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“It’s intense, but that’s the fun part!”

Max Schernikau, 17, is a German high school student at the International School of Zurich. In search of an academic challenge—and with an eye to improving his odds of securing an offer from his dream school—Schernikau enrolled in Columbia University’s College Edge program in the summer of 2022. College Edge is an in-person program for exceptional high school students to take Columbia classes that count toward college credit. This is what Schernikau had to share about the experience.

Talk about your course choices.

I chose to study organic chemistry because I love chemistry. I have always been interested in the chemistry of the human body—our physical limits, or the alchemy of our existence, for example. The AP courses I take at school do not cover organic chemistry, and I was curious to explore this branch of the discipline. Statistics for Scientists and Engineers was the other course I took. My adviser suggested I take this class, as the heavy course load for my organic chemistry class clashed with most other course offerings. I think math is fun, so I was open to this suggestion!

What was your favorite part of the classes?

The class size for organic chemistry, fewer than fifteen people, was ideal. As a result, we had more group discussions and one-on-one consultation sessions with the professor. These factors, alongside the exceptional content and intensive pace of the class, made it one of the best academic experiences I’ve had so far. I learned so much more in six weeks at Columbia than I did in two years at high school.

Tell us about your plans after high school. Has the Columbia College Edge experience helped you refine your interests or goals?

I see myself in academia in the long term. Researching neurochemistry, focusing specifically on the human brain rather than the pharmaceutical applications of neurochemistry, appeals to me greatly. I think the course has helped reaffirm my passion for chemistry. Despite having classes for four hours every day, and taking countless pages of notes, I always wanted more. I am now more confident that I can live up to the rigors of a career in neurochemistry research.

What were your favorite things to do on campus and/or around New York?

One of my favorite sources of entertainment was exploring the food options on Broadway. From Morton Williams [grocery store] to Community Food and Juice [café], I was a fan of it all. Columbia’s campus was also a fun place to hang out. Free food stalls were common, and I liked engaging with students seeking participants for their surveys and research projects. And of course, Butler Library was spectacular.

What advice would you give to students who may be considering the College Edge Program?

Take your time with course selection. Check whether you meet the prerequisites for a class and that you are taking it at the right course level. Even if you follow these guidelines, the summer program can be overwhelming. There’s no hiding from the fact that you will have to work hard. It’s intense, but that’s the fun part about it.

Offered in the summer and the academic year (fall and spring), the College Edge program gives high school students the opportunity to earn college credit by taking Columbia University courses.