Computer science is a quickly growing profession with solid projected growth and an above average annual salary. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of computer science will grow an estimated 11% by 2024 and the current average salary for a computer scientist is over $110,000 per year. It’s no wonder that students who are interested in information technology and programming see computer science as a great career choice.

 

If you are interested in pursuing a career in computer science, it’s never too early to test the waters. In fact, as the profession becomes more and more attractive, it’s likely that selective computer science programs will become increasingly competitive. In order to set yourself apart from a field of qualified applicants, you’ll need more than just strong test scores and near-perfect grades.

 

This is true of many competitive paths in higher education now. Students who perform well in high school aren’t guaranteed a spot anywhere, even if they place at the top of their class. Instead, you need to achieve success both in the classroom and outside of it if you want to compete in selective college admissions. Through your extracurricular involvement you’ll have to show that you are a strong member of a community, a dedicated hard-worker, and a leader who’s willing to take initiative.

 

For students interested in pursuing computer sciences, this means that you might start planting the seeds for a successful future much earlier in your high school career. If you’re considering a path in computer science and you’re wondering what you can do in high school to get the ball rolling and ensure that you’re prepared for competitive college admissions, this is the post for you. Keep reading for a breakdown of six great extracurricular options for the aspiring computer scientist.

 

1. Join a Club 

This is the most obvious choice for any extracurricular activity, but don’t let the cliche scare you off. Clubs are popular for good reason. They provide you with a community of like-minded peers who can provide insight and perspective that may be new to you, they provide structured activities to learn and grow from, and they provide a school-sanctioned outlet for pursuing your passion, which translates easily on a college application.

 

There are several different school clubs that could be relevant to computer science. Maybe your school has an actual computer science club. If this is the case, your guesswork is done. If not, there may be other relevant clubs available. Sometimes schools will have a coding club or a robotics team. Both of these activities are directly related to computer science and would be great fits for an aspiring computer scientist.

 

If none of these clubs exist at your school, it’s also a good idea to check your local library or community center to see if they have options that might suit your needs. Alternatively, if no local clubs exist, you might consider starting your own club. You could do so through your school, or you could do so through another organization in your community. Either way, forming your own club is a great way to show initiative and dedication.

 

2. Build a Website

This might seem like biting off more than you can chew if you’re just getting started with computer science, but there are many online tutorials and simple templates that now make web design easier than it’s ever been before. WordPress and Wix are two user friendly, free website builders that can help you get started.

 

The great thing about building a website is you can start very simple and make it more and more complex as you get the hang of it. For example, you’ll probably build a landing page, or homepage, first. From there, you can add all sorts of menus, plugins, or other features.

 

If you’re not sure what your website should be for, think about any organizations that might have a need. At first, start very local and small, like your school’s student government or French club. Once you have a little more experience, you can experiment with offering your services to local nonprofits, like an animal shelter or food pantry.

 

3. Develop an App

This takes a little more knowledge and know-how than building a website, particularly since the available templates to get you started have far fewer options and will not be likely to take you as far as you’d like the app to go ultimately.

 

To get started, you’ll need a unique idea. It might fill an existing need or improve on something that’s already out there. Be sure to do a quick search and ensure that your app doesn’t already exist before you get too deep into developing it. It’s a good idea to start with something fairly basic, like a school calendar with searchable events or a registration app for clubs or electives at your high school.

 

Next, sketch out how you’d like your app to appear. What will the home screen look like? What menu options will exist? How will it function?

 

Once you have a general idea of how the app will function, you can mock it up using free software like Balsamiq or HotGloo. This will give you a general idea of how the app will look and function.

 

From here, you’ll need to put your computer science knowledge to the test. You’ll have to figure out servers, APIs, and sketch data diagrams. Don’t worry if this sounds like a foreign language to you now. Once you’re in the thick of it, you can use resources like mentors, online tutorials, and even simple web queries to help guide you as you go. It may not be easy, but you’ll be proud of your final product and it will serve as clear evidence of your hard work.


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4. Educate Others

Finding a way to give back to your community through your extracurriculars is always a great idea. You will not only build important relationships and experience the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve done good, but also you will build a college application that exemplifies your generosity and willingness to serve others. In computer science, one way to give back is to share your skills and knowledge.

 

Computer science is a quickly developing and fast changing industry. Even people who were great at computer skills in their younger days may feel lost by the changes to modern technology. After all, knowledge of DOS operating systems won’t get you very far anymore.

