Classes in the humanities allow room for creative and critical reflection and expression. However, the humanities are a broad category—and you may not be sure if the major you’re interested in falls within this umbrella. The humanities include the following fields:
- English Literature
- Comparative Literature
- Art History
- Foreign Language and Cultural Studies
- Arts (Visual Arts, Music, Creative Writing)
- Theater Studies
- Religious Studies
- Women and Gender Studies
If you hope to major in any of the above and aren’t sure how to distinguish yourself from your peers, below is a list of ways you can stand out as a prospective humanities major while you’re in high school.
Challenge yourself academically
Students in the humanities are expected to have strong critical reading skills. One of the most effective ways to build an eye for observation and analysis is to take classes in your field of interest. Colleges appreciate knowing that applicants have taken the initiative to challenge themselves academically, opted for rigorous courses, and done well in them. If your school offers AP classes, take AP English Literature, AP Language, AP History, and any foreign language that you’ve built a skill set in. If you’re headed in an artistic direction, see if your school offers AP Art and Design. IB students can look into higher-level courses in English, History, Theatre, Visual Arts, and more. Many high schools also offer electives in the humanities—take these to demonstrate your interest in the subject you hope to major in. Succeeding in these courses can be a great way to connect with humanities faculty who can write you letters of recommendation down the road.
Attend humanities pre-college programs
To showcase your dedication and hone your skills, consider applying to a humanities and arts summer programs available for high school students. You can also take pre-college classes taught at local colleges—or find online courses through university websites. Yale Young Global Scholars, Stanford Summer Humanities Institute, Summer@Brown, Columbia Summer Programs, Summer Session at UVA, and Cornell’s Rural Humanities Summer Program are just a few places to explore and sharpen your skills in your area of interest. If you’re looking for more creative options, check out Iowa Young Writers’ Studio, Yale Summer Drama Program, Interlochen Center for the Arts Summer Arts Camp, Medill-Northwestern Journalism Institute, Juilliard Summer Dance Incentive, New York University Tisch Summer Program, and RISD Pre-College. You can often meet like-minded peers and learn from college professors at these programs. If you have the time and can afford it, admission into a pre-college summer program builds your portfolio, improves your skills and gives you a great experience to write about in your college applications.
Develop writing skills
Humanities subjects typically require long writing assignments, from journal articles and academic papers to more creative pieces. In order to show colleges that you aren’t afraid to take on a writing challenge, practice different types of writing and develop a writing portfolio. The shape this takes will depend on exactly which subject in the humanities you’re hoping to pursue.
For example, if you want to be a history or art history major, you could write a research essay on the period that interests you, or one that engages meaningful aspects of your identity or background. If you hope to major in English or Creative Writing, work on short stories, personal essays, or poems. You could start focusing on a specific genre and strengthen your skills in that area. Regardless of the kind of writing, your goal should be to grow as a writer, as well as seek opportunities for submission, from awards and journals to local papers or online publications that accept work from high school students.
Hone relevant artistic skills
If your interest within the humanities lies in an area such as visual art, dance, film, theater, or music, you should consider ways to showcase your journey and growth in the field. Consider putting together footage of your performances, as many colleges partner with SlideRoom so that students can submit a portfolio supplement.
If you don’t have a portfolio yet, take initiative and pursue self-directed projects in your specialty. You could host an art exhibition, record an EP or album, or make a documentary. Even smaller-scale projects—such as a series of paintings built on a certain theme, high-quality shorts posted on TikTok or Instagram, and a few songs uploaded to Spotify or Soundcloud—can be great contributions to your portfolio. Take advantage of resources available to you. Often a lot of imaginative endeavors become possible with just a computer or cell phone. Get creative!
Participate in humanities extracurriculars and community outreach
Colleges want students who would be a good fit for their campus, and often a good marker for determining fit is through understanding what kind of community member an applicant would be. If you’re hoping to be admitted as a humanities student, it’s a good idea to convey leadership and teamwork skills in your field. Look into joining existing groups such as Drama Club or Creative Writing Club. You could also start an organization of your own focused on your specific interest or niche within the humanities. Recruit others to join or see what your local community lacks and needs. Some possibilities include teaching in your neighborhood, starting a book club organized around a theme, starting a discussion group in the field of your choice, organizing an art show, putting on a theater production, or even starting a band.
Majoring in the humanities helps build skills in critical thinking, communication, leadership, problem solving, and collaboration. If you’re interested in one or more subjects within the humanities, taking the time to show you have the prowess to succeed can go a long way.