Carnegie Mellon University
December 18, 2017

High School Students Excel in Carnegie Mellon Summer Pre-College Program

By Emily Payne

Jocelyn Duffy

For six weeks each summer, high school students get a taste for what it means to be a student at Carnegie Mellon University. The Advanced Placement/Early Admission (AP/EA) program offers talented, motivated high school students the opportunity to take university courses for college credit.

“AP/EA is unique for its truly Carnegie Mellon experience,” said William Alba, director of the AP/EA program. “Courses are taught by the same faculty who teach the college-level courses in the fall and spring semesters, and AP/EA students take these courses alongside current undergraduate students. Program resident and teaching assistants are Carnegie Mellon students….Every aspect of the program is Carnegie Mellon.”

Much like how undergraduate students choose their schedules, AP/EA students match their interests and capabilities to more than 40 course offerings across all six of Carnegie Mellon’s undergraduate colleges and schools. Local students have the option to commute and take one or two courses during the program. All other students who are over the age of 16 live on campus in the residence halls and take on a full two-course schedule while participating in student life activities in the evenings and weekends.

Though some courses may be subjects that students haven’t studied before, it doesn’t deter their ability or eagerness to excel in the program, something very apparent to the faculty who elect to offer their courses to the program.

“Many people comment that I am so busy, why do I do this? It’s because teaching these engaged students makes me a better instructor because of their eagerness to learn and inquisitiveness in the classroom,” said Carrie Doonan, director of undergraduate laboratories, who has offered her modern biology lab class for AP/EA students since 2009.

The effect is reciprocal; through college-level work, the students earn great responsibility and experience in pursuing subjects that further or surpass what they are able to learn through their high school courses. 

“[AP/EA] helped me keep an open mind about how to approach college and how to make the most of the experience.”

“Our students take on the same workload as an actual undergraduate student by fitting semester-long classes into a six-week span,” said Veronica Peet, senior academic advisor, who helps runs the program alongside Alba. "It’s a great challenge that allows students to learn the expectations of college as compared to high school, and it’s done at an accelerated rate."

Alba, who has served as director since 2005, works with the program year-round. Under his leadership, AP/EA has grown from 111 students in 2005 to 226 in 2017. He has also tripled the number of diversity scholarships from 15 to 45.

The formidable duo not only run the program administratively but devote much of their time to seeing the students through their entire pre-college experience.

“The time the students are in class is intense, and the time they are out of class takes a huge deal of independent and collaborative learning. The students are in so many ways college students, which is why we make sure we support and advise the students the whole way through,” said Alba.

They advise each student (and their parents) through applying for the program to choosing classes and dealing with challenges and triumphs throughout their courses, which has created an in-depth experience that has propelled many program alumni to success at Carnegie Mellon and other undergraduate programs.

Tristan Marino, a Science and Humanities Scholar at Carnegie Mellon, attended AP/EA after his sophomore year of high school. He discovered a course on sound recording and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to learn how a real studio worked. The curiosity to pursue subjects that interested him followed Marino as he enrolled at Carnegie Mellon two years later.

“[AP/EA] helped me keep an open mind about how to approach college and how to make the most of the experience,” he said. Marino, a cognitive science major, decided to take a programming course one semester and is now gearing toward an interest in software-orientated work.

“I’m always learning new things and changing what I want to do — when I started at CMU, I had never programmed before, and now I’m taking two computer science courses, so there’s no telling where my future may bring me,” said Marino.