solving. Bay Area Kid Fun includes several science and technology summer camps as well as other academically focused camps geared toward high school students and those getting ready for college. Similar to pre-college programs, you will connect with others interested in your field of study and have an opportunity to network.

You do not need to be a professional in order to begin acting and networking like one.”

It is never too early to expand your knowledge: Attend conferences in your area of study before and during college. The Bay Area, and California in general, offers a variety of conferences, both professional and academic. You will gain contacts and knowledge that your future classmates will not have. A great example of a conference in the Bay Area is the TriConference, which is related to molecular biology, but is useful for professionals in biology, chemistry, and medicine. Conferences often cost money, but offer workshops and lectures much like college courses, which will expose you to up-and-coming research in your field.

Do not forget to use the time before college to begin networking. Start relationships with people in your field early and maintain them. Use LinkedIn and other platforms to your advantage. Write “thank you” letters to the people you work with and meet at pre-college programs, academic camps, and conferences. Do you have a science teacher and mentor from high school? Ask them to endorse you on LinkedIn and place his or her recommendation on the site so it is accessible to future employers and colleges.

Finally, if you need money or you prefer professional experience to academic, consider a job. It may seem obvious, but many high school graduates forget the seriousness of a job before college (or even during). If working retail does not excite you, try to snag an internship. Cold call or email companies you are interested in, even if they do not have internships posted. You may be surprised how many are looking for students to fill spots. In the Bay Area, check out internships and volunteer opportunities offered by organizations like San Francisco Bay National Parks. Gain job experience, knowledge, and connections for the future.

If anything, these activities will reaffirm your interest in your chosen field. Each offers the chance to meet people and gain experience before many of your peers will. Gather knowledge and experience for your resume to give you a leg up on future competition.

(The writer is a ThinkTank Learning college admissions consultant.)

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