 

Teaching computer skills and basic computer science to the elderly or younger students is a great way to practice your skills, give back to others, and broaden your understanding of teaching and teamwork.

 

You can volunteer through an existing program at a school or retirement home, or you can create your own program. Ask around at your school or library to see if they would mind hosting a computer night run by you. Recruit friends to help with instruction, and come up with a few simple activities to teach basic skills. By running your event regularly once a month, or creating a series of classes with increasing complexity, you’ll quickly establish a legitimate computer education program that is beneficial to your community.

 

5. Enroll in a Summer Program or Class

Due to its quickly rising popularity and increasing demand for strong computer scientists, there are many different options for summer programs and classes in computer science. If you are looking for something on a small scale, taken maybe once a week or so, and scheduled around your existing summer plans, check nearby community colleges or universities for their summer class offerings.

 

If you’re interested in something more intense or a residential program, those are also bountiful, but bear in mind that they can be expensive.

 

Penn Engineering Summer Academy offers a wide variety of course offerings including computer science, robotics, nanotechnology, and complex networks. The program runs for three weeks in July, and tuition is $7375, including room, board, materials, and fees. Financial aid is available. Admissions are selective, and applications are due in February of each year. 

 

MIT also offers several relevant programs. The MIT Women’s Technology Program (WTP) is open to female high school students entering their senior year of high school. It is a rigorous four-week summer program in which students explore engineering through hands-on classes, labs, and team-based projects. Students can choose to focus in either Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) or Mechanical Engineering (ME).

 

Admissions to WTP are very competitive, but the cost is fairly reasonable. The standard fee to attend in summer 2017 is $3,500, which covers all classes, room, and board. Fee waivers and discounts based on family income are available, and families with annual incomes less than $90,000 receive a full fee waiver such that qualified students can attend for free. Families earning between $90,000 to $130,000 pay a $1,750 fee, and families with an annual income above $130,000 pay the full $3,500 fee.

 

Another popular program is the MIT Beaver Works Summer Institute. Here, rising high school seniors participate in an intensive, project-based challenge where the students learn how to navigate an autonomous mini-racecar through a complex environment. The program culminates in a race day where students put their new skills and knowledge to the test.

 

In order to attend, you must first be nominated by a teacher, and then complete the online application. If you are accepted, you will then complete the BWSI Online Education Program before applying for the BWSI Summer Program. The residential program runs for four weeks each summer and is free of charge to accepted students.

 

Another great option is the Google Computer Science Institute, which is a three-week introduction to computer science for graduating high school seniors. It bills itself as “an intensive, interactive, hands-on and fun program that seeks to inspire the tech leaders and innovators of tomorrow.” The program is held at multiple sites across the country each summer, and admissions are selective, but attendance is free.

 

6. Consider the AP Computer Science Courses

A final great option for any aspiring computer science major is to self-study a Computer Science AP or take one in school. There are two Computer Science AP courses to choose from.

 

AP Computer Science Principles is logistically quite difficult to self-study for, as it relies on prolonged in-class, collaborative work to produce 40% of its score. You may, however, enroll in an online class if you’re interested in pursuing this course independently. You can learn more about the course material and assessment in our post, The Ultimate Guide to the New AP Computer Science Principles Exam & Performance Tasks.

 

The AP Computer Science A exam is one of the APs cited as being best suited for self-study due to how well its material lends itself to independent learning. This course explores problem solving, hardware, algorithms, and the ways in which people utilize computers effectively to address real-world problems. You will need to become familiar with JAVA to be successful in this course, since you will use it to write code that meets certain criteria, solves problems, or accomplishes a designated task.

 

Pursuing an AP course outside of your regular school curriculum is a great way to reinforce your dedication to the subject matter and exemplify your skills and performance level. Keep in mind, though, that it’s a serious time commitment.

 

If you’re a high school student considering a career in computer science, you don’t have to wait until college to start pursuing your goal. There are many ways to get involved with computer science while you’re still in high school, ranging from school clubs to independent projects. For more ideas on how to get started, or if you aren’t quite sure where your path lead, consider the benefits of the CollegeVine Near Peer Mentorship Program, which provides access to practical advice on topics from college admissions to career aspirations, all from successful college students.

 

For more information about extracurricular activities and careers in the STEM fields, check out these posts:

 

Kate Sundquist

Kate Sundquist

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.
Kate Sundquist