Sarah Mitrano, 16, has a few major things on her mind these days, namely art and college. The junior at Hopewell Valley Central High School in Hopewell Township is thinking a lot about her future and where she would like to go to pursue a career in art. She might feel a bit more stressed about these big life decisions if she hadn’t spent four weeks this past summer doing some pre-college prep work at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore.
Pre-college programs are a way to test-drive college life, which, for Sarah, was very valuable since she hadn’t ventured far from Hopewell. “I had never been away from home,” she says. “MICA was a great experience. The day we got there and were moving in we met our roommates. It was kind of awkward, but I ended up being really good friends with my roommate. We lived in apartment-style rooming with a common area where we made Ramen noodles and eggs all the time. We had an obsession with scrambled eggs.”
Much of Sarah’s campus time was spent in art class, where she “majored” in graphic design and took a figure-drawing workshop. “I’m very interested in graphic design and hoping to major in it in college,” says Sarah. “It can be hard to be a fine artist, and graphic design is a real field you can go into.”
While MICA helped Sarah confirm her college major choice, it also offered experiences that matured her as an artist. “My figure drawing class was amazing,” she says. “It was a really cool experience because we had nude models. Drawing nude models is a little bit intimidating at first, but it’s really not intimidating at all. I saw it as art. Yes, the guy was a little weird, but it took five minutes to get over it.”
Sarah came home with valuable insight to prepare her far beyond art class. “MICA reaffirmed what I already thought. Even though I want to go into graphic design, I don’t think I want to go to an art school,” explains Sarah. “My mom is a graphic designer and she went to Syracuse University, which is not an art school. Going to a university where there are so many other kinds of people doing things, not just art—it’s a more well-rounded experience. I wouldn’t want to be surrounded only by artists all the time. I would like to go to a university that has a good art program, but is not just about art.”
If you’re considering a pre-college program, here are some suggestions, with a little help from USummer (www.usummer.com), a pre-college programs online portal:
• Assess Your Interests. Summer is a great time to try something new and do a little career exploration. What interests you? Writing? Art? Engineering? You should be able to find a pre-college program for just about anything if you do your research. Scott chose to spend a month at MICA instead of going to sleep-away camp. “I was looking for something to do and this seemed fun and interesting.”
• New Jersey or Bust. You don’t necessarily have to travel outside the state to find the right pre-college program for you. For example, Ramapo College offers a summer intensive SAT prep residential program in partnership with the Princeton Review, including a “Going to College” immersion program. This is only one of many New Jersey-based options.
• Pre-college Pricetag. As you can see from Catherine and Scott’s experiences, pre-college program can be thousands of dollars. Some offer financial aid, and smaller programs at smaller schools tend to be more affordable. Plan well in advance and you may be eligible for an early bird discount.
• For What It’s Worth. One of the best reasons to attend pre-college on a campus is to test drive your college experience. It may help you decide whether you like an urban college setting or might prefer something more rural. Are you more comfortable in a smaller liberal arts college or a large state university? Most importantly, can you handle time away from home and Mom and Dad. Both Catherine and Scott realized they liked the college experience, but not necessarily at Yale or Maryland Institute College of Art.
• This One’s for You. If the only reason you want to attend a pre-college program is to impress college admissions officers, think again. This is a time for personal growth and probably won’t make a big difference on your college résumé. Enjoy your time on campus